An email about an early electronic music pioneer inspired a longer than usual response from me. John, who lives in San Jose, alerted me to some information about Delia Derbyshire. She was employed by the BBC and performed many early experiments with reel to reel tape loops, sampling, and oscilloscopes. This information triggered a few memories as to how my love of electronic music matured throughout my life. This type of nostalgia brings me joy.
My obsession with electronically produced music began when I was still a pre-teen in 1962. I heard the record “Telstar” by the British group the Tornados. I instantly fell in love with the piece. Its futuristic, space-age sound snippets were fascinating. I saved my pennies and eventually purchased a 45 rpm copy. In fact, “Telstar” was the very first record of any variety I ever bought. I played the record at every opportunity until the grooves wore thin and scratchy.
I credit “Telstar” with planting the seed that grew into my love of instrumental music and electronica in particular. One of the biggest frustrations I encountered was the dire scarcity of then current popular instrumental Top-40 hits. If and when one popped up, I’d buy a copy as soon as possible. Of course that meant that my record collection was still quite small. After “Telstar” my interest in record collecting went into hibernation.
Then, in 1968 dad purchased an 8-Track tape copy of “Switched On Bach”. The collection of musical pieces composed by Johann Sebastian Bach were realized by Walter Carlos (now known as Wendy Carlos). The tracks were painstakingly produced and mixed on a Moog synthesizer. The album and sequels were reasonably popular among niche buyers in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I purchased vinyl LP copies of them as they were released. By today’s standards, “Switched On Bach” sounds somewhat primitive and harsh, but I still occasionally play those early Walter Carlos albums.
In 1971, I bought an Allied-Radio Shack reel to reel recorder in order to assemble documentaries for the news department of the college radio station. The machine enabled more timely personal contributions to the broadcast schedule. During downtime, I began experimenting with reverberation, overdubbing, and feedback loops on that primitive tape recorder. Eventually, friends and family became interested in my experiments. I frequently staged impromptu mini-concerts, by request. These are some of my happiest memories of the 1970s. Looking back, I wish I would have pursued electronic music as a career or a supplemental career.
Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” was released in 1971 and played in smaller movie theaters later that year. I love Kubrick’s films, so “A Clockwork Orange” was a must-see. The movie was brilliant, but my favorite part was the musical soundtrack realized by Walter Carlos. The movie only featured bits and pieces of the music, but there was enough of it to whet my appetite for the soundtrack record album. I bought a copy as soon as it was available in 1972. I still love every track on the recording, especially the Beethoven “Ninth Symphony” excerpts. The depth and richness of the tracks are still satisfying to us electronica aficionados.
From the 1970s onward, more electronic music was being produced and sold to wider audiences. Aside from Walter (Wendy) Carlos, Tangerine Dream and their proto-ambient variety of space music began showing up in my record collection.
In 1974, the German electronic group “Kraftwerk” released their fourth LP, “Autobahn”. The abridged title track was played on Top 40 radio for a short while; that’s where I first heard it. There are two copies of “Autobahn” in my collection, LP and CD. Kraftwerk’s other albums became staples in my daily listening habits.
January 1976 became special when I stumbled upon a copy of Jean-Michel Jarre’s “Oxygène”. The album was first released the prior month in France and copies of it began showing up in the United States. That’s when I encountered my copy. Meantime, Jarre has released sequel “Oxygène” albums and videos. He has become one of the most popular electronic, instrumentalist musicians in the world.
In addition to his music, Jarre is famous outside of America for his massive, extravagant outdoor concerts. The attendance figures for his concerts have entered the Guinness Book of Records four times. The last one was his September 1997 concert commemorating the 850th birthday of Moscow, Russia. Over 3,500,000 people witnessed Jarre’s concert. Jarre has produced a few huge concerts in the U.S. but his music has not caught on with general audiences in America.
Needless to say, electronica is my go-to, default musical genre. The format is crowded with many contemporary artists and experimenters. On the other hand, my favorites are still Jean-Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, and Kraftwerk in that order. If you enjoy any or all of them, we could develop a good friendship.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Wendy Carlos. “As human beings, we do change, grow, adapt, perhaps even learn and become wiser.”