[50/50] Albums #21 & #42: Ambient & Electronic

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Album #42: “Man in Space with Sounds” — Attilio Mineo (1962)
Album #21: “Switched-on Bach” — Walter/Wendy Carlos (1968)

Mineo Attilio - Man In Space With Sound (Front)Echoes, one of the oldest ambient music shows in the country, airs from a station in Pennsylvania — as I discovered soon after graduating from college. I stumbled across it one night looking for Hearts of Space, THE oldest ambient show, which has been placidly broadcasting from San Francisco for almost 40 years. Losing track of both when I moved away from Central PA and WITF, I joyfully rediscovered them once internet radio had been established. All-nighters went so much easier with these shows, I’d track them to different online stations as the timezones rolled on…

Switched_On_BachOf course, it turned out I’d been listening to ambient and electronic music from the very beginning. One of our favorite albums, one that my brother asked my dad to play again and again, was “Man in Space with Sounds,” a record he had brought back from the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. Originally recorded in the early 1950s, it is pure space age lounge music, sweeping orchestrals punctuated by moody electronic sound effects. Released at the height of the space race, and with back-to-back World Fairs showing Americans the promise of a shiny future, “Man in Space with Sounds” was the perfect soundtrack for its time.

Created when composers were beginning to experiment with new technologies — such as the all-electronic soundtrack of “Forbidden Planet” — Attilio Mineo’s album had to have been an influence on Alexander Courage, the original composer on Star Trek, as several of Mineo’s effects sound eerily similar to those on the TV show.

Here’s a little video I did in 2011 while simultaneously watching an online conference and the last space shuttle launch, set to the track “Gayway to Heaven” (that’s not a typo — apparently the amusement park area of the Fair was called the “gayway.” Oh, you people of the past!)

Which brings us to the next album, the first best-selling record composed entirely on the Moog Synthesizer. Walter Carlos’ Switched-On Bach was a huge hit for Carlos and Moog, and in our house, where it endlessly fascinated us — especially my brother, who went on to later try and and recreate the sound on his DX-7. Carlos went on to do the soundtrack for Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” but not before becoming better known for changing his sex and name to Wendy Carlos.

The future had clearly arrived.

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