Archive for the ‘ambient’ Tag

[50/50] Song #28: “Heaven & Hell/Movement 3”

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Song #28: “Heaven & Hell, Movement 3” (aka the Theme to Cosmos) — Vangelis (1975)

satpicAh, the instrumental. Do you know how hard it was to track down an instrumental you heard in passing, even after the internet and iTunes arrived? Song ID software now makes it easy, but before that, with no lyrics to google, instrumentals were songs that could haunt you for years. I once overheard a photographer at the Herald-Sun complain it took him weeks to find out the name of that Booker T. and MG’s tune was “Green Onions,” and I spent even longer trying to find out the name of the song AND the band on a mix tape a college girlfriend made for me after I lost the playsheet. (It was “Someone up there likes you” by Simple Minds by the way.)

Of course, an instrumental could still haunt you, even if you knew exactly who did it. This was certainly the case with “At the Heart of it All” by Aphix Twin, done with Nine Inch Nails on their “Further Down the Spiral” album.

And who could forget the still-freaky-even-after-30-years of Herbie Hancock:

For me though, the winner has to be the first Vangelis I ever heard, Movement 3 to his Heaven & Hell album, or as it’s better know, the theme to “Cosmos.” The PBS show that made a household name of Carl Sagan in 1978 also showcased Vangelis’ elegant, grandiose, and occasionally bombastic electronica long before he would go on to win the Academy Award and American Top 40 for “Chariots of Fire” or do the soundtrack for “Blade Runner.”

It turned my brother and I into such fans, we even got his weirdly experimental stuff, which for Vangelis meant teaming up with Yes frontman John Anderson for the strange ode to film noir, “Friends of Mr. Cairo,” a favorite late-night staple of DJs on Starview 92 who used the 12-minute epic whenever they needed a bathroom break or to go get stoned.

None of which takes away from the angelic ambiance of “Movement 3,” which I once thought would make great music at my funeral. While I realized now that would probably be a mistake, it was certainly the perfect pick for Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos.”

[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.