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Robot Musics (for Fistula Spume)

F. Spume inquires,

I’m looking for music from the seventies that are similar to Kraftwerk. I’m a sucker for robot music/old electronic and I thought I would throw this out there. I’ve already discovered Telex, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Jean-Michel Jarre, and more recently Roberto Cacciapaglia’s Anne Steel album. I’m even down with 80’s music like Klein & MBO and Alexander Robotnick. So that’s where I’m at. Do you know of something I’m missing or leaving out that would be along these lines? Please let me know if you have a suggestion. I would greatly appreciate it.

Like you I’m also looking for this music, and what I’m including below is a survey of what I’ve found so far. There are plenty of holes so maybe we can help each other fill in the gaps?

To find the robot musics you like from the 70s you’ll need to start with the late 50s, oh yes. Start with “Cindy Electronium” (1959) by Raymond Scott, the fellow who inspired Robert Moog, of moog synthesizer fame. Listening to “Cindy Electronium” you’ll swear you’re listening to early Krafwerk. But it’s over ten years earlier, truly remarkable — Raymond Scott definitely comprises a good portion of the musty humus this music tree has its roots planted in. If you’re digging “Cindy” then pick up Raymond Scott’s 1962 trilogy, “Soothing Sounds for Baby.” And there is also an incredible new album of Raymond Scott’s compositions for TV commercials, Manhattan Research, Inc. see more info here. (I don’t have this album but I’ve heard tracks… check out “Bufferin: Memories” if you can).

The revelation that Bell Telephone labs had succeeded in synthesizing speech was publicized in 1963. Bell Labs, electronic engineer Max Matthews had coaxed their computer into singing “Daisy Bell”, aka “Bicycle Built for Two” back in 1961. (“Daisy Bell” later becomes fixed in the popular imagination with computers and computerized speech by appearing on the 1968 soundtrack to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey).

For a few years, work remained hidden in backroom labs and university music departments and then Robert Moog came out with his Moog synthesizer in 1964. I’m still searching for music from this critical period 1964-1967.

In 1967, Terry Riley reveals the A Rainbow in Curved Air. I’ve written about this album before. Yo, I get the chills every time I hear it. This is still pre-Wendy Carlos’ moog music explosion, so keep this in mind in the train of music influence, just how awesome this album is. This sound was popularized by the sequencer opening to “Baba O’Riley” on the Who’s 1968 album Who’s Next.

Also in 1968, find Kenneth Gaburo’s album Fat Millie’s Lament — Music for Voices, Instruments and Electronic Sounds in the Nonesuch backcatalog (Nonesuch LP H -71199). When it comes to electronic composers in the Nonesuch backcatalog, don’t look over Gaburo. Xennakis, Crumb, and Subotnick may be more famous but Gaburo is a joy to listen to! (Also to dj and mix with 😉

Significantly, 1968 also featured the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. HAL9000 sings Daisy Bell. No electronic music here really (and this was important to Kubrick who was distancing the cliche sounds of the theremin from golden age sci-fi 50s films like The Forbidden Planet) but the concept I think of computer-human interaction becomes much more complete here than with the idea of computer speech in Star Trek.

More in 1968: Wendy Carlos came out with Switched-On Bach and followed up with The Well-Tempered Synthesizer in 1969. And due to the success of Carlos’ album, the moog starts appearing all over the place, and not necessarily in a good way. Listen to The Byrds, “Moog Raga” instrumental (available on the 1989 album Never Before. But, as yet, no one has put these two sounds (synthesized speech and synthesized organ) together.

The robot sound you’re looking for probably cannot be found on Ed Sander’s 1972 song “Yodeling Robot” (although for fun, you should hear it). Rather, it’s on Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind’s interpretation of Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 by Ludwig Van Beethoven, on the A Clockwork Orange soundtrack. Listen to the “March from A Clockwork Orange.” You can hear Kraftwerk give homage to Wendy Carlos on the first track of their live bootleg from 1982 “Virtu Ex Machina.”

Lots to cover in the 1970s. Kraftwerk, was of course, not the only German band heavily experimenting with electronics. Make certain to check out Tangerine Dream — Christopher Franke and Edgar Froese had been experimenting with sequencers for years before Peter Baumann came on board in 1972. Listen to their 1974 and 1975 albums, Phaedra and Rubycon before picking up their live album Ricohet. (Also from 1975).

Steve Reich and Philip Glass are also busy during this period. Listen to Philip Glass’ 1971 composition Music with Changing Parts and Steve Reich’s 1976 masterpiece Music for 18 Musicians.” You can hear the influence of the latter directly on Michael Hoenig’s 1977 opus Departure for the Northern Wasteland. (In a future post, I would like to chronicle all the music pieces that sought to emulate the sound of the railway or subway).

Other Germans to take note of are Cluster, and Ashra (the project of Manuel Göttsching after Klaus Schulze left). If you like Michael Hoenig’s Departure then most certainly find his collaboration with Göttsching for the 1976 album Early Water. Peter Baumann and Edgar Froese from Tangerine Dream were also putting out great solo albums you’ll be interested in: see Froese’s Epsilon in Malaysian Pale (1974) and Macula Transfer (1976), and Baumann’s Romance ’76 and Trans Harmonic Nights (1979). More Berlin School space music can be found on Kitaro’s early albums Astral Voyage (Tan Kai), Full Moon Story and Oasis.

Ok, so that’s as much as I can write cause like you I’m still searching and I’m especially interested in new wave synth-pop and Kraftwerk inspired detroit techno. Below is the image of a flyer from my first ever ambient/space/chill-out/improv jazz/shoegazer show, Stupid Robot, almost ten years ago in Philadelphia.

About Aharon N. Varady

Aharon's Omphalos is the hobbit hole of Aharon Varady, founding director of the Open Siddur Project. He is a community planner and environmental educator working to improve stewardship of the Public Domain, be it the physical and natural commons of urban park systems or the creative and cultural commons of libraries and museums. His advocacy for open-source strategies in the Jewish community has been written about in the Atlantic Magazine, the Yiddish Forverts, Tablet, and Haaretz. He is particularly interested in pedagogies for advancing ecological wisdom, developing creative and emotional intelligence, and realizing effective theurgical praxes . He welcomes your comments, personal messages, and kind words. If you find his work helpful to your own or you'd simply like to support him, please consider donating via his Patreon account.

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