Issue #11: technology

The soundtrack to technology: Our friends electric

Comments Off on The soundtrack to technology: Our friends electric
by Michael Donohue on February 15, 2016

Michael Donohue presents a selection of music based around the theme for the latest edition of New Philosopher – ‘technology’. Photo: Delia Derbyshire.

In the beginning there was the theremin, the rythmicon, the audion, the novachord, the mellotron and the imaginatively named wobbulator, but it wasn’t until the switch was flicked on the Moog synthesiser in the 1960s that first pulse of electronic music began to beat. Thereafter, the strands of experimental, ambient, pop, and dance music began to intertwine and mutate in a way that challenged our perceptions about music, Here are a few artists that twisted the melon.

1. Delia Derbyshire, Dr Who theme, 1963

So disturbing was the implied menace of the opening bars to the original Dr Who theme, that they were enough to send a whole generation of kids scuttling behind sofas with heads buried deep into safety cushions. The sorceress behind this chilling theme was the softly spoken sonic visionary Delia Derbyshire, who worked for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and built the sound, note by note on 1/4 inch monotape which was cut and stuck together by hand.

Ms Derbyshire was something of a time traveller herself, listen to her 1968 recordings to see just how far ahead of her time she really was.

Pot Au Feu:
Ziwzih Ziwzih OO-OO-OO:

2. The Monkees, Daily Nightly, 1967

Admittedly, the original boy band do not often make the list of music pioneers, however, Mike Nesmith’s Daily Nightly was one of the first tracks ever to feature the Moog synthesiser… Micky Dolenz tinkles the ivories, while the rest of the band, who seem to have misplaced their instruments, appear at a loose end. Kick back and enjoy its ‘phantasmagoric splendour’.

3. Tangerine Dream, Live in Paris, 1973

Out of the ashes of psychedelic rock music rose the influential German band Tangerine Dream. By the early seventies they were producing ethereal soundscapes having dispensed with traditional instruments altogether and replacing them with banks of synthesizers, tape loops and electronic gadgetry, taking knob twiddling into another stratosphere.

4. Brian Eno, Discreet Music, 1975

Not far behind was ex-Roxy Music dandy Brian Eno, who ‘discovered’ ambient music whilst rendered invalid on a hospital bed with a debilitating back injury. Having used enormous effort to place a vinyl record on the turntable, he found the volume had been mistakenly set to an inaudible level. As a result he was forced to listen to the entire piece as an atmospheric ambient soundscape. Building on the ideas behind Erik Satie’s Furniture Music, Eno claimed that the music should be ‘as ignorable as it is interesting’.

5. Kraftwerk, Robots, 1977

Once they lost the flute and found ‘pop’ music, Kraftwerk hit the autobahn with their engines running. They embraced technology with such classical German efficiency that they sought to replace themselves with replicant machines… Vorsprung durch Technik indeed. Their sound influenced many that followed, not least Giorgio Moroder, who found a disco beat and made Donna Summer ‘feel the love’.

6. Suicide, Frankie Teardrop, 1977

Suicide, as the name might suggest, were anything but ambient or pop, however the original pioneers of minimal synth knew a thing or two about story telling and Frankie Teardrop is without doubt the duo at their most harrowing. The cold, intense monotony of Martin Rev’s Seeburg drum machine creates a compelling backdrop to Alan Vega’s complete abandonment to performance. Around this time many others such as Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire were exploring parallel paths, which is maybe unsurprising, given that Mr Vega suggests that ‘we’re all Frankies’.

7. Storm Bugs, Solely From/Mesh of Wires/Objective/Car Situations, 1980

Tucked away in their bedroom studios from 1978-1980 were another little known duo, Phillip Sanderson and Steven Ball AKA Storm Bugs. They released home made tracks on cassette tape and were a part of a burgeoning scene of lo-tech, DIY independence before music websites made distribution a download away. The forerunner to a clutch of current bedroom luminaries such as Flume perhaps?

8. Various Artists, Classic Chicago Oldskool House Essentials Frankie Knuckles Tribute Mix ’80s/’90s

When Frankie Knuckles clocked on for his shift at the Warehouse in Chicago, he built the foundations of ‘House’. The heavy propelling bass line, the repetitive, rhythmic synth and the resurgent use of sampling have defined electronic dance music (and it’s many mutations) ever since. It also began to blur the boundaries between DJ and music creator. In many ways the birth of the DJ  heralded the death of the ‘album’ and in its place supplanted the ’mix’.

9. Matthew Herbert, November (Micachu Remix), 2011

In 2010 the mercurial Matthew Herbert recorded the sounds of a pig being born until its eventual slaughter. The result is the controversial album One Pig. At times deeply disturbing, the always provocative Herbert asks us to examine our disconnection from the food that ends up on our plate. The classically trained Herbert refuses to sample other people’s music and instead weaves his own field recordings into a musical score. He has been known to create music from a single bag of crisps, washing machines, tooth brushes, bullet shells purchased online and the sounds of his own bodily functions. Perhaps sampling an idea from Luigi Russolo and his Futurist, Art of Noises manifesto, Herbert has been quoted as saying ‘I can make music out of a banana’.

Completing the loop of electronica, Matthew Herbert recently became the creative lead for the New Radiophonic Workshop, an online project that takes its inspiration from Delia Derbyshire and the original BBC Radiophonic workshop. One of the many interesting projects includes the Secret Sounds of Spores by Yann Seznec and Patrick Hickey, where the human element of music composition has been all but eradicated… the Kraftwerk man-machines must be so proud.


10. Your choice… (tweet your suggestion to @thenewphil)


Resonance: Life amplified through music, by Michael Donohue. To listen to the tracks from last edition (fame), click here – The soundtrack to fame (no legwarmers required).

Comments are closed.


The winners of New Philosopher Writers’ Award XIX ‘Life’ are: Winner: Australian academic and last quarter’s runner-up Phiona Stanley for

read more

Until recently, if you’d told me I needed to spend more of my life relaxing or having fun, let alone

read more

If you go to the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, London, you will find that it has been transformed into

read more