Ohm: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music
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OHM+ : the early gurus of electronic music
Special Edition 3CD + DVD
Leaps in technology: oscillators, generators, vacuum tubes, amplifiers, transistors, magnetic tape, integrated circuits, and the microchip inspired new instruments: the telharmonium, theremin, ondes martenot, electronic sackbut, clavivox, electronium, moog synthesizer, and computers and artists everywhere hungry for new modes of expression.
This collection is a humble but bold attempt to give form to the wonderful, multi-directional, inevitable birth of electronic music.
"Many of the ideas in this collection have now been so completely assimilated into popular listening that it may sometimes be hard to remember how surprising it all was on first outing. Some of it still sounds pretty exotic. These CDs are important as part of the story of how we got to where we are nowthe cultural conversation so farand as a still fruitful repertoire of future possibilities." from the Foreword by Brian Eno
Three CDs42 original music tracks from 19481980 112 Page Bookextensive artist interviews, commentaries, and archival photographs Special Edition DVDover two hours of rare performances, interviews, animations, and experimental video.
This review is for the original OHM Release:
"Early pioneers of electronic music get their due on Ellipsis "OHM" set" -- Billboard
This review is for the original OHM Release:
"The whole thing is a scream" -- Rolling Stone
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...and don't expect a killer drum and bass rhythm section on any of these pieces. As you'll soon learn from listening to this box set and reading the ample liner notes (with intro by Brian Eno, no less), the origins of electronic music were anything but simple, or dull. The set takes off by introducing a couple standard-ish classical pieces which put to use some of the first electronic instruments invented. The theremin and ondes martinot (a small keyboard-based instrument which was a distant precursor to the synth) are featured in the first two tracks, respectively, and after that the set moves into some of the different movements and styles developed throughout the middle part of the 20th Century.
Track three is by Pierre Schaeffer. For all you dance and techno buffs out there, this was the first man ever to loop a track, play a track back in reverse, or use a host of other effects which are all common tools for musicians of today. His "Etude Aux Chemins de Fer," or "Railroad Study," is a field recording of various train sounds which was manipulated by Schaeffer in his Paris studio. He developed this method of documenting found sounds and applying various effects to them, dubbing it "Musique Concrete." The process caught on fast. John Cage uses the same method in "Williams Mix," but organizes the sounds in random, rapid succession according to complex principles of chance. This piece is absolutely jarring. Another amazing example of musique concrete is Hugh le Caine's "Dripsody," a virtuosic piece composed from the repetition and manipulation into different pitches of the sound of a single drop of water.
Before entering the age of synthesizers, there is some fine tape-music in the form of Varese's "Poeme Electronique," a fantastically subtle blend of found sounds and instruments grossly manipulated by tape cuts, as well as Richard Maxfield's "Sine Music," a sort of pointillist tape piece which rearranges the sound of a sine wave.
Shortly following the era of musique concrete, synthesizers were being brought into development. One of the first synth pieces on the Ohm set is an excerpt from Milton Babbitt's "Philomel," a complex serialist work scored for female voice and the Mark II synthesizer, (one of the earliest ever developed, to which Babbitt had sole access for a time). "Cindy Electronium" by Raymond Scott is another highlight, which uses Scott's own "Electronium," a "spontaneous composing and performing machine," as he described it, developed half a century ago. As you will notice when hearing this track, the Electronium was capable of producing electronic sounds which sounded as modern as anything churned out by the electronic musicians of today. Also provided in the synth category is a sample of Morton Subotnick's infamous "Silver Apples of the Moon," one of the most popular electronic pieces ever recorded.
The later tracks on this box set delve into digital computer pieces and soundscapes. Paul Lansky's "Six Fantasies" is a rather haunting piece for robotic-sounding voices harmonically enriched using early computer technology, and David Behrman's "On the Other Ocean," is a brilliantly thought-out improvisation between a solo cellist and a computer program written by Behrman himself, which reacts to the soloist's performance. The four or five tracks rounding out the set can be considered some of the earliest forms of New Age, as these artists used combinations of the earlier techniques to make some of the first intentionally ambient and hypnotic music.
The DVD included in this box is a nice supplement to the musical content. One can actually see a few of these artists at work, or being interviewed in person. The vintage Behrman performance, as well as an edit of the stunning light and dance piece by Max Mathews (which I really wish was longer) are two of the best segments.
To me, the most fascinating aspect of all of this music is not only the lack of conventionally-produced sound, but also in many cases the complete abandon of traditional compositional form. In 90-95% of the pieces, there exists either no recurring themes, introductions, crescendos, counterpoint, etc., or there exists merely a complete distortion of these standards. This music truly represents everything new and revolutionary we have come to expect from the beginnings of the postmodern era.
The Ohm box set serves as a fantastic historical document and THE definitive entrance point for anyone interested in the origins of electronic music. The fact that edits are occasionally used can be a bit frustrating (the original versions of many of these pieces are loooooong), but some of this music is not available anywhere else, and let's face it: after being infected by the incredible sounds encased here, you'll be searching for all of the artists' original albums, anyway.
The OHM+ DVD is jam-packed with over two hours of archival and more recent footage that runs the gamut from engrossing to mildly interesting to unwatchably dull.
If seemingly endless "talking head" interviews with Milton Babbitt and Bebe Barron are your idea of video entertainment, you've come to the right place. An interview with John Cage digitally altered beyond all recognition? Check. Swirling psychadelic colored dyes right out of a Saucerful of Secrets-era Pink Floyd concert? No problem.
There are some tastier goodies to be found on this DVD, however...
The segments with Clara Rockmore and Leon Theremin have an appealingly amateurish home movie quality to them. It's also a real treat to see the 1978 footage of underappreciated minimalist guru David Borden and Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Company "on the road" hauling around their truckload of big old analog synthesizer equipment. Laurie Spiegel is fun to watch as she tinkers with a big grey metal box called a "Concerto Generator" with an extremely serious expression on her face. And Alvin Lucier's "Music for Solo Performer," where he hooks up wires to his head and produces sounds using his brainwaves and two tympani, simply must be seen to be believed.
The Pixar-ish computer animation accompanying Paul Lansky's "The Dust Bunny" is sort of cute, but it goes on for about 10 minutes too long. Surely most of the OHM target audience already has the DVD of Steve Reich's Three Tales, but it's nice that they included the best part - the ominous yet goofy "Dolly" segment. Many have also probably seen Hans Fjellestad's documentary Moog before, but the six minute excerpt provided here is really about all you need.
It's too bad there isn't a more interesting John Cage segment, and regrettable that there aren't any Stockhausen videos (those would certainly be a riot!)
Overall, though, while the OHM+ DVD is not as consistently engaging as the CD set of the same name, it is a worthy companion to it. And if you don't have either of them yet, the complete OHM+ 3-CD & DVD "special edition" box set is a no-brainer.
Most recent customer reviews
I found the Babbitt interview interesting (some of the surrounding details of Princeton-Columbia) and some of the Thermin stuff...Read more