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Various Artists - Electronic Voyages: Early Moog Recordings 1964-1969

by Jeff Penczak Rating:6 Release Date:2019-06-14
Various Artists - Electronic Voyages: Early Moog Recordings 1964-1969
Various Artists - Electronic Voyages: Early Moog Recordings 1964-1969

This soundtrack to next year’s Indiegogo crowd-funded documentary on the pioneering work of Robert Moog features various examples of the myriad uses musicians and groups put to his invention which redefined electronic music as we know it. One could arguably trace many of those synth pop, krautrock, and electronic albums in your collection to Moog, and this collection offers some early examples of how the instrument was incorporated into compositions from pop, psychedelic, and avant-garde experimental musicians alike. As a bridge between Mellotrons and synthesizers, Moog’s invention allowed composers to bend electronic notes to their creative whims, greatly enhancing the sounds available for recording and live performances.

Eschewing the most famous examples from the pop and rock world (Monkees, Doors, Beatles, Byrds, Beaver and Krause, Perry and Kingsley, et. al.) and Walter Carlos’ commercial breakthrough, Switched-On Bach, this set leans more towards the experimental and instructional use of the instrument, with only Lothar and The Hand People’s ‘Milkweed Love’ from their 1968 Presenting debut (and not the best representation of their work) approaching the rock idiom.

Moog himself opens the set with ‘The Abominatron’, an awkward, self-deprecating “audio letter’ to one of his student’s Herbert Deutsch (heard later in the set) describing his invention’s various sound capabilities. It’s a tad technical, coming across like a science project demonstration, and hasn’t stood the test of time well, although hearing these weird and wacky sounds for the first time back around 1964 must have been rather exciting.

Deutsch, who has been credited with designing the Moog’s keyboard interface, is up next with his ‘Jazz Images – A Worksong and Blues’, the first piece of music composed specifically for the instrument. Again, it’s rather academic and feels like he’s simply trying out myriad sounds to show what the instrument is capable of. One does have to realise all the sounds emanating from the Moog, which Deutsch manages to make sound amazingly similar to jazz piano, brass, and bass accompaniment, but the “worksong” part of the title also means there are random “noises” that sound like something Raymond Scott created for those Bugs Bunny cartoons. Historically important, but not something you’ll ever listen to a second time, assuming you get through the first!

Joel Chadabe’s ‘Blues Mix’ also farts and burps its way through the various keyboard sound possibilities, but it again sounds like excerpts from SETI transmissions, or outtakes from The Conet Project. In other words, sonic demonstrations, not “music” in any recognisable sense. Intersystems’ spoken word with weird sonic accompaniment (‘Changing Colours’) is rather baffling and difficult to follow, even if one did happen to attend the Montreal art exhibit it was originally commissioned for. Originally self-released as the enticing Free Psychedelic Poster Inside album in 1968, it also may work better whilst staring at this alleged poster. But as a standalone artefact, it’s pretty disposable.

The prolific Moog composer Ruth White’s eerie pants-shitter, ‘The Clock’ (from her 1969 album Flowers Of Evil, subtitled An Electronic Setting of the Poems of Charles Baudelaire) is also a spoken word piece (presumably her own, unadulterated voice) works because her hypnotic narration of an approaching apocalypse is perfectly complemented by the abstract bleeps and bloops that the Moog was perfect at capturing. And Max Brand’s ‘Tryptich’ suggests the effective cinematic use the Moog could be put to, with his equally spooky sounds that are just dying to be put to best use as musical cues from some horror film. Like the library music that was all the rage a few years back, this one is ripe for rediscovery … and reuse, sounding much like the BBC Radiophonic Workshop recordings of Delia Derbyshire and co. Of course, that was essentially tape manipulation and this is a standalone instrument, but you get the sonic idea.

So while this set will primarily appeal to fans of the history of electronic music and musique concrete, adventurous sound explorers will also enjoy the unique noises Moog allowed future generations to corral in those memorable songs that many of us take for granted at this far remove.

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