Bebe and Louis Barron

Last updated

Bebe Barron (June 16, 1925April 20, 2008(2008-04-20) (aged 82)) and Louis Barron (April 23, 1920November 1, 1989(1989-11-01) (aged 69)) were two American pioneers in the field of electronic music. They are credited with writing the first electronic music for magnetic tape, and the first entirely electronic film score for the MGM movie Forbidden Planet (1956). [1]

Contents

Bebe Barron

She was born as Charlotte May Wind in Minneapolis on June 16, 1925, the only child of Ruth and Frank Wind. She studied piano at the University of Minnesota and a post-graduate degree in political science. In Minneapolis, she studied composition with Roque Cordero. [2] She moved to New York, and worked as a researcher for Time-Life and studied musical composition. [3] She studied music with Wallingford Riegger and Henry Cowell. [4] She married Louis in 1947. They lived in Greenwich Village. It was Louis who nicknamed her "Bebe". [3] She died on April 20, 2008 in Los Angeles. [3]

Louis Barron

He was born in Minneapolis on April 23, 1920. As a young man, Louis had an affinity for working with a soldering gun and electrical gear. He studied music at the University of Chicago. He died on 1 November 1989 in Los Angeles. [5]

Early works

The couple married in 1947 and moved to New York City. Louis' cousin, who was an executive at the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M), gave the newlyweds their first tape recorder as a wedding gift. [6] It was early tape recorder technology that used magnetized plastic tape. [2] Using their newly acquired equipment, the couple delved into the study of musique concrète.

The first electronic music for magnetic tape composed in America was completed by Louis and Bebe in 1950 and was titled Heavenly Menagerie. Electronic music composition and production were one and the same, and were slow and laborious. Tape had to be physically cut and pasted together to edit finished sounds and compositions.

Method

The 1948 book Cybernetics: Or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine , by mathematician Norbert Wiener from MIT played an important role in the development of the Barrons' composition. [6] The science of cybernetics proposes that certain natural laws of behavior apply to both animals and more complex electronic machines.

By following the equations presented in the book, Louis was able to build electronic circuits that he manipulated to generate sounds. [6] Most of the tonalities were generated with a circuit called a ring modulator. The sounds and patterns that came out of the circuits were unique and unpredictable because they were actually overloading the circuits until they burned out to create the sounds. The Barrons could never recreate the same sounds again, though they later tried very hard to recreate their signature sound from Forbidden Planet. Because of the unforeseen life span of the circuitry, the Barrons made a habit of recording everything.

Most of the production was not scripted or notated in any way. The Barrons didn't even consider the process as music composition themselves. The circuit generated sound was not treated as notes, but instead as 'actors'. In future soundtrack composition, each circuit would be manipulated according to actions of the underlying character in the film.

After recording the sounds, the couple manipulated the material by adding effects, such as reverb and tape delay. They also reversed and changed the speed of certain sounds . The mixing of multiple sounds was performed with at least three tape recorders. The outputs of two machines would be manually synchronized , and fed into an input of a third one, recording two separate sources simultaneously. The synchronization of future film work was accomplished by two 16 mm projectors that were tied into a 16 mm tape recorder, and thus ran at the same speed.

While Louis spent most of his time building the circuits and was responsible for all of the recording, Bebe did the composing. She had to sort through many hours of tape. [6] As she said, "it just sounded like dirty noise". Over time, she developed the ability to determine which sounds could become something of interest. Tape loop gave the Barrons' sounds rhythm. They mixed the sounds to create the otherworldly and strange electronic soundscapes required by Forbidden Planet.

Recording studio

Soon after relocation to New York, the Barrons opened a recording studio at 9 West 8th Street in Greenwich Village that catered to the avant-garde scene. [6] This may have been the first electronic music studio in America. At the studio, the Barrons used a tape recorder to record everything and everyone. [6] They recorded Henry Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Aldous Huxley reading their work in a form of early audiobook. In June 1949, Anaïs Nin recorded a full version of House of Incest and four other stories from Under a Glass Bell . These recordings were pressed on red vinyl and released on the Barrons' Contemporary Classics record label under the Sound Portraits series.

For a short time, the Barrons held a monopoly on tape recording equipment. The only other competition in town were the studios owned by Raymond Scott and Eric Siday. The connection through Louis' cousin working at 3M proved to be vital in obtaining batches of early magnetic tape. Due to the lack of competition in the field, and to the surprise of the owners, the recording business was a success.

Aside from the tape recorders, most of the equipment in the studio was completely built by Louis. One of the home made pieces was a monstrous speaker that could produce very heavy bass. Electronic oscillators that produced sawtooth, sine, and square waves were also home built prize possessions. They had a filter, a spring reverberator, and several tape recorders. A Stancil-Hoffmann reel to reel was custom built by the inventor for looping the samples, and changing their speed. The thriving business brought in enough income to purchase some commercial equipment.

The Barrons' music was noticed by the avant-garde scene. During 1952-53 the studio was used by John Cage for his very first tape work Williams Mix . The Barrons were hired by Cage to be the engineers. They recorded over 600 different sounds, and arranged them with Cage's directions in various ways by splicing the tape together. The four and a half minute piece took over a year to finish. [7] Cage also worked in the Barrons' studio on his Music for Magnetic Tape with other notable composers, including Morton Feldman, Earle Brown, and David Tudor. It was Cage who first encouraged the Barrons to consider their creations "music".

Film works

The Barrons quickly learned that the avant-garde scene did not reap many financial rewards. They turned to Hollywood, which had already been using electronic instruments such as the theremin in film soundtracks for several years.

In the early 50s, the Barrons collaborated with various celebrated filmmakers to provide music and sound effects for art films and experimental cinema. The Barrons scored three of Ian Hugo's short experimental films based on the writings of his wife Anaïs Nin. The most notable of these three films were Bells of Atlantis (1952) and Jazz of Lights (1954). The Barrons assisted Maya Deren in the audio production of the soundtrack for The Very Eye of Night (1959), which featured music by Teiji Ito. Bridges-Go-Round (1958) by Shirley Clarke featured two alternative soundtracks, one by the Barrons and one by jazz musician Teo Macero. The film's two versions showed the same four-minute film of New York City bridges. Showing the two versions back-to-back showed how different soundtracks affected the viewer's perception of the film.

In 1956 the Barrons composed the very first electronic score for a commercial film Forbidden Planet , released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The Barrons approached Dore Schary (MGM's executive producer) at an exhibit of Schary's wife's[ who? ] paintings in 1955. He hired them soon after, when the film was in post-production. [2]

Forbidden Planet

The soundtrack for Forbidden Planet (1956) is today recognized as the first entirely electronic score for a film. Eerie and sinister, the soundtrack was unlike anything that audiences had heard before. Music historians have often noted how groundbreaking the soundtrack was in the development of electronic music.

On the album sleeve notes of the Forbidden Planet soundtrack, Louis and Bebe explain:

We design and construct electronic circuits [that] function electronically in a manner remarkably similar to the way that lower life-forms function psychologically. [. . .]. In scoring Forbidden Planet as in all of our work we created individual cybernetics circuits for particular themes and leit motifs, rather than using standard sound generators. Actually, each circuit has a characteristic activity pattern as well as a "voice". [. . .]. We were delighted to hear people tell us that the tonalities in Forbidden Planet remind them of what their dreams sound like.

The producers of the film had originally wanted to hire Harry Partch to do the music score. The Barrons were brought in to do only about twenty minutes of sound effects. After the producers heard the initial sample score, the Barrons were assigned an hour and ten minutes of the rest of the film. The studio wanted to move the couple to Hollywood where most of the film scores were produced at the time. But the couple would not budge, and took the work back to their New York studio.

The music and the sound effects stunned the audience. During the preview of the movie when the sounds of the spaceship landing on Altair IV filled the theater, the audience broke out in spontaneous applause. Later, the Barrons turned over their audio creation to GNP Crescendo records for distribution. GNP had previously demonstrated its expertise in producing and marketing science fiction film soundtracks and executive album producer Neil Norman had proclaimed the film (and the soundtrack) his favorites.

Not everyone was happy with the score. Louis and Bebe did not belong to the Musicians' Union. The original screen credit for the film, which was supposed to read "Electronic Music by Louis and Bebe Barron", was changed at the last moment by a contract lawyer from the American Federation of Musicians. In order to not upset the union, the association with the word music had to be removed. The Barrons were credited with "Electronic Tonalities". Because of their non-membership in the union, the film was not considered for an Oscar in the soundtrack category.

Later works

The Barrons did not know what to call their creations; it was John Cage, working with the Barrons in their studio for his earliest electronic work, who convinced them that it was "music".

The Musicians' Union forced MGM to title the Forbidden Planet score "electronic tonalities", not "music". And seeing the handwriting on the wall, used that excuse to deny them membership in the 1950s; the union's primary concern was losing jobs for performers rather than the medium itself. As a result, the Barrons never scored another film for Hollywood. As the years passed, the Barrons did not continue to keep up with technology, and were perfectly content to make their music in the way they always had. However, modern digital technology is now imitating the rich sounds of those old analog circuits. Bebe's last work was Mixed Emotions in 2000, from raw material collected at the University of California, Santa Barbara studio. [6] It sounds remarkably like the Barrons' earlier material.

In 1962, the Barrons moved to Los Angeles. Although they divorced in 1970, they continued to compose together until the death of Louis in 1989. Bebe Barron was a founding member and the first Secretary of the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States from 1985 to 1987. They awarded her with a lifetime achievement award in 1997. [2]

In 2000, she was invited to create a new work at University of California, Santa Barbara, using the latest in sound generating technology to collect sounds there. From October through early November 2000, she did all the actual composing in Jane Brockman's Santa Monica studio with Brockman serving as recording engineer. The sounds collected at UCSB were imported into Digital Performer on a Macintosh computer and organized to create Bebe's final work, Mixed Emotions.

Bebe Barron remarried in 1975, Louis died in 1989, and Bebe died April 20, 2008.

Quotations

Works

Notes

  1. ^ The first tape recorder given to the Barrons was the same type as used in recording Hitler's speeches.
  2. ^ Speeding up and slowing down the tape in effect changed the pitch of the recorded material and individual sounds.
  3. ^ Manual synchronization was accomplished by actually counting out loud "one-two-three-go" and pushing the play back buttons at the same time. Precise synchronization was not necessary in composing atmospheric music.
  4. ^ Quoted from the sleeve notes of the Forbidden Planet soundtrack. See References.

Related Research Articles

Electronic music is music that employs electronic musical instruments, digital instruments, or circuitry-based music technology in its creation. It includes both music made using electronic and electromechanical means. Pure electronic instruments depended entirely on circuitry-based sound generation, for instance using devices such as an electronic oscillator, theremin, or synthesizer. Electromechanical instruments can have mechanical parts such as strings, hammers, and electric elements including magnetic pickups, power amplifiers and loudspeakers. Such electromechanical devices include the telharmonium, Hammond organ, electric piano and the electric guitar.

Electronic musical instrument Musical instrument that uses electronic circuits to generate sound

An electronic musical instrument or electrophone is a musical instrument that produces sound using electronic circuitry. Such an instrument sounds by outputting an electrical, electronic or digital audio signal that ultimately is plugged into a power amplifier which drives a loudspeaker, creating the sound heard by the performer and listener.

Musique concrète is a type of music composition that utilizes recorded sounds as raw material. Sounds are often modified through the application of audio effects and tape manipulation techniques, and may be assembled into a form of montage. It can feature sounds derived from recordings of musical instruments, the human voice, and the natural environment as well as those created using synthesizers and computer-based digital signal processing. Compositions in this idiom are not restricted to the normal musical rules of melody, harmony, rhythm, metre, and so on. It exploits acousmatic listening, meaning sound identities can often be intentionally obscured or appear unconnected to their source cause.

Wendy Carlos is an American musician and composer best known for her electronic music and film scores. Born and raised in Rhode Island, Carlos studied physics and music at Brown University before moving to New York City in 1962 to study music composition at Columbia University. Studying and working with various electronic musicians and technicians at the city's Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, she helped in the development of the Moog synthesizer, the first commercially available keyboard instrument created by Robert Moog.

<i>Forbidden Planet</i> 1956 science fiction movie by Fred M. Wilcox

Forbidden Planet is a 1956 American science fiction film from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, produced by Nicholas Nayfack, directed by Fred M. Wilcox, that stars Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, and Leslie Nielsen. Shot in Eastmancolor and CinemaScope, it is considered one of the great science fiction films of the 1950s, a precursor of contemporary science fiction cinema. The characters and isolated setting have been compared to those in William Shakespeare's The Tempest, and the plot contains certain analogues to the play, leading many to consider it a loose adaptation.

David Tudor Musical artist

David Eugene Tudor was an American pianist and composer of experimental music.

Daphne Oram British composer and electronic musician

Daphne Oram was a British composer and electronic musician. She was one of the first British composers to produce electronic sound, and was a pioneer of musique concrète in the UK. As a co-founder of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, she became a central figure in the evolution of electronic music. Her uncredited scoring work on the 1961 film The Innocents helped to pioneer the electronic soundtrack.

Delia Derbyshire English musician and composer of electronic music

Delia Ann Derbyshire was an English musician and composer of electronic music. She carried out pioneering work with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop during the 1960s, including her electronic arrangement of the theme music to the British science-fiction television series Doctor Who. She has been referred to as "the unsung heroine of British electronic music", having influenced musicians including Aphex Twin, the Chemical Brothers and Paul Hartnoll of Orbital.

Tape loop

In music, tape loops are loops of magnetic tape used to create repetitive, rhythmic musical patterns or dense layers of sound when played on a tape recorder. Originating in the 1940s with the work of Pierre Schaeffer, they were used among contemporary composers of 1950s and 1960s, such as Éliane Radigue, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and Karlheinz Stockhausen, who used them to create phase patterns, rhythms, textures, and timbres. Popular music authors of 1960s and 1970s, particularly in psychedelic, progressive and ambient genres, used tape loops to accompany their music with innovative sound effects. In the 1980s, analog audio and tape loops with it gave way to digital audio and application of computers to generate and process sound.

David Rose (songwriter) Musical artist

David Daniel Rose was an American songwriter, composer, arranger, pianist, and orchestra leader. His best known compositions were "The Stripper", "Holiday for Strings", and "Calypso Melody". He also wrote music for many television series, including It's a Great Life, The Tony Martin Show, Little House on the Prairie, Highway to Heaven, Bonanza, Leave it to Beaver, and Highway Patrol, some under the pseudonym Ray Llewellyn. Rose's work as a composer for television programs earned him four Emmys. In addition, he was musical director for The Red Skelton Show during its 21-year run on the CBS and NBC networks. He was a member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, the national fraternity for men in music.

Electroacoustic music is a genre of Western art music in which composers use technology to manipulate the timbres of acoustic sounds, sometimes by using audio signal processing, such as reverb or harmonizing, on acoustical instruments. It originated around the middle of the 20th century, following the incorporation of electric sound production into compositional practice. The initial developments in electroacoustic music composition to fixed media during the 20th century are associated with the activities of the Groupe de recherches musicales at the ORTF in Paris, the home of musique concrète, the Studio for Electronic Music in Cologne, where the focus was on the composition of elektronische Musik, and the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York City, where tape music, electronic music, and computer music were all explored. Practical electronic music instruments began to appear in the early 1900s.

<i>Blade Runner</i> (soundtrack)

Blade Runner: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is the soundtrack for Ridley Scott's 1982 science-fiction noir film Blade Runner, composed by Greek electronic musician Vangelis. It has received acclaim as among Vangelis's best work and an influential work in the history of electronic music. It was nominated in 1983 for a BAFTA and Golden Globe as best original score. The score evokes the film's bleak futurism with an emotive synthesizer-based sound, drawing on the jazz scores of classic film noir as well as neo-classical elements and Middle Eastern texture. It features vocals from Demis Roussos and saxophone by Dick Morrissey on "Love Theme". The track "Memories of Green" from Vangelis' 1980 album See You Later was also used.

Halim El-Dabh

Halim Abdul Messieh El-Dabh was an Egyptian American composer, musician, ethnomusicologist, and educator, who had a career spanning six decades. He is particularly known as an early pioneer of electronic music. In 1944 he composed one of the earliest known works of tape music, or musique concrète. From the late 1950s to early 1960s he produced influential work at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center.

Sound recording and reproduction Recording of sound and playing it back

Sound recording and reproduction is an electrical, mechanical, electronic, or digital inscription and re-creation of sound waves, such as spoken voice, singing, instrumental music, or sound effects. The two main classes of sound recording technology are analog recording and digital recording.

History of sound recording

The history of sound recording - which has progressed in waves, driven by the invention and commercial introduction of new technologies — can be roughly divided into four main periods:

Blue Pear Records was a semi-fictitious record label based in Longwood, Florida, which is best known for re-issuing rare cast recordings of obscure Broadway and off-Broadway musicals in the mid-1980s. The lack of production credits and other helpful identifying information on the LP sleeves has generally led to the assumption that they are bootleg recordings.

<i>Déserts</i>

Déserts (1950–1954) is a piece by Edgard Varèse for 14 winds, 5 percussion players, 1 piano, and electronic tape. Percussion instruments are exploited for their resonant potential, rather than used solely as accompaniment. According to Varèse, the title of the piece regards "not only physical deserts of sand, sea, mountains, and snow, outer space, deserted city streets… but also distant inner space… where man is alone in a world of mystery and essential solitude."

All those that people traverse or may traverse: physical deserts, on the earth, in the sea, in the sky, of sand, of snow, of interstellar spaces or of great cities, but also those of the human spirit, of that distant inner space no telescope can reach, where one is alone.

Terry Rusling Musical artist

Terry Rusling was a Canadian electronic music composer, who used graphic notation. Some of his works were used to accompany radio and television broadcasts.

Williams Mix (1951–1953) is a 4'15" electronic composition by John Cage for eight simultaneously played independent quarter-inch magnetic tapes. The first octophonic music, the piece was created by Cage with the assistance of Earle Brown, Morton Feldman, and David Tudor, using many tape sound sources and a paper score he created for the construction. "Presignifying the development of algorithmic composition, granular synthesis and sound diffusion," it was the third of five pieces completed in the Project for Music for Magnetic Tape (1951–1954), funded by dedicatee architect Paul Williams.

<i>Imaginary Landscape No. 5</i>

Imaginary Landscape No. 5 is a composition by American composer John Cage and the fifth and final installment in the series of Imaginary Landscapes. It was composed in 1952.

References

  1. "'Forbidden' scorer Barron dead at 82". United Press International . April 27, 2008. Retrieved 2010-10-01. Composer Bebe Barron, whose earned notoriety for her score of the movie "Forbidden Planet," has died at the age of 82 at a Los Angeles hospital.
  2. 1 2 3 4 "Bebe Barron: Co-composer of the first electronic film score, for". The Independent. 2008-05-08. Retrieved 2019-02-18.
  3. 1 2 3 "Bebe Barron, 82, Pioneer of Electronic Scores, Is Dead". The New York Times . April 25, 2008. Retrieved 2010-10-01.
  4. Barry Schrader (April 29, 2008). "Electronic Music Pioneer Bebe Barron Dead At 82". Synthtopia . Retrieved 2010-10-01. Bebe Barron was born Charlotte Wind in Minneapolis, on June 16, 1925. She received an MA in political science from the University of Minnesota, where she studied composition with Roque Cordero, and she also spent a year studying composition and ethnomusicology at the University of Mexico.
  5. "Louis Barron; Made Music Electronically". The New York Times. November 17, 1989. Louis Barron an electronic pioneer who created music from circuitry long before ... Barron who with his first wife fashioned the score for the innovative ... [Louis Barron] and Bebe Barron also collaborated on concerts and on such Broadway productions as "Visit to a Small Planet," "The Happiest Girl in the World" and "The Chinese Wall."
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Susan Stone (February 7, 2005). "The Barrons: Forgotten Pioneers of Electronic Music". National Public Radio . Retrieved 2010-10-01. Married in 1947, the Barrons received a tape recorder as a wedding gift. They used it to record friends and parties, and later opened one of the first private sound studios in America.
  7. Chaudron, André. "Williams Mix". John Cage database. Archived from the original on 28 September 2011. Retrieved 9 July 2011.

Further reading