#1345 Various Artists – Electronic Music: It Started Here

This is a recent purchase and on heavy rotation too. (Yeah, it’s a CD, but they still spin to play). I’ve been getting into early electronic music, with the likes of Wendy Carlos, Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram and Angela Morley. (If you haven’t heard of the latter, you really must check her out – I was delighted to discover the Scott Walker connection.)

There’s a lot of similar compilations out at the moment, I’m guessing due to the 70 year copyright being up. I have similar CD, bought at the time with more detailed liner notes, but you can’t fault the track listing on this. Plus 2 CDs – 50 tracks! I’ve been trying to find a copy of the box set OHM: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music for the last 10 years that didn’t have a £50 price tag, whereas this is available for less than a fiver.

I am not, in any sense of the word, any kind of expert on early electronic music. But I do like it, a lot. I’m fascinated generally in hearing things which are a little out of the ordinary, and these pioneers of sound, were trying to do just that. Experimenting with equipment that had only recently been invented to see what they could do with it. It goes back way further and is far broader than Daphne Oram co-founding the  BBC Radiophonic Workshop in 1958 and arguably it’s most famous member, Delia Derbyshire. They’re both represented here, but so are many more and much earlier pioneers.

I was at the Pioneers of Sound late night Prom at the Royal Albert Hall last Monday, for the world premiere of a reconstructed version from newly discovered archive material of Daphne Oram’s Still Point, a piece I first heard about through my tentative explorations into this type of music. She composed it in 1949, aged 23, and it’s so ahead of its time. Worth seeing if you have any interest in electronic music, still available on iPlayer here.

So back to this compilation; it’s coverage is so broad, that I’ll attempt only a quick overview here. It kicks off with Waltz in Orbit, the B side to the first ever Radiophonic Workshop release, Time Beat (which is on the second CD). ‘Ray Cathode’ (fab name) being the pseudonym of Maddalene Fagandini (RW member) and a young George Martin. Wonder what happened to him? There are four pieces from Daphne Oram’s Electronic Sound Patterns release, which I also have on vinyl (pic on Instagram). There are several Dutchmen featured here, I know nothing about the early electronic music scene in the Netherlands (very happy for someone to enlighten me), but clearly it was significant with several innovative electro/jazz tracks from Dutch composer Tom Dissevelt, and pieces also from his countrymen Dick Raaymakers and Henk Badings.

The experimentation with musique concrète, led by French composers such as Pierre Schaeffer, Pierre Henry and Michel Philippot is well represented. There are ‘proper’ classical composers too, such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage, who were radical innovators in so much more than ‘just’ electronically recorded sound. We have some great tracks from Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky, themselves co-founders of one of the pivotal centres for the exploration of electronic music, the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York. The other, equally significant, home for electronic sound innovation, exploration and composition was Schaeffer’s Groupe de Recherche de Musique Concrete in Paris. And then we also have Edgard Varèse, who at various times was involved in both centres, and is often considered the “Father of Electronic Music”

Best Bits: There’s so much on here, it’s pretty near impossible to pick one ‘best bit’ from 50 tracks, but I’m going to go for Bahnfahrt, because it’s just fabulous and also by an unknown artist. I hope whoever did write it (or their descendants) is getting a kick out of it being included on so many of these electronic compilations.
Genre: Early Electronica
Like This, Try This: Twiddling your knobs and other sound experiments

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