December 29, 2007

Tape music and the Ondes Martenot

So, I have been fascinated by a few examples of some unusual sounds. In the mid 20th century, classical musicians were creating "tape music", music created with electronic instrumentation and manipulated analog recording techniques.

One early example is "Poem Electronique" by Edgard Varese. It's a combination of clicks, bizarre found noise examples and synthesized sounds from early electronic instruments such as the theremin. Also, keep in mind that when the piece was debuted in 1958 for an exposition in Brussells, the sound mixed for and played on 400 speakers positioned throughout the pavilion where the exposition took place.

WARNING : Moderately to heavily bizarre, ridiculous, and cool.

Another later work that utilizes electronic tones in classical music is Paul Lansky's "Mild Und Leise" from 1973. The sounds from this piece were among the first to be created on a computer, an early IBM 360 mainframe. Here is an mp3 file of the 18 minute soundscape -

Mild Und Leise

If you listen closely, at about 45 seconds you will hear a very, very familiar sample. It's the basic chord progression sampled for Radiohead's "Idioteque" obtained when the band asked to use the excerpt in the track from the Kid A album, a work about which Lansky himself speaks of quite favorably.

Speaking of Radiohead, Jonny Greenwood is one of the few modern musicians to make use of the Ondes Martenot, a near relative of the theremin and an amazingly cool instrument in its own right. Here is a demonstration from a master thereminist preparing for what seems to be an orchestral piece utilizing the instrument. The sounds range from bass notes with a reedy, sawing resonance to beautiful, ethereal high tones -

Yeah. Awesome.

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Blogger Tony Gonzalez said...

Thanks for this post. I remember recording that "Idioteque" clip before I really new Radiohead. Just figured I should see who they were...blown away, I rushed out to get the disc soon after, then tried multiple times to use the song as a juggling routine...did so once...along with every other juggler on Earth.

January 2, 2008 at 2:24 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The piece he's preparing for is
by Messiaen

It's properly great.

And I think Leela in Futurama was named after it :)

January 7, 2008 at 1:21 PM 

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