Wednesday, February 19, 2014


The craze for electronic pop was ignited circa 1966 when Gershon Kingsley and Jean-Jacques Perry issued "The In Sound From Way Out." Walter Carlos (later Wendy Carlos) scored a major hit with "Switched on Bach" soon after. Yes, there were experiments with classical electronic music (notably Morton Subotnick's "Silver Apples of the Moon") and an all-electronic soundtrack of blips was prominent in the 1956 Leslie Nielsen-Anne Francis classic "Forbidden Planet" (which MGM didn't think to issue on vinyl at the time). But…it really was the 60's drug culture that led record store owners and record labels to unleash a ton of "incredibly strange" albums of accessible and usually pretty dopey moog albums.

Success came for those who melded electronic burps and zaps with rock and pop music. 1969-1970 were golden years for Moog albums, with "Moog" by Dick Hyman, "Moog Espana" from Sid Bass, "The Moog Strikes Bach" by Hans Wurman, "Well-Tempered Synthesizer"by Walter Carlos, "Moogie Woogie" by the Zeet Band, "Pop Electronique" by Cecil Leuter, and "Electronic Love" from The Electronic Concept Orchestra. Plus….Martin Denny's "Exotic Moog" Mort Garson's "Electronic Hair Pieces" Hugo Montenegro's "Moog Power" Marty Gold's "Moog Plays the Beatles" and Moog Machine's "Switched-on Rock." You can add George Harrison's "Electronic Sound" if you like. In 1971, Emerson, Lake and Palmer began annoying people with their overblown progrock crap (which didn't seem like overblown progrock crap at the time…ooh, what a lucky man owned their albums). And in 1972…the single 'Popcorn" was all over the airwaves, like butter up Maria Schneider's asshole. (Yes, "Last Tango in Paris" came out in 1972)

1972 was the year the most amusing of the electronic Erik Satie albums appeared. Satie was, like electronic music, a discovery of stoners. He was considered a very minor composer until the 70's, when a few classical pianists released albums of his work. That these became best-sellers was probably due to the college crowd adopting Satie as their favorite "serious" composer. The wonderfully eccentric Frenchman rivaled Frank Zappa for strangely named instrumental pieces, like "Flabby Preludes for a Dog." The same Music 101 kids who were calling Procol Harum and Jethro Tull "classic rock" (you'll remember the latter's "Passion Play" with an actual ballerina on the cover) loved having something cooler than Bach's "Air on a G String" or Pachelbel's "Canon." They found it especially in the soothing but strange "Gnossiennes." A gnossienne, if you care to look in the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, refers to "a moment of awareness that someone you've known for years still has a private and mysterious inner life…"

Yes, even as my record collection kept growing and growing, I made more room not only for progrock, of course, but for electronic music albums and Mr. Satie. I recall William Masselos getting there first, with a great album on RCA, and Aldo Ciccolini straining my wallet by issuing a series of Satie's works on Angel. And not too long after that, came the inevitable Satie electronic versions.

On Procol Harum's first label, Deram, "The Electronic Spirit of Erik Satie" was a sleek gatefold album credited to The Camarata Contemporary Chamber Orchestra. In the spirit of the idiot times, the album notes tried to be far out, man, even mystical, with a dash of R. Crumb humor: "The arranger felt the actual presence of Satie in the room with him while he was scoring. (Erik's spirit would hover around the room and, at times, reach over his shoulder and guide his pencil along the score page, shouting directions in his ear "B flat not B natural, you dummy!")….All the wave forms, modulation mixes, oscillations and permutations have never been duplicated since, and the Moog player, who was entirely unfamiliar with the instrument at the time, has no recollection of having done the album whatsoever!"

Your sample below offers five short pieces from "Sports and Amusements," a suite of silliness that includes, in order: La Balançoire (The Seesaw) La Chasse (The Hunt) , Comédie Italianne (The Italian Comedy), Le Réveil de la Mariée (The Arrival of the Bride) and Colin Maillard (Blindman's Bluff). The producers thoughtfully included both a French and an English announcer to introduce the title of each piece.

Lastly, the original album cover just had some colorful smears on the cover visualizing what electronic sound might look like…the exotic Erik has been Photoshopped in.

Five un-flabby electronic pieces from: ELECTRONIC SPIRIT OF SATIE


Lee Hartsfeld said...

" In 1971, Emerson, Lake and Palmer began annoying people with their overblown progrock crap (which didn't seem like overblown progrock crap at the time…ooh, what a lucky man owned their albums)." It did to me, though I thought they were much better than Yes, for what that's worth. My brother bought their LPs; I shared his room, so I had to listen to them.

Actually, Satie's day on vinyl started in the late 1960s. Ciccolini's first Satie LP was in 1968, and orchestral music by S. showed up that same year on Everest and Vanguard. Then, of course, came Blood, Sweat, and Tears' "Variations on a Theme By Erik Satie" in 1969 on their bestselling 2nd LP. I always thought some of Satie's coolness cred stemmed from John Cage's devotion to him.

Ill Folks said...

Thanks, Lee! Great comments. Yeah, Yes and "Roundabout" drove me nuts at the time.
I suppose ELP, Yes and some others may have influenced some college kids to actually listen to some classical music beyond Pachelbel and "Nutcracker Suite."

Thanks for the date on Ciccolini (wasn't that Chico's name in "Duck Soup?"). I should've looked it up; you know when you've got too many records when you can't find one without an hour's search.

Forgot about BS&T's little tribute...I had their 3rd album with the now dated "Lucretia McEvil" on it. As if anyone ever dated Lucretia McEvil