What Dreams Sound Like: A Brief History of the Electronic Musical Instrument in Film Song and Sound
by N. Laudadio

Department of English
University of North Carolina at Wilmington

(this is a bare-bones version of a work-in-progress that is continually undergoing updates/changes... feel free to offer corrections or the like. the full 11,000 word document will be posted in the coming months...5.3.04)

 

I. Introduction: Electronic Nervous Systems

The first all-electronic film score was composed and performed by Bebe and Louis Barron's for Fred Wilcox's 1955 film Forbidden Planet, a science fiction adaptation of The Tempest starring Leslie Neilsen and Walter Pidgeon. While Forbidden Planet is widely regarded as one of the classics of early SF cinema for its complexities of plot and characterization, two qualities that had been mostly absent from the relatively new film genre, it is probably best remembered for the Barrons' compellingly "alien" score.

As former students of experimental composer John Cage, the Barrons were not strangers to the more experimental aspects of composition and performance. However their work for Forbidden Planet was so unfamiliar and so unlike the then-popular notions of film music, they were acknowledged with the mysterious title "Electronic Tonalities" rather than the more traditional "Composed and performed by" in the film's credits. Bebe Barron later remarked that:

In scoring Forbidden Planet--as in all of our work--we created individual cybernetic circuits...rather than using standard sound generators... Most remarkable is that the sounds which emanate from these electronic nervous systems seem to convey strong emotional meanings to listeners (qtd in Taylor).

These cybernetic circuits, based on communicative models of "lower life-forms," suggest a revision of a more traditional scoring methods. Just as the film recasts the unruly Caliban into a mechanistic Robby the Robot, the Barrons are replacing the all-too-human orchestra with the sharp and bubbling voices of networked circuits.

Of course, the Barrons were not the first to work with completely electronic tones; just the year before Stockhausen's entirely electronic work Studie II premiered. Moreover, by this point in time, even more mainstream film audiences were beginning to grow accustomed to electronically generated (and recorded) sound. But these sounds were often draped in the "warmth" of more traditional acoustic timbres as in Franz Waxman's score for Rebecca. As Timothy Taylor points out, when isolated, electronic tones were mostly used diegetically to represent that which was alien (such as the famous theremin-as-flying saucer in The Day the Earth Stood Still) while acoustic tones accompanied that which was human. The Barrons attempted to make the machines speak for both the human and the alien and never before had such a large audience been forced to confront so directly the strange sounds of electronic circuitry.

That the Barrons were credited with creating "tonalities" rather than the more traditional "composition and performance" begs two questions: 1.  should the tense and bubbling melodies and moments could be considered "music" or technical effects and 2. should the Barrons to be considered performers or technicians?  As Russell Lack points out, "the basic tools for understanding the musical experience [of the electronic film score] are themselves obscured by the blurred distinction between electronic sound and electronic music" (318). But it seems that, in the case of the Barrons' score for Forbidden Planet as well as many scores which come before and after, this blurring raises important questions about the very nature of film sound as itself an electronic medium and about the perspective that the electronic instrument can offer on its evolution.

 

2. Beginnings

Elisha Gray was a few hours late. On February 14, 1876, he and his patent for the telephone arrived at the United States Patent Office just after Alexander Graham Bell. Despite the years of litigation that followed--and the fact that Gray's design represented a working prototype whereas Bell's would not have functioned as described--Gray's role in the development of the telephone is all but forgotten. However, a fortunate consequence of his telephone research granted him a significant, if somewhat less well-known, place in technological history. In the course of his work on the telegraph that lead to his near-invention of the telephone, Gray stumbled across the method of generating, controlling, and amplifying sound from an electric oscillator. Elisha Gray may not be remembered for almost inventing the telephone, but he is known for using this electric oscillator to create the first electronic musical instrument: a two octave monophonic keyboard instrument he called the Musical Telegraph.

            Gray never put the Musical Telegraph to much use (beyond that of yet another technological marvel for his many public demonstrations), it does, however represent one of the first of many happy accidents to come from electronic communication research at the end of the 19th century. But what makes Gray's little keyboard so notable beyond being the first electronic instrument is that it indicates one of the more compelling aspects of the forthcoming evolution and use of the electronic musical instrument. From its very beginnings, the development of the electronic instrument was more connected with the growing technology of representation and communication than it was with any musical community. It grew out of the nineteenth-century dream of a total representational medium--a unified expression of image, sound and text--that would find its most coherent articulation in film.

Just two years after the Lumiere Brothers famously shot their first frames of film at the gates of their factory, lawyer and inventor Thaddeus Cahill was filing his patent (#580.035) on the Telharmonium, considered to be the first significant electronic musical instrument. A massive 200-ton instrument, the Telharmonium was constructed of a series of modified dynamos that produced alternating currents over various audio frequencies and was engineered to explore new harmonic possibilities. The tones produced by this sixty-foot long complex of gears and wires were controlled by multiple polyphonic keyboards and were initially amplified by a series of giant acoustic horns.  The idea was that, eventually, the Telharmonium (also known as a Dynamophone) would be connected to a telephone network and function as something of a real-time proto-Muzak [1] , piping music out of telephones and into restaurants, stores and theaters. 

As he began to refine his invention, Cahill founded the "New England Electric Music Company" and a version of his instrument was built into an entire floor of a building ("Telharmonic Hall") in midtown Manhattan and hooked up to the phone lines.  However, due to its tremendous cost ($200,000 US) and the fact that its musical messagings tended to interfere with the (predominantly non-musical) telephone network, Cahill's behemoth failed to catch on and, by WWI, had all but disappeared. Yet his concept of a multi-timbral and highly flexible electronic musical instrument (the first to employ additive synthesis) controlled by a traditional musical keyboard had established, if unsuccessfully for the moment, a vision that would not again be fully realized until the invention of the synthesizer half a century later.

            In hindsight, it is obvious that Cahill's grandiose experiment in both musical production and consumption was ahead of its time. But if Cahill's dream of piping music into theaters across the country was in part confounded by noise in the telephony network, it was a similar technological obstacle that played a part in the music that accompanied early films.  At the first public performance of a Lumiere cinematograph, one of the primary functions of the improvised piano accompaniment was to drown out the rattling noise of the projector. Of course, music had long been a part of nineteenth century theatrical entertainments as well as early cinema technologies (such as the Magic Lantern shows in the 1870s), but the difference in this case was that in addition to providing a sense of perceptual continuity (akin to the "illusion of presence") to these early films, the music and the instruments that created it were becoming increasingly tied up with these various technologies of communication and representation.

 

2. Theremins and On

            In 1907, a year after the Telharmonium's first public demonstration, Cahill began a brief collaboration with inventor and "Father of the Radio" Lee De Forest who, in January of that same year, had received a patent for what would become his most famous and influential invention, the audion triode vacuum tube. De Forest suggested that his vacuum tube powered radio transmitters would provide a better mode of broadcast for the Dynamophone, but Cahill remained unconvinced. De Forest too was interested in methods of transmitting music, specifically live opera performances, into homes and public places.  Had De Forest been more persuasive, he and his vacuum tube certainly would have made Cahill's instrument much more practical (both in size and amplification, as well as in transmission), but while the Telharmonium faded into obscurity, De Forest's invention made possible the next major step in the production, amplification and broadcast transmission of sound.

            But like Edison before him, De Forest wasn't content lingering too long over the technological applications and development of his inventions, as his more than 300 patents would suggest. Shortly after his failed collaboration with Cahill, De Forest discovered a method of combining two inaudible high-frequency sound waves to produce an audible low-frequency wave called heterodyning or beat frequency oscillation. In 1915, utilizing his vacuum tubes in a heterodyning oscillator system along with a method to control timbre and pitch, De Forest created the first vacuum tube instrument. A small monophonic keyboard instrument reminiscent of Grey's Musical Telegraph, the audion Piano (De Forest affectionately termed it the "Squak-a-Phone"), appeared mostly alongside De Forest's radio exhibitions and promotions. Although a polyphonic version was purportedly in the works, the instrument never really caught on.

            As De Forest continued to promote his audion tube, he also began to confront the problem of film sound. From Edison's experiments with the Kinetophone to the short-lived phenomenon of the "singing film" (a distant forerunner of the music video), there had been many attempts to make films "talk", but none had yet proved practical or profitable. In response to this, in 1922 De Forest developed the Phonofilm system--the first successful sound on film system where audio was recorded optically next to the film in parallel lines down the film strip. But despite the relative success of De Forest's early sound films, the film industry opted to use a synchronized sound disc format known as the Vitaphone system.

            Even though the Phonofilm technology was rejected, DeForest's impact on film sound was to be far-reaching. Hollywood later adopted a version of De Forest's sound on film design and Western Electric, the company that bought the rights to his audion tube (oddly enough founded by other nearly-successful inventor Elisha Grey) was to play a big role in bringing sound to theaters across the country. But one of the more dramatic shifts in the sound of film music came from the technology De Forest pioneered with his Audion Piano. The ideas behind his little unsuccessful instrument would travel across the world to serve as the basis for the first significant electronic instrument used in film scores: the Thereminovox or simply, the Theremin.

            After noticing that the natural capacitance of the human body would cause frequency variation in De Forest's heterodyning effect, Russian cellist and electrical engineer Leon (Lev) Termin envisioned a novel way to reconceptualize the most basic aspect of the musical interface: touch. In 1917, he designed the prototype of the theremin (or thereminvox), an instrument that allowed the musician to modulate an electronic tone (fixed to resemble a violin) by moving her hands in proximity to two antennae (one for pitch, one for volume). When playing the theremin, the musician seems to sculpt air into sound.  As if conducting some ethereal orchestra (it was also known as an Aetherophone), the thereminist is the only musician whose performative movements are completely apart from the instrument (it is notorious difficult to play as there are no visual or tactile reference points). Photos of Clara Rockmore, one of the first truly accomplished thereminists and close friend of Termin, standing in front of a podium theremin with a far-away look framed by her two arms akimbo seem more like something from Man Ray's studio than a concert performance photo.

            The sound of Rockmore's theremin dovetails nicely with the visual nature of the performance; the continuous glissando of the vacuum tubes is shaped and restrained into notes hovering somewhere between a voice and a violin with few overtones, finally becoming plaintive, melancholic, and full of space. A trained violinist and Russian émigré who met Termin in New York in 1930, Rockmore played and treated the theremin like the traditional concert instrument she had set aside, and she had no patience for the instrument's novelty factor. Later in her career, she remarked on having been asked to play the theremin for a popular film score and refused, noting that instrument shouldn't be used to make "spooky noises." Despite her intentions, it was for these very spooky noises that the theremin came to be known. In part because of the nature of the gestural controls and the instrument's innate difficulty, it became something of an effects generator for the many film scores and soundtracks in the coming years. 

            The first film to feature a theremin was the 1931 Russian film Alone (Odna) directed by Grigori Kozintsev. Originally a silent film, Alone gained a soundtrack by Shostakovich just before release as film sound was made available in Russia. The score was to be the only time Shostakovich wrote for the instrument, yet the tremulous notes followed by the smooth and eerie glissandos in the score's "Storm Breaks" suggest the manner in which the instrument would come to be remembered.  But despite its dramatic cinematography, tremendous score and emotional intensity, the film's politics weren't in keeping the tenants of the first Five Year Plan, so it got shelved a few years later and was eventually lost in the siege of Leningrad in 1941 (it was later pieced together from various prints). Like the first film to feature his instrument, so too did Termin come into conflict with the Soviet authorities. After the first concert performance of the instrument in 1924 which garnered a good deal of praise from the powers-that-be (Lenin commissioned 600 of them), Termin successfully toured with his instrument. He later moved to New York and set up a studio where he continued work on the instrument, putting together a keyboard version of the theremin as well as a "theremin cello," which featured a traditional fingerboard. When, in 1929, RCA decided to manufacture the theremin, it seemed as if Termin and his invention were on their way to success. However, accused by Stalin's regime of anti-Soviet propaganda, Termin was kidnapped from his apartment in Manhattan and sent to a Siberian labor camp where he was eventually put to work on top-secret Soviet projects (including the first electronic eavesdropping device).

            But while Termin and Odna were to disappear for a time in the ruthless machinations of Stalinism, the instrument itself was just beginning to be noticed. Prominantly featuring the theremin, Miklos Rozsa's score for Spellbound (1945) would win an Oscar for best score with a performance by Dr. Samuel Hoffman, the most highly regarded thereminist after Rockmore. But despite concert works composed for it by Charles Ives and Aaron Copeland as well as the staunch evangelism of people like Rockmore, the "spooky sounds" of the theremin in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)  and It Came from Outerspace (1953) were to define the popular conception of the theremin.

            The theremin was not the only instrument of this period to exploit the method of heterodyning oscillators.  In fact, despite its significant contribution to film and popular understanding of electronic music, the theremin was something of a commercial failure in comparison to one of the instruments it inspired. In 1928, shortly after Termin moved to New York, two inventors were making significant contributions to the continuing evolution of the electronic musical instrument.  French telegraphist Maurice Martenot, also a cellist, conceived and constructed the Ondes Martenot. Much like the theremin, Martenot's instrument was intended to be integrated into the traditional orchestra and it is still featured in orchestras across the world.

Some argue that the reason for the Ondes Martenot's success was that it, unlike the theremin, the Ondes Martenot featured a traditional keyboard layout and used a separate finger control for glissando and vibrato as well as keys to adjust the timbre. The instrument's almost immediate acceptance was greatly aided by compositions by such well-known composers as Edgard Var¸se and Olivier Messian. In addition to these and many other (mostly French) composers, Martenot's instrument began to appear in early French film scores. But it wasn't until six years after its invention that it would find its way into Hollywood's aural vocabulary with Franz Waxman's 1936 score for The Bride of Frankenstein. Later, in 1940, Waxman featured three Ondes-Martenot's for his famous score for Hitchcock's Rebecca.

As Martenot was developing the Ondes, German electrical engineer Friedrich Trautwein was also using the heterodyning method to create a three octave subtractive synthesis device known as the Trautonium. Visually similar to the modular synthesizers of some four decades later, Trautwein's instrument featured a fingerboard on which the musician would make contact between a wire stretched over a metal strip, thus closing the circuit at a given point and creating a tone that would then be filtered and amplified. Through the 1930s a number of composers wrote for the Trautonium, but it wasn't until the instrument was "adopted" by composer and performer Oskar Sala, who had worked with the instrument from its earliest stages, that it would achieve its most popular articulation in Sala's score for Hitchcock's The Birds in 1960. Sala continued to refine and develop the instrument, building more complex versions (such as the Mixurtrautonium) for use in his more than 300 film scores until his death in 2002. Sala's work dramatically illustrated the flexibility of the technology developed by De Forest and one can begin to sense the growing sophistication of the role that the electronic instrument played in the soundscape of 20th c. film.

            Along with the Ondes-Martenot's presence in Waxman's score for Rebecca was another electronic instrument known as a Novachord. Built in 1939 by Lauren Hammond, the Novachord was the first electronic tube-based organ by the creator of possibly the most popular electronic instrument of the 20th century.  Just four years before, watchmaker Hammond had started his organ company to produce an instrument that utilized technology similar to that in the Telharmonium. It was in this particular combination of the mechanical tone wheel and the drawbar system that utilized Cahill's additive synthesis and created a most distinctive sound. Readily identifiable in numerous classic film scores and radio dramas, the Hammond Organ was de rigeur by the mid 1940s; it even found its way into one of Stockhausen's compositions of this period. But the Hammond was to find its niche in American popular music of the 50s and 60s and its most popular model, the B3, would become one of the most revered instruments in American music history.

            In the late 30s and early 40s, as the Hammond came to define the sound of radio drama, Raymond Scott, the young leader of the CBS radio house band was beginning to make a name for himself. His quirky but compelling jazz-influenced scores were featured regularly on Your Hit Parade and, most famously, adopted by Warner Brothers' "Merrie Melodies" and "Loony Toons" cartoons. A Julliard graduate and aspiring engineer, Scott and his quintet performed for (and in) films of this period featuring the likes of Ethel Merman, Shirley Temple and Eddie Cantor; however, he is probably best known for his composition "Powerhouse," featured in cartoons starting in 1943 and continuing to the present. "Powerhouse" very quickly came to symbolize the sound of automation and production with its metronomic urgency and jittery arrangement.

            Despite his success with his quintet, Scott seemed to prefer working in the studio with the machines rather than the musicians who could never quite keep up with his exacting standards. His drummer once remarked that "[a]ll he ever had was machines--only we had names" and jazz singer Anita O'Day opined that Scott "reduced [musicians] to something like wind-up toys." As he continued working with TV and radio orchestras, in 1946 Scott founded Manhattan Research, Inc., "Designers and Manufacturers of Electronic Music and Musique Concrete Devices and Systems," where he focused his efforts on creating the machines that could meet his requirements.  In 1949, sounding much like the Barrons six years later, Scott remarked:

Perhaps within the next hundred years, science will perfect a process of thought transference from composer to listener. The composer will sit alone on the concert stage and merely THINK his idealized  conception of his music. Instead of recordings of actual music sound, recordings will carry the brainwaves of the composer directly to the mind of the listener (qtd in Blom).

After creating a sound effects machine called the "Karloff", Scott built what was to be his most financially successful instrument: the Clavivox. Originally intended to a be something of a theremin one could play with a keyboard, the instrument eventually became much more complex as Scott conceptualized new ways to shape the sound. But Scott's "life work" was something of a holy grail for film composers and producers. In an effort to realize his notion of "thought transference" composition, Scott spent twenty years working on the Electronium, an "instantaneous composition-performance machine" which was a pitch and rhythm sequencer (Scott was one of the first to build a working sequencer) that controlled a bank of oscillators, a modified Hammond organ, an Ondes-Martenot and a few Clavivoxes. Earlier in his career he built the Videola, a modified piano that allowed one to watch a film while playing along and being recorded, making real-time composition more feasible. The Electronium attempted to facilitate the same process, just in the absence of the actual human contact (it had no keyboard, only switches and settings). While never quite satisfied with the Electronium, Scott's ridiculously forward-looking machine produced, among other things, his three-volume work of synthesized lullabyes called Soothing Sounds for Baby in 1960 that anticipated the work of minimalist composers Philip Glass and Steve Reich.

Throughout his successful career as a composer and engineer, Scott helped make audible the "sound of the future" for organizations as diverse as Motown, General Motors, Twinkies, and even the headache medicine Bufferin (featuring a young Jim Henson). But despite his success, Scott was very protective (some would say paranoid) of engineering work and thus the majority of his electronic instrument research remained within the confines of his extensive Long Island workshop. It wasn't until much later that the tremendous scope of his work in electronic instruments and production was realized by the public. But his work was to directly influence the next generation of electronic instrument designers who were to finally make more accessible Scott's dream of what he plainly called the "Artistic Collaboration between Man and Machine."

3. The Synthesizer

         All things considered, 1955 was a remarkable year for electronic music. In addition to the Barrons' Forbidden Planet score, it was also the year that engineers Harry Olson and Herbert Belar built the RCA Mark I programmable digital synthesizer. Theoretically similar to Scott's Electronium, the RCA synthesizer was conceived as an electronic songwriting apparatus based on mathematical probability systems. While still quite different from modern conceptions of the synthesizer, the RCA instrument, especially in its second iteration, the Mark II, was an extremely powerful and flexible instrument for its time. It featured vacuum tube oscillators and a punch paper interface that allowed the user to program and control a wide range of sound parameters. The most influential people to work with the RCA synthesizer were Professors Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luening and the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Studio, the first academic institution designed to promote electronic music and experimentation with electronic instruments which they founded in 1955.

         Another reason why 1955 was a remarkable time for electronic music was because that year a twenty year old engineering student named Robert Moog visited Scott at his studio on Long Island. As a result of the meeting, Moog was later given a job assembling the Clavivox, a job he would keep through the early 60's. But Scott's hermetic experimentation didn't quite appeal to Moog's more entrepreneurial goals. Moog later remarked that Scott "wasn't interested in marketing. He said he was, but I never got the feeling that he wanted to do anything more than fool around" (qtd. in Manhattan Research, Inc.). Although something of an over-simplification, there is no doubt that when they worked together, Moog was more focused on business success than Scott. By this time, Moog and his father had already started a company selling theremin kits out of the basement of their house. While Scott the engineer created instruments for Scott the composer, Moog wanted to create instruments for any musician, which is exactly what he did.

         Building on ideas garnered from Scott as well as the music concréte movement, by 1964 Moog had developed a working prototype of the Moog synthesizer, a modular instrument made up of oscillators for tone generation, filters to shape the sound, and an amplifier to make it audible. What made the Moog (as well as the synthesizers being designed by Don Buchula around the same time) notably different from early electronic instruments was that it was a voltage controlled device. Instead of manually changing the pitch, Moog's synthesizer used specific electronic voltages to control the pitch and volume of his instruments, allowing musicians greater speed and precision in their performances. Because of voltage control as well as increased miniaturization in electronics, the Moog synthesizer was relatively easy to use, moderately affordable, and portable.

         As a result of these developments the Moog, unlike most electronic instruments before it, had begun to find its way into popular music. But though orders came in from bands such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the Moog remained an exotic instrument. Most of the synthesizers Moog was building at his shop in Trumansburg, NY were being sold to studios and composers using them for commercial sound design. In part this was because the instruments had no method of storing sound settings and because the instruments were monophonic, so any complex polyphonic performance would require more than one synthesizer or the use of multi-track tape recording. But it was this very limitation that enabled a young sound designer and composer named Wendy Carlos bring the new instrument to a wider public.

          As a master's student in music composition at Columbia in the early sixties, Wendy (neé Walter) Carlos worked with Luening and Ussachevsky in the Columbia-Princeton Music Studio and gained a good deal of exposure to electronic instruments. After graduation, Carlos bought a small Moog synthesizer in 1966 and began making commercials that established her as one of the more technically proficient synthesists of the time. Eventually, Carlos began to work with Moog on the continued development of the modular synthesizer. Not comfortable with the experimental compositions so popular in electronic music of the time, Carlos (with producer Rachel Elkind) decided to record her own versions of Bach compositions on the Moog synthesizer. The album, Switched-On Bach, would go on to be one of the best-selling classical records of all time (the first to be certified platinum by the RIAA) and, in many ways, brought electronic music and the electronic instrument into the popular consciousness.

         After the success of Switched-On Bach, Carlos made a number of follow-up albums including The Well-Tempered Synthesizer and Switched-On Bach II, before turning her attention to film scores. She worked with Stanley Kubrick writing (again with Elkind) the score for A Clockwork Orange in 1972 and The Shining in 1980. Interweaving the bubbling and "spooky" sounds of earlier electronic film scores with the more traditional timbres of S-OB, Carlos' scores demonstrated not only the tremendous musical possibilities inherent in the new generation of electronic instruments, but the ability of one musician to create and control such a wide range of musical timbres.

         Fearing this very ability, the American Federation of Musicians reacted quickly to the success of Carlos' albums by banning the Moog synthesizer from all union work. In part, this fear was based on the misconception that something like Scott's dream of a full composition and performance machine had been invented and that, with the push of a button, it could create (or recreate) any type of performance on any type of instrument. It would take over a decade for the union hostilities toward the Moog to recede, but this bias toward electronic instruments was never to fully disappear.

         With the increasing popularization of the Moog synthesizer also came the realization among musicians and producers that it was not as easy to use as the union's fears might suggest. In fact, the early modular synthesizer was as much an experimental sound laboratory as it was a musical instrument, demanding a certain degree of knowledge from its users that was intimidating. In an effort to make the synthesizer more "user-friendly," Moog and his engineers created one of the most famous synthesizers of all time: the Minimoog.

         Whereas the modular synthesizer required that users build patches from the ground up, the Minimoog featured hard-wired "preset" sounds based on what the people at Moog found to be the most popular settings. The size and price of the instrument was drastically decreased and, with the help of instruments from new companies such as Arp, Korg, and Roland, the synthesizer was now finding its way into every corner of the music world. It was with just such an instrument that director and composer John Carpenter scored his 1978 horror film Halloween. Reminiscent of the Barrons' score, Carpenter's brutally tense work embodied the low-budget nature of his production without sounding compromised. His score for Halloween showed just how effective the synthesizer could be, building a sonic narrative on its own terms and providing a genuine alternative to the traditional orchestral score.

         With the popularity and success of electronic scores such as Carlos' and Carpenter's, opportunities for electronic scores became more available. The year before Halloween, William Friedkin's Sorcerer featured a score by the German electronic group Tangerine Dream who would go on to be one of the most sought-after bands in Hollywood, scoring films such as Thief (1981), Risky Business (1983) and Firestarter (1984).  The year after Sorcerer, Italian producer Giorgio Moroder (best known for his work with Donna Summer) won an Oscar for his Midnight Express score and the year after that Greek composer Vangelis stunned audiences and the film industry with his tremendously popular scores for Chariots of Fire (1980) and Blade Runner (1981).

         As the 80s progressed, electronic instrument technology advanced at a quick pace. The introduction of MIDI--an industry standard for communication between electronic instruments--and polyphonic synths such as the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 and Roland's Jupiter 8 dramatically increased the power  and potential of these instruments. Instruments such as the popular Yamaha DX-7 made advanced synthesis techniques available to a wide audience while scores from composers such as Harold Faltermeyer (Fletch (1985) and Top Gun (1986)) and Jan Hammer (Miami Vice) made it onto the Billboard charts. In many ways, the 1980s were the decade that solidified the cultural importance of the synthesizer. However, despite the growing acceptance of the synthesizer, most top-budget films still featured predominantly orchestral scores.

         To this day the difficulties faced by Carlos and her Moog still affect electronic musical instruments and their use in film scores. With the 90s came a dramatic increase in computer processor speed and storage space and, as a result, the development of powerful personal-computer based synthesizers and sequencers. So-called soft-synths can now model in code what earlier synthesizers did in electronic circuitry. Digital samplers have advanced to such a degree that only the most trained ear can tell the difference between the physical and the digital instrument. But with this tremendous advance in sampling technology, electronic instruments once again face criticism. In 2004 the Sinfonia, a computer-based instrument that digitally models an orchestra in live situations, has met with a good deal of resistance from the musician's union. The union fears that such an device (the union doesn't acknowledge that the Sinfonia is a musical instrument) could replace the many working musicians in the orchestra pits on Broadway.

         Understanding that very real problems result from these advances, it is nevertheless important to acknowledge the tremendous importance of these instruments in the development of representational media. Certainly the technologies of musical production and reproduction have traveled a remarkable distance from the Telharmonium's singing dynamos and the theremins with voices like alien ships, but the artistic and scientific desires that drove those developments are very much the same. In the liner notes for Forbidden Planet's score, Bebe Barron wrote: "We were delighted to hear people tell us that the Tonalities in Forbidden Planet remind them of what their dreams sound like." Barron's comment not only helps one understand the importance of the electronic instrument for a technologically mediated culture, it also places the electronic instrument within the rhythm of Bergman's compelling construction: "Film as dream, film as music."


[1] During this same period, General George Owen Squier was beginning his work that would later result in the Muzak corporation.

 

 

 

Works Cited

Blom, Gert-Jan, ed. Manhattan Research, Inc. Raymond Scott compilation CD and booklet. Basta Audio/Visuals, 2000.

Kettlewell, Ben. Electronic Music Pioneers. Vallejo, CA: Promusic Press, 2002.

Lack, Russell. Twenty Four Frames Under: A Buried History of Film Music. London: Quartet Books, 1997.

Marks, Martin Miller. Music and the Silent Film: Contexts and Case Studies, 1895-1924. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Pinch, Trevor and Trocco, Frank. Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002.

Sterne, Johnathan. The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Production. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003.

Taylor, Timothy. Strange Sounds: Music, Technology, and Culture. New York: Routledge, 2001.

 

Audio Resources

Barron, Louis and Bebe. Forbidden Planet Score. Gnp Crescendo, 1992.

Carlos, Wendy. A Clockwork Orange Score. East Side Digital, 1998.

----Switched-On Bach. East Side Digital, 2001.

Carpenter, John. Halloween Score. Varese Records, 1998.

Hermann, Bernard. The Day the Earth Stood Still Score. Varese Records, 2003.

Rockmore, Clara. The Art of the Theremin. Delos Records, 1992.

Scott, Raymond. Soothing Sounds for Baby: Electronic Music by Raymond Scott, Vols. 1, 2, and 3. Basta Records, 1997.

Tangerine Dream. Sorcerer Score. MCA, 1977.

Waxman, Franz. Rebecca Score. Varese Records, 2002.

 

Web Resources

120 Years of Electronic Musical Instruments. http://www.obsolete.com

Mitchell, Doug. "History of Electronic Music Index." http://www.mtsu.edu/~dsmitche/rim419/history/history.html

The Synthesizer Museum, http://www.synthmuseum.com

The Vintage Synth Explorer, http://www.vintagesynth.com

 

For Further Reading

Braun, Hans-Joachim, ed. Music and Technology in the Twentieth Century. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

Holmes, Thom. Electronic and Experimental Music. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Kittler, Friedrich. Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.

Theberge, Paul. Any Sound You Can Imagine: Making Music/Consuming Technology. Weslyan University Press, 1997.