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  • Writer's pictureThom Holmes

Twelve Gymnopédies

Electronic Arrangements of the Piano Music of Erik Satie.

Erik Satie lived in France from 1866 to 1925. He wrote the Trois Gymnopédies three gymnopedies, in 1888, a year after declaring that he was a "gymnopedist," a made-up occupation for himself.

French classicist have long looked down on Satie, saying his work was not music, that he was a clown. Satie was in the habit of notating his scores with impertinent performance indicators that often perplexed piano players. Think about it. You are reading a score, playing every note perfectly when you come upon an instruction to play, “not too lively,” or “drunken,” or perhaps “very shiny” or even “flabby and too slow.” Even his most famous work, the “Gymnopédie No. 1” contained the confounding instruction to play “slow and painfully.”

Gymnopédie No. 1 is by far Satie's most often-played, recorded, and familiar work. While sorting through my archive, I couldn’t help but notice how often this one piece of music was interpreted for electronic instruments. Enough so that I thought it warranted its own podcast. So, herein I describe twelve different electronic versions of Gymnopédie No. 1 plus a rendition of Gymnopedie No. 3 (my personal favorite) and a portion from of Satie’s “Sports Et Divertissements,” a cycle of short piano pieces from 1914.

And if you think these will sound completely repetitious and boring, I suggest that you reconsider. The works were released over the span of 47 years, from 1970 to 2017. They bridge several stages in the technology of electronic music, from the analog Moog Synthesizer to the algorithmic composition of the laptop. The works also cover a wide range of styles from the utterly performable to DJ beat-heavy dance beats, to the intrinsically private, moody music of extended moments. All testify to the timeless appeal of Satie and I invite you to explore him further.

The playlist:

1. Pamelia Stickney (formerly Kurstin), Gymnopedie, from the album Gymnopedie (2000). For theremin.

Pamelia Stickney’s Theremin rendition brings to mind a fun fact for you. I have done some research work for the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts in Katonah, New York. Caramoor was the home of Walter & Lucie Rosen. In 1929, the couple met Russian inventor Leon Theremin and were introduced to his ethereal instrument. Lucie took up Theremin playing with a passion, gave performances and commissioned music for the instrument. Among the scores in the estate is an arrangement of Trois Gymnopédies for three theremins, commissioned by Lucie in the 1940s. Though never recorded, this is the earliest instance I know of a Satie piece being transcribed and likely performed for an electronic instrument.

2. Satie: Gymnopédies No.1 - Cagedbaby Remix (2017). Cagedbaby is Thomas Gandey, a DJ and Tech house producer from the UK.

3. Café Del Mar – Classic, Gymnopedie No. 1 (2002), produced by Javier Losada, a Spanish keyboardist.

4. Gary Numan, Gymnopedie No. 1/We Are Glass, (1980), uses Polymoogs and Arp Pro Soloist (1980).

5. Kurt Riemann, Gymnopedie No. 1, from Electronic Nightworks, 1983. Created using various electronic instruments including synthesizers and controllers from Synton, ARP, Oberheim, Kawai and Roland.

6. Veetdharm Morgan Fisher, Gymnopedie No. 1 (Festival Soft Fanfare Synthesizer), from Inside Satie (1985).

7. Veetdharm Morgan Fisher, Gymnopedie No. 1 (Sugar Plum Piano/Water Bell Synthesizer), from Inside Satie, (1985)

8. Sky, Gymnopedie No. 1, from Sky (1979). Oberheim Ob1 and Prophet V synthesizers by Francis Monkman

9. Rod Argent ‎– Gymnopédies No. 1, single (1977). Argent was the keyboard player for the Zombies and Argent. He released this single as one of his first solo projects after the breakup of Argent.

10. Sweet Female Attitude, Flowers (Solomon's Precious Mix) (2000). Note the sampled chord progression from Gymnopedies No. 1. Sweet Female Attitude were an electronic music act from Manchester UK, best known for this track ‘Flowers.’

11. Anamanaguchi, Interlude (Gymnopedie No. 1), from Endless Fantasy (2013). Anamanaguchi is an American chiptune rock band from New York City, that "makes loud, fast music with a hacked Nintendo Entertainment System from 1985."

12. Patricia Escudero, Gymnopedie No. 3, Satie Sonneries (1987). Patricia Escudero is a keyboard and electronic music artist from Spain. This was her only release.

13. William Basinski & Richard Chartier, Divertissement (2015). I had originally planned to include another work by Chartier, namely Silver from the album Other Materials (2002). That work is based on tonalities found in the Gymnopedies but in giving a listen it is difficult to make out. I got in touch with Richard and he suggested that I might use the track Divertiseement from an album he did with William Basinski in 2015. He said that for this work, “primarily side A, is a little bit more apparent in its slicing and dicing and skittering.” Thanks to Richard, I’ve included an excerpt from the side A of the album. The fade-out was my only modification.

This episode’s Archive Mix, in keeping with the electronic spirit of Erik Satie, featured another interpretation of Satie, probably the earliest synthesizer rendition of his works. It is from an album that was released in 1970 called the Music of Eric Satie: the Velvet Gentleman. The album was by Tutti Camarata and his chamber group but also featured some tracks using the Moog Modular synthesizer, at the time the most widely used synth in popular music. The Moog went uncredited. But when I saw that the album was partly recorded at Sunset Sound Studios in Hollywood, I contacted my penpal Bernie Krause to see if the Moog tracks had actually been done by he and Paul Beaver. At the time, if you wanted a Moog on a record in Los Angeles, you called Beaver and Krause. Bernie had not worked on this himself but recalled that Paul and Tutti were friends. They also often worked at Sunset Sound and knew the engineer for this record, Bill Robinson. So, it is not unreasonable to assume that Paul Beaver provided the Moog patching, on this track. The track name in English is “Time-Honoured and Instantaneous Hours." It is played at the same time as a track by Bayāte Esfahān (BYE-AY-te ES-fa-HAYN) on which he plays the Nay flute, from the album Santur, Tunbuk, and Tar: Music and Drum Rhythms from Iran.

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