Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Moon: Silver Apples of the Moon

Morton Subotnik: Silver Apples of the Moon, part 1


This piece defines the beginning of an evolution that I'm coming out the other end of now. I can see where it has led; I can see sort of an ending point. I can also see what made it fairly popular at the time it came out in relation to the pop world and the world in general. It sort of defined an approach to electronics that found its way into all sorts of media at the time, in terms of music and sound. I feel comfortable with it—I think it's really held up over all these years.
—Morton Subotnik
Time to go a little left of center for Star Maker Machine. This is an excerpt from composer Morton Subotnik's seminal 1968 work. While this was hardly the first piece of electronic music—the box set I took this from has tracks dating back to the 1930s!—it is noteworthy for being the first time a record label (Nonesuch) actually commissioned such a work.

A lot of the early electronic music was made by manipulating tapes and instruments like the theremin; for Silver Apples, Subotnik got together with Don Buchla to create one of the first synthesizers (Buchla was developing instruments concurrently with Robert Moog, sorta like Edison and Tesla). The resulting "Electric Music Box" (also referred to simply as a "Buchla") was the basis for Subotnik's composition. Beyond instrumentation, Silver Apples also distinguished itself from other electronic-based music of the era by paying more attention to rhythm and pattern—a lot of the early electronic music eschewed pattern altogether, more interested in the chance sounds resulting from the physical manipulation of the sounds' sources. I don't know that this excerpt is the ideal illustration of that fact—you can still hear a lot of that randomness here, though there are moments that indicate something more rhythmic going on.

As an addendum, I can only assume that this composition must have had a huge effect on the band The Silver Apples, who came together right around the same time and applied synthesizers to pop structures. Brendan did a great post on that band over at the Rising Storm.

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