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  • Thom Holmes

Music for Space Travelers

Lingering Sounds from the Atomic Age

Book: Electronic and Experimental Music, sixth edition, Routledge 2020.

Podcast: The Holmes Archive of Electronic Music



My original fascination with electronic music came from pop music and science fiction films. I loved any song that had a special effect in it, like sounds played backwards, strange organ solos, or tape echo. And science fiction films were loaded with special sounds that were not only unfamiliar but uncredited. One thing that many of these works had in common was the science fiction narrative.


In this episode I want to present some space-themed compositions. The concept of outer space travel has served as inspiration for many artists across the decades. I’ve selected some works that span the early 1960s to about 1980. They are each distinguished by having an outer space title of some sort. You have Challenge of Space by radiophonic music pioneer Eric Siday, produced in 1961 for the BBC. Moon Maid by Tom Dissevelt, The Song of Venus by Tomita, and Space Child by Spirit add a romantic turn to thoughts of outer space. Then there is the super-large expanse of space as a kind of metaphor for the meaning of life. We catch Sun Ra wandering there in Cosmic Explorer and Vangelis with Pulstar. Earthshine by John Keating and Space Hymn by Lothar and the Hand people give us a chance to celebrate the domain of outer space as the next extension of human existence. Hughes Defour gives us his vision of extra-planetary living in the work Saturne. Canadian Peter Huse offers up an electronic composition process inspired by the other-worldly sounds created for science fiction movies. I’ve included the complete version of Tomita’s The Sea Named ‘Solaris’ which became familiar to most in its shorter version included in the soundtrack for the television program Cosmos. We’ll hear these and other sounds inspired by space, the idea of space travel, and the idea that we may not be alone.


Playlist


1. Hamilton O'Hara And Charlie Dobson Featuring Satellite Singers and Orchestra, Directed by, written by Jim Timmens, “With A Great Big Noise Like Thunder (Rocket Into Space),” from Journey to the Moon and More about Outer Space (1974, Golden Records). Excerpt.


2. Eric Siday, “Challenge of Space” from “The Ultra Sonic Perception” (1961 Conroy). Magnetic tape music and effects by Eric Siday for this album of library music for broadcast.


3. The Tornadoes, “Telstar” from The Sounds Of The Tornadoes (1962 London), written and produced by Joe Meek. The record was named after the Telstar communications satellite which was launched into orbit on July 10, 1962. It featured the Clavioline.


4. Toru Hatano, “Solaris” from Space Adventure (1978 Mu Land). Musical Instruments: KORG Polyphonic Ensemble 1000, KORG Polyphonic Ensemble "Orchestra" 2000, KORG Synthesizer 800DV, KORG Synthesizer 770, Rhythm Machine-mini pops 120P, Drums, Electric Guitar, Strings Ensemble.


5. Tom Dissevelt, “Moon Maid” from Song of the Second Moon (1968 Limelight). This was a North American reissue of a track from 1962 called “Drifting” recorded in the Netherlands at the Philips electronic music laboratory.


6. Dick Raaijmakers, “The Ray Makers” from Song of the Second Moon (1968 Limelight). This was a North American reissue of a track from 1962 called “Mechanical Motions” recorded in the Netherlands at the Philips electronic music laboratory. The US song title is a play on the last name of the composer, which is pronounced “Ray-makers.”


7. Hugues Dufourt, Ensemble D'Instruments Électroniques De L'Itinéraire, Peter Eötvös, “Saturne, Part C (1978),” from Saturne (1980 Sappho). The work was conceived for an ensemble of wind instruments (12 performers), a group of percussion (6 performers) and an ensemble of electrical instruments (4 performers). Saturne was recorded in the Espace de Projection of the IRCAM centre Pompidou on 1st and 2nd December 1979. The first public performance of the work was made on the same place on the 3rd December 1979. Composed by Hugues Dufourt. Ensemble D'Instruments Électroniques De L'Itinéraire, electric guitar and synthesizer, Claude Pavy, François Bousch.


8. Peter Huse, “Space Play (1969)” from Carrefour (Musique, Électro-Acoustique/Electroacoustic Music, Canada) (1972, Radio Canada International). Made in the Sonic Research Studio at Simon Fraser University. Huse was assistant director of the World Soundscape Project around this time. About this work he said, “Science fiction cinema taught me to regard all sounds and physical space as materials for music.” This play of sound in space was created using magnetic tape composition.


9. Eric Siday, “Galaxy” from “The Ultra Sonic Perception” (1961 Conroy). Magnetic tape music and effects by Eric Siday for this album of library music for broadcast.


10. John Keating, “Earthshine” from Space Experience 2 (1975 EMI). Produced by John Keating. Keyboards by Francis Monkman. All electronic instruments by ARP including 2600, Odysseynsemble, Pro Soloist, String Ensemble.


11. Claude Dubois, “Une Guitare Des Ondes Et Leur Machine” from Fable D'espace (1978 Pingouin). Music and lyrics, produced by Claude Dubois; Synthesizer, Jean-Yves Labat; Drums, John Wilcox; Guitar, Percussion, Synthesizer, Engineer, John Holbrook; Piano, Clavinet, Bass, Electric Piano Richard Bell.


12. Spirit, “Space Child,” from Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus (1970 Epic). Composer, keyboards, Moog Synthesizer, John Locke; vocals, guitar, Randy California; vocals, percussion, Jay Ferguson; drums, percussion, Ed Cassidy; bass, vocals, Mark Andes; produced by David Briggs.


13. Lothar and the Hand People, “Space Hymn” from “Space Hymn” (1969 Capitol). ''All electronic music on this album was created and realized by the Hand People on Moog Synthesizer and Lothar, the Theremin.'' Lothar and the Hand People: John Emelin, Kim King, Paul Conly, Rusty Ford, Tom Flye. Written by Tom Flye. Produced by Nickolas Venet.


14. Sun Ra, “Cosmic Explorer (1970)” excerpt, from Nuits De La Fondation Maeght Volume 1 (1971 Shandar). “Intergalactic instruments played by Sun Ra.” Recorded live at Saint Paul de Vence, France, 3/5 August 1970. Compositions by Sun Ra. Minimoog solos by Sun Ra. Percussion by Nimrod Hunt, Lex Humphries, and John Goldsmith. I’ve included over eight minutes of this 20-minute piece.


15. Isao Tomita, “The Sea Named ‘Solaris’ (Bach, Three-Part Invention No. 2 in C Minor-Chorale)," from Kosmos (1978 RCA). This is the complete version of the work that was shortened for use with the Cosmos television series and various greatest hits albums. " Music electronically created by Isao Tomita.


16. Vangelis, “Pulstar” from Albedo 0.39 (1976 RCA). Keyboards, synthesizers, drums, bass, Vangelis. Speaking Clock: Post Office Telecommunications. The term “albedo” refers to the reflecting power of a planet or other non-luminous body.


17. Isao Tomita, “The Earth - A Hollow Vessel” (Tomita: “Dororo”), from The Bermuda Triangle (1979 RCA). Music electronically created by Isao Tomita.


18. Isao Tomita, “The Song Of Venus (Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 1, First Movement),” from The Bermuda Triangle (1979 RCA). Music electronically created by Isao Tomita.



Archive Mix (two tracks played at the same time).

  • Dick Raaijmakers, “Song of the Second Moon” from Song of the Second Moon (1968 Limelight). Recorded in the Netherlands at the Philips electronic music laboratory in 1962.

  • Sun Ra, “The Star Gazers” (1970)” from Nuits De La Fondation Maeght Volume 1 (1971 Shandar). “Intergalactic instruments played by Sun Ra.” Recorded live at Saint Paul de Vence, France, 3/5 August 1970. Compositions by Sun Ra. Synthesizer [Moog], piano, electric piano, organ [electric], Sun Ra; vocal by Verta Grosvenor.


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