Showing posts with label Paul Beaver. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paul Beaver. Show all posts

Friday, April 4, 2008


My friend Tim Lucas posted a comment in response to my previous entry, “His Master’s Voice,” containing a number of interesting ideas that prompted me to pursue yet another line of speculation regarding the meaning of the Moog synthesizer in sixties popular music. I'll admit to being especially intrigued by an observation made by Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco in Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer (Harvard University Press, 2002), one which I cited in my earlier post:

The Moog was a machine that empowered . . . transformations. The [Moog] synthesizer . . . was not just another musical instrument; it was part of the sixties apparatus for transgression, transcendence, and transformation. (305)

In addition to the grouping of transgression, transcendence, and transformation, one could add any number of words containing the prefix trans: transmission, transistor, translation, transvestite, transferal—and transsexual. Pinch and Trocco speculate as to whether Walter Carlos’ transformation into Wendy Carlos--which roughly coincided with the time she began work on the hugely successful synthesizer album Switched-On Bach (1968)--occurred “around the time she was developing as a synthesist,” and whether the transformation “had anything to do with the Moog, and with synthesis itself” (137). Admittedly, as Pinch and Trocco themselves point out:

The question of gender and the synthesizer is a tricky one. Certainly electronic music technologies have traditionally been used for building masculine identities—the boys and their latest toys. But different sorts of masculinity can be involved in how men interact with technologies, and several women we interviewed for this book, notably Suzanne Ciani and Linda Fisher, have developed intense personal relationships with their synthesizers....If, as Judith Butler argues, gender identities have to be performed, a key prop in the performance of these synthesists is the machine with which they spent most of their hours interacting—the synthesizer. What we want to suggest with Wendy [Carlos] and her synthesizer is that it may have helped provide a means whereby she could escape the gender identity society had given her. Part of her new identity became bound up with the machine. (138)

While I’d like to pursue some implications of these speculations by Pinch and Trocco, I'll digress for a moment in order to point out how their speculations contribute to a theory about how we might possibly interpret a musician’s particular use of the synthesizer during live performance:

Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake, and Palmer): genital prosthesis/phallic symbol
Rick Wakeman (Yes): genital prosthesis/phallic symbol (but more synths than Emerson, therefore his is “bigger”)
Allen Ravenstine (Pere Ubu): non-instrumentally, as noise, a child playing with a complicated toy, thus conforming perfectly with David Thomas’ odd stage persona as a prematurely large, chubby kid (Baby Huey)

In Wendy Carlos’ case, the use of the synthesizer to interpret a Baroque composer such as Bach is, of course, avant-garde in its impulse, but if one pauses to consider the synthesizer as a fetish object, her identification with the Moog, a machine whose operation rested upon its capacity to be re-wired--think of the endless plugging and unplugging of patch cables across a bewildering array of panels, as well as the tweaking of many dozens of knobs--in order to produce a different sound effect, is not an inappropriate object of identification for a transsexual, since gender is indeed in part a social performance--an effect. (Derrida on the fetish: “the projection operates in the choice rather than in the analysis of the model.”) In addition, engineers' coding of wire connections as "male" and "female" is highly suggestive as well.

Early Moog synthesizers had the capacity not only to produce “ethereal” or “unearthly” sounds but also the capacity to produce simulacra--not the sound of an actual harpsichord, for instance, but a pseudo-harpsichord--a “fake” or “trick” harpsichord. A simulacrum is like its model in every way, yet is unlike it because of an often intangible difference based on lack. For Wendy Carlos, the synthesizer is not a prosthesis for genital display (as are banks of synthesizers, or the electric guitar), but is homologous to a castrati, a castrated male who, dressed as a female, sang soprano parts in Italian opera. Although their high voices were the consequence of a physical cut, an alteration, castrati were nonetheless highly feted singers. (See Roland Barthes’ S/Z, a reading of Balzac’s “Sarrasine,” the story of a naïve French artist named Sarrasine who takes the requisite artistic pilgrimage to Rome. Ignorant of the fact that soprano parts are performed by castrati, Sarrasine falls in love with a soprano who goes by the name of La Zambinella, eventually to learn the devastating truth about the actual identity of his beloved and that his love is un-consummateable.)

How appropriate, then--and I remark upon this without irony or sarcasm—that Switched-On Bach was presented by “Trans-Electronic Music Productions.” It is also interesting to note that, as revealed by Pinch and Trocco's interview with Bernie Krause, the eccentric Paul Beaver--an early synthesist pioneer who died prematurely in 1975, and whose career has been largely overlooked in favor of Wendy Carlos' career--was bisexual, yet another provocative association with the Moog synthesizer, and those drawn to its mystery and singularity.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

His Master's Voice

Although colloquially referred to as a “Leslie”, the Leslie Rotating Speaker System is actually a sound modification (deformation) device, not a standard speaker as such, in the sense of being an amplification and reproduction mechanism, one so accurate and so realistic in its sound that the reproduction could fool one’s faithful dog. The mythic origin of the relationship between the master, the master’s voice, and the faithful dog is ancient: it can be traced back to Homer’s Odyssey, with the relationship between Odysseus and his elderly dog, Argos. If you’ll remember, Odysseus has been gone from Ithaca for twenty years, and when he finally returns, he’s disguised as a beggar. Having landed back home after such a long absence, when Odysseus eventually speaks, even after all those long years, Argos, his old, dying dog—so miserably old that the only way the beast can stay warm is lay on a composting manure pile—instantly lifts up his head in excitement, having recognized his master’s voice. The presence of his master’s voice, of course, means to the dog that his master has finally returned. Thus Nipper, the name of the dog used as a model in the painting that eventually became RCA’s logo, is really misnamed. In honor of that miserably old dog that waited twenty years just to hear--once more before he died--his master’s voice, RCA’s mascot should be re-christened Argos.

The Leslie did not originate as a speaker the purpose of which was to reproduce “his master’s voice.” Although invented in the 1940s to augment the sound of the Hammond organ, in the 1960s the Leslie--named after its inventor, Donald J. Leslie (1911-2004)--began to be put to use by rock bands in an unexpected way. Michael Jarrett writes:

The overlapping waveforms produced by the Leslie’s two speakers—not unlike the effect derived by yelling into an electric fan—generate a sonic moiré pattern (a Doppler effect): the tremulant sound associated with Hammond organs. But other instruments have also been played through Leslie cabinets....To the psychedelic mind, the Leslie and LSD were homologous; both altered everyday perception. (140)

The lead guitar part on The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” was modified by a Leslie, while on “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” it was Ron Bushy’s drums. The Beatles’ vocals were modified by a Leslie on “Tomorrow Never Knows” (among others), as was Ozzy Osbourne’s on Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan.”

A Few Representative Recordings Featuring the Leslie:

The Beach Boys, “Pet Sounds,” Pet Sounds (1966)
The Beatles, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” Revolver (1966)
Procol Harum, “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” Procol Harum (1967)
Steppenwolf, “Born to be Wild,” Steppenwolf (1968)
The Band, “Tears of Rage,” Music from Big Pink (1968)
Iron Butterfly, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (1968)
Black Sabbath, “Planet Caravan,” Paranoid (1970)

The Leslie was to LSD what the Moog synthesizer was to interstellar space travel. If the Leslie was light-hearted and benign, the Moog synthesizer was dark and forboding: the Leslie was incapable of creating the sinister drone of the Moog. However, both machines reveal that for sixties rock bands, sound made all the difference. According to Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco, in Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer (Harvard University Press, 2002), Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg’s Performance (filmed 1968, released 1970) “is the only movie we know of where the Moog synthesizer [a Moog Series III] itself makes a cameo appearance.” (Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise [1974] featured the synthesizer TONTO, but not its sounds. Jon Weiss actually set up a patch for Mick Jagger on the Performance set.) Pinch and Trocco write:

In a key scene . . . Turner [Mick Jagger] for a moment is the mad captain at the controls of spaceship Moog. The Moog and its sounds are the perfect prop, part of the psychedelic paraphernalia, the magical means to transmigrate a fading rock star into something else. The Moog was a machine that empowered such transformations. The synthesizer for a short while in the sixties was not just another musical instrument; it was part of the sixties apparatus for transgression, transcendence, and transformation. No wonder the sixties rock stars loved their Moogs. (305)

The synthesizer’s key place in sixties rock began in June 1967. Paul Beaver and Bernie Krause (the recording duo of Beaver & Krause) set up a booth on the Monterey fairground as part of the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967 in order to promote, and perhaps even sell, the Moog synthesizer. They actually sold several. According to Pinch and Trocco, “Monterey was the place where the subculture became mainstream” (117).

A Few Representative Recordings Featuring the Moog Synthesizer:

Mort Garson and Bernie Krause, The Zodiac Cosmic Sounds (1967)
Johnny Mandel, Point Blank (1967) (Film Score Monthly, 2002)
The Doors, Strange Days (1967)
Paul Beaver and Bernie Krause, The Nonesuch Guide to Electronic Music (1968)
The Byrds, The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1968)
Walter [Wendy] Carlos, Switched-On Bach (1968)
Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer (1971)