Early Intersections of Rock and Electronic Music
My Book/eBook: Electronic and Experimental Music, sixth edition, Routledge 2020.
My Podcast: The Holmes Archive of Electronic Music
My blog for the Bob Moog Foundation.
One of the interesting aspects of the history of early electronic music is seeing how its influence and techniques were borrowed by other genres of music. The field of electronic music took a broad leap from being based around live performance instruments such as the Theremin to being a recorded medium following the availability of the magnetic tape recorder around 1948. This dramatic shift resulted in the proliferation of academic and institutional electronic music studios in the 1950s and 60s. This music was created without the rules and limitations that would come into play with the introduction of the synthesizer by the late sixties. Tape music was subject only to the imagination and processes created by the composer. There was not much guidance whatsoever as to what sounds could be used, how they would be edited, and what style of music would result. Tape music, restricted only by the equipment available to the composer, was really a wide open practice with many varied results. Tape composition was largely an experimental medium and most of the music was equally challenging, often based around the practices of academic composers who made music in the studios funded by their institutions. I am a big fan of that music but the medium vastly expanded its reach once the techniques of tape composition became affordable to the average musician. Rock musicians embraced the tape recorder and began applying tape manipulation to create songs. Much of the equipment used by rock artists approximated the tape effects once found in the early tape music studios. Commercial recording studios became increasingly sophisticated and chock full of interesting gadgets and keyboards.
For a time during the late sixties, from about 1966 to 1970, tape composition found its way in a significant way into a select number of rock recordings. The synthesizer arrived around 1967 and opened the doors more widely to the formation of electronic rock, but it was tape composition that started the trend toward adding experimental sounds to the music. And because making electronic music was a laborious task at that time, largely dependent on experimenting with sounds and editing them together using magnetic tape, an artist had to really be committed to the idea to work with it at all.
What I want to do in this podcast is recognize some early experiments in rock music with tape composition. With the exception of one track by Tommy James and the Shondells, none of the sounds heard in these songs were made using synthesizers. I selected tracks that fully used the tape machine and rock instruments as the primary sources of experimental sounds. As for the Tommy James track, Cellophane Symphony, that is also a gem of a song given that it was coming at the same time as Mort Garson, Wendy Carlos, and the Monkees were also recording with the Moog Synthesizer. Yet, the Moog Modular used on Cellophane Symphony was not used for special effects or atmospheres as was being done in most rock music of the time, but was implemented as a fully-fledged rock keyboard devoted to carrying a song.
Historically, there are indeed earlier examples of electronic tape music on pop tunes. But the tracks I feature here were recorded at a significant time in the history of rock. FM stations with their higher fidelity were becoming the norm. Record companies were investing more in studio equipment. Artists such as The Beatles, Beach Boys, and Jim Hendrix used the studio as a tool for shaping and crafting their sound down to the smallest detail. It is not surprising that interest in using the studio would sometimes turn to adding the editing techniques found in traditional electronic tape music.
The playlist for this program documents the different tracks. We will explore these examples in roughly chronological order by year, beginning in 1966 and ending in 1970. We will hear works by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention—several in fact, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Joe Byrd and The United States of America; tracks from France and Belgium by Bernard Parmegiani, Pierre Henry with and without Spooky Tooth, and the Free Pop Electronic Concept; Riders of the Mark, Silver Apples (album pictured here), the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Toshi Ichiyanagi, and Tim Buckley.
Details about all the music can be found in the playlist on the podcast website.
If you would like to learn more about the history of electronic music, please read my book, Electronic and Experimental Music, published by Routledge in print or as an e-Book. You may also want to read my book about Sound Art, also available from Routledge.
1. Frank Zappa, The Mothers of Invention, “The Return of the Son Of Monster Magnet (Unfinished Ballet In Two Tableaus)” from Freak Out! (1966 Verve). Bass, Guitarrón, Soprano Vocals, Roy Estrada; Drums, Jimmy Carl Black; Guitar, Vocals, Arranged By, Written-By, Leader, Musical Director, Frank Zappa; Lead Guitar, Rhythm Guitar, Elliot Ingber; Vocals, Harmonica, Tambourine, Finger Cymbals, Ray Collins. Having been gifted a copy of the Mother’s album Freak Out! In 1966, it was apparently this song that stuck in Paul McCartney’s mind, inspiring the “Carnival of Light” recording to follow. 12:15
2. The Beatles, “Carnival of Light” an unreleased track that was commissioned by the Million Volt Light and Sound Rave, an event held at the Roundhouse in London on January 28 and February 4, 1967. Recorded during a session for the song "Penny Lane" in January 1967. Working with the recording studio as a creative tool, this was a project brought to band by Paul McCartney who had been asked by the festival sponsors to create a tape to be featured at the event. It was reported later that McCartney explained the exercise to his bandmates by saying, "This is a bit indulgent, but would you mind giving me 10 minutes? I've been asked to do this thing. All I want you to do is just wander round all of the stuff and bang it, shout, play it." The result was this sound piece. The Beatles were already conditioned for turning out spectacular sound effects in the studio. This was before the Moog Synthesizer came to Abbey Road. Nonetheless, they had access to all manner of guitar effects, echo, reverb, a Mellotron, electronic piano, organ, Lesley speakers and other devices with which to improvise. 13:08
3. The Riders Of The Mark, “The Electronic Insides And Metal Complexion That Make Up Herr Doktor Krieg” from The Electronic Insides And Metal Complexion That Make Up Herr Doktor Krieg/Gotta Find Somebody (1967 20th Century Fox). I wish I knew more about this band, but I don’t. They had this one single. It has sometimes been included on compilation of psychedelia. Rock music, tape reversal, tape echo, fuzz tones, guitars. 2:13
4. Pink Floyd, “Interstellar Overdrive” from The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (1967 Columbia). UK release of the formidable Pink Floyd, then making an impact with their first LP. No synthesizers, but there were electronic rock instruments galore and some imaginative stereo imaging, a benefit of working with tape in those days. Bass Guitar, Vocals, Roger Waters; Lead Guitar, Vocals, Syd Barrett; Drums, Nicky Mason; Piano, Organ, Rick Wright. 9:40
5. Bernard Parmegiani, “Pop’eclectic (1968)” from JazzEx (1999 Plat Lunch). Composed, produced, edited by Bernard Parmegiani. Parmegiani was one of the lesser-known composers associated with the French musique concrete school, although he was no less prolific in many genres, including electronic music for commercials. He was adept at experimenting across genres, providing musique concrete vividness to works for jazz and rock music. I always find his work to be refreshing and uncluttered by musical cliches. 11:03
6. (Frank Zappa) The Mothers of Invention, “Are You Hung Up?” from We're Only In It For The Money (1968 Verve). Arranged By, Composed By, Conductor, Concept By Conceived, Directed By Executed, Producer, Frank Zappa; Bass, Vocals, Other Asthma, Roy Estrada; Drums, Trumpet, Vocals, Other Indian Of The Group, Jimmy Carl Black; Drums, Vocals, Other Yak & Black Lace Underwear, Billy Mundi; Guitar, Piano, Vocals, Edited By, Other Weirdness, Frank Zappa; Piano, Woodwind, Other Wholesome, Ian Underwood; Saxophone, Other Weirdness & Teen Appeal, Euclid James Motorhead Sherwood; Sounds Snorks, Dick Barber; Voice Creepy Whispering, Engineer, Gary Kellgren; Voice Telephone, Suzy Creamcheese; Woodwind, “Mumbled Weirdness,” Bunk Gardner. 1:30
7. Silver Apples, “Velvet Cave” from Silver Apples (1968 Kapp). Composed and Arranged by, Dan Taylor, Simeon; Percussion, Dan Taylor; The Simeon (oscillators, filters), Simeon; Vocals, Dan Taylor, Simeon. “INSTRUCTIONS: Play Twice Before Listening.” This two-man group used a genius combination of drums and oscillators, a match made in heaven. 3:27
8. (Frank Zappa) The Mothers of Invention, “Nasal Retentive Calliope Music” from We're Only In It For The Money (1968 Verve). Arranged By, Composed By, Conductor, Concept By Conceived, Directed By Executed, Producer, Frank Zappa; Bass, Vocals, Other Asthma, Roy Estrada; Drums, Trumpet, Vocals, Other Indian Of The Group, Jimmy Carl Black; Drums, Vocals, Other Yak & Black Lace Underwear, Billy Mundi; Guitar, Piano, Vocals, Edited By, Other Weirdness, Frank Zappa; Piano, Woodwind, Other Wholesome, Ian Underwood; Saxophone, Other Weirdness & Teen Appeal, Euclid James Motorhead Sherwood; Sounds Snorks, Dick Barber; Voice Creepy Whispering, Engineer, Gary Kellgren; Voice Telephone, Suzy Creamcheese; Woodwind, “Mumbled Weirdness,” Bunk Gardner. 2:03
9. The United States of America, “The American Metaphysical Circus” from The United States of America (1968 Columbia). While the entire psychedelic scene in America was adding tape manipulation, fuzz tones, and echo to their recordings, The United States of America brought a blend of rock musicianship and serious tape collage work to the fore. The tape effects in their music were not the usual brief hooks or the sake of novelty, but fully composed blocks of electronic and found sounds integrated in the core of their tunes. Electric Bass, Rand Forbes; Keyboards, Electronics, Organ, Piano, Arranged, Electric Harpsichord, Calliope, Joseph Byrd; Lead Vocals, Dorothy Moskowitz; Organ, Piano, Calliope, Ed Bogas; Percussion, Drums Electric Drums, Craig Woodson; Producer, David Rubinson; Violin Electric Violin, Ring Modulator, Gordon Marron. 5:07
10.The United States of America, “Hard Coming Love” from The United States of America (1968 Columbia). Electric Bass, Rand Forbes; Keyboards, Electronics, Organ, Piano, Arranged, Electric Harpsichord, Calliope, Joseph Byrd; Lead Vocals, Dorothy Moskowitz; Organ, Piano, Calliope, Ed Bogas; Percussion, Drums Electric Drums, Craig Woodson; Producer, David Rubinson; Violin Electric Violin, Ring Modulator, Gordon Marron. No synthesizers as such, but Tom Oberheim built ring modulators and other devices for them. 4:48
11.Bernard Parmegiani, “Du Pop À L'âne (1969)” from JazzEx (1999 Plat Lunch). Composed, produced, edited by Bernard Parmegiani. Of special interest on this track is a sampled chunk of a song by the Doors that appears about 6 minutes in, altered and accompanied by editing and effects. This use of sampling speaks to the liberties that musique concrete musicians were taking with found materials. 10:14
12.Pierre Henry & Michel Colombier, “Prologue,” “Psyché Rock,” “Jéricho Jerk,” and “Teen Tonic” from Mass For Today / The Green Queen (1969 Limelight). Compilation of earlier works first released in 1967. These four works were part of “Mass for Today,” an electronic rock ballet.” This is a decent collection, with selections from other Henry musique concrete works. The electronic sounds and tape effects seem somewhat heavy-handed now, but at that time, this was what one could do without a synthesizer. Henry was already a maestro of musique concrete by that time so it’s especially interesting to see what sounds he added without seeming trite or cliched. Réalisation Sonore, Pierre Henry; Written by, Michel Colombier, Pierre Henry. 9:54
13.Spooky Tooth and Pierre Henry, “Have Mercy” from Ceremony: An Electronic Mass (1969 Island). Bass Guitar, Andy Leigh; Composed by Gary Wright, Pierre Henry; Drums, Mike Kellie; Electronics, Realisation Sonore, Pierre Henry; Lead Guitar, Luther Grosvenor; Lead Vocals, Mike Harrison; Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Gary Wright. 8:10
14.The Free Pop Electronic Concept, “Pish! Pshaw!” from A New Exciting Experience (1969 Palette). From Brussels. Bass, James; Composed By, Recorded by Arsène Souffriau; Drums, Stu Martin; Electric Guitar, Jess; Organ, Scott Bradford; Percussion, Tumba, Vinagre. 4:47
15.The Free Pop Electronic Concept, “Cosmos Rhythms” from A New Exciting Experience (1969 Palette). From Brussels. Bass, James; Composed By, Recorded by Arsène Souffriau; Drums, Stu Martin; Electric Guitar, Jess; Organ, Scott Bradford; Percussion, Tumba, Vinagre. 3:01
16.Tommy James and the Shondells, “Cellophane Symphony” from Cellophane Symphony (1969 Roulette). This title track was a rare instrumental from this group normally associated with rock vocal hits. This is the only track in this podcast featuring the Moog Modular Synthesizer. There were certainly other examples of the Moog since it was first used in 1967, but I wanted to choose an example of how the synthesizer could be used by a rock band, rather than a pop artist such as Jean Jacques Perrey or Mort Garson. This is a terrific example that I would bet many of my listeners have never heard before. Tommy James, lead vocals, guitars, keyboards; Eddie Gray, lead guitar, backing vocals; Ronnie Rosman – keyboards, backing vocals; Mike Vale, bass guitar, backing vocals; Pete Lucia, drums, percussion, backing vocals. 9:37
17.West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, “As Kind as Summer” from Vol. 3 - A Child's Guide To Good & Evil (1968 Reprise). American psychedelic rock band, formed in Los Angeles in 1965, broke up in 1969. Three teens (brothers Dan and Shaun Harris and their friend Michael Lloyd) teamed up with 30-year old Bob Markley, who got them a record deal with Reprise. Each of their albums was most bizarre, combining hummable pop tunes and spacey production. I included this particular track because it starkly demonstrates the use of tape loops and sound reversal. 1:10
18.Toshi Ichiyanagi, The Flowers, "Electric Chant” and “The Flowers (内田裕也とザ・フラワーズ)” from Opera "From The Works Of Tadanori Yokoo (1969 The End Record). Composed by Toshi Ichiyanagi and performed by the Japanese rock group The Flowers: Bass, Takeshi Hashimoto; Drums, Joji Wada; Guitar, Vocals, Remi Aso; Percussion, Backing Vocals, Yuya Uchida; Steel Guitar, Katsuhiko Kobayashi; Vocals, Hiroshi Chiba, Kento Nakamura. I’m including two pieces from this opera from 1969. The first, “Electric Chant” is electronic and includes tape collage while the second, “The Flowers” was performed by the Japanese pop rock band The Flowers and is loaded with distortion, echo, feedback, and reverberation, transforming the simple rock format into a discourse in electronic sound. 5:17 & 7:18
19.Tim Buckley, “Starsailor” from Starsailor (1970 Bizarre). Engineer, Stan Agol; Vocals, Producer, Written by, Tim Buckley. According to Larry Beckett, Buckley’s chief lyricist and collaborator, who was there when they recorded this track, Buckley had a basic lyric track to which he recorded 18 additional vocals tracks on top of it. “He didn’t write it out as a classical musician does, but it was thoroughly composed.” From the standpoint of rock music, this was more akin to composing with tone clusters than chord progressions. 4:34
Opening background music: Luc Ferrari, “Dialogue Ordinaire Avec La Machine (1984)” from Dialogue Ordinaire Avec La Machine / Sexolidad (2019 Elica). Composed and performed by Luc Ferrari.
See my companion blog that I write for the Bob Moog Foundation.