Various Artists

Music for a Retro Future

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When recorded electronic music was in its infancy in the mid- to late 1950s, it understandably sounded both primitive to modern ears, and different in many respects to what it would become when equipment became more sophisticated and more commonly available. Listening to electronic music made during that era is nonetheless fascinating, both for the innovations (if sometimes tentative) it made and for how different it sounds in comparison to the electronic music of subsequent decades. While this 74-minute, 18-track compilation doesn't cover all the bases (no single disc could), it's a good survey or starting point of the genre, featuring work by several prominent figures in the field. Jean-Jacques Perrey is one of the more well-known practitioners represented, though his four tracks are more interesting for the textures he employed than the hackneyed melodies to which he married them. More enduring are a couple spooky excerpts from Louis & Bebe Barron's classic soundtrack to the science fiction movie Forbidden Planet, and Edgard Varese's four avant-garde works (here performed by four different artists, including Varese himself on "Ionisation," where his influence on the most experimental early recordings of Frank Zappa is evident). On the more coldly academic (and, to some ears, hilariously dated) side, there are also excerpts from The Sounds and Music of the RCA Electronic Synthesizer (in which the noises of an early synthesizer are mechanically demonstrated and explained) and a couple "pieces" of more random-sounding noises made by an IBM 7090 computer. Tom Dissevelt and Kid Baltan's "Song of the Second Moon" and "Sonik Re-Entry" are the two items, however, that have the greatest ebullience and, dare it be said in this context, humanity, with their veering swoops and percolating rhythms. The tracks are annotated by Dave Henderson, author of the electronic music history book Journey to a Plugged In State of Mind.

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