End of an (endless) Era

The Times notes the passing of Bebe Barron, who, with her husband Louis, created the soundtrack for Forbidden Planet. Created is the appropriate word, not composed, since that’s what electronic musicians do, and what the Barrons did, literally and physically.

The obit gives good details. This was an era when electronic music was produced on tape with analog means, the sounds being physical materials that were arranged in space and time, as points on a stretch of tape. I first began learning electronic music at the cusp of two eras, connecting patch cords on a Buchla modular synthesizer by hand, routing a flow of electricity through various modulatory devices. I also took magnetic tape, razor blade and adhesive tape and sliced and recombined bits to give me new, physical shapes and sounds. And I also learned to program the Yamaha DX-7; that began a whole new era, and also enabled a lot of “haircut bands.”

Although I work exclusively with digital tools nowadays, and am enthralled by their precision, flexibility and power, I’m nostalgic for the hand-made aspects of electronic music. For any listener with interest in the genre, the soundtrack is great and enduring. It’s dated only in the sense that one wonders over the skill and imagination of the Barrons. Any electronic musician would be hard pressed to reproduce the fascinating, beautiful sounds they produced and the sense of dynamic space in which they deployed them. Their work is also a standout example of commercial goals and means can sometimes produce the most radical works.


Author: gtra1n

I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.