Today would have been Robert Moog’s 78th birthday today, that is if he hadn’t have kicked the bucket in 2005. To celebrate Google has put up a logo that is a playable virtual Moog synthesizer which the Vancouver Sun and Mashable.com have posted nice overviews of the thing, and of course various news sites have posted tributes to Moog as a result. One of the more embarrassing of these comes courtesy of the Daily Telegraph. The writer of this article claims that due to Moog’s grudging praise of songs that use the synthesizer, supposedly “deep-down” Moog, “always preferred ‘real’ instruments.” Said writer then goes on to expound how in the right hands the Moog synth can be a “real musical instrument” and even mentions, “There are also younger players coming up like Django Bates who really can make Moog’s box of voltage-controlled oscillators sound like music.” And if anyone is in doubt as to what the author of the article means, he posts two examples of noodly jazz fusion from the 70s: Jeff Beck and Weather Report.
Where does this complaint come from? Probably from the likes of synth pop (be it the Pet Shop Boys or Depeche Mode, Detroit techno, hip-hop, and yes, Britney. (But also Gwen Stefani.) And certainly synth pop owes a direct and obvious debt to Bowie, Kraftwerk, and Disco (especially if like the Pet Shop Boys, Bronski Beat, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, or Erasure, a significant portion of your band are gay men). I’ve heard many of these musicians admit that the took up the synth in part because of its accessibility, particularly Daniel Miller who founded a label devoted to synth pop. However, as Richard H. Kirk of Cabaret Voltaire points out the synth presented for him a newfound freedom to create music that reflected his life, his interests, and his background in the industrial city of Sheffield. Many of these bands did not use a Moog, because by that point the Moog synth was too expensive and cheaper alternatives had arisen. But the Moog was the first available keyboard synthesizer that could readily put new sounds at the hands of musicians and hence a direct ancestor to the equipment used by these bands and modern electronic acts.
What makes the writer’s statements particularly embarrassing is the acknowledgement that the Moog synth was primarily developed for experimental composers. Obviously. Mr. Moog had a problem with untrained musicians using the instrument to create sounds judging by his comments, but can do terms like “real music” really be discussed when one gets into experimental composition? For example, in developing further versions of the Moog Synthesizer, Robert Moog worked not only the more conventionally skilled Keith Emerson but John Cage. Cage created compositions like this one which obviously have nothing to do with Mozart or even jazz.
Anyone familiar with his work would know that Cage pretty much devoted his life time to destroying conventional notions of music. Even as far back as 1940 he had come up with pieces like “Bacchanale” which involved putting a piano in unusual tunings and jamming stuff in the strings. And Cage is part of a long line of similarly minded composers in the 20th century who have followed suit such as Pierre Schaeffer, Herbert Eimert, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. It was music that didn’t concern itself so much with conventional notions of melody and harmony, so much as ideas, finding new sounds, and exploring the texture and colours of sound that fall in between the notes. All of which might seem fairly irrelevant to most of us until we remember that these composers’ techniques ended up making into British television in the 1960s in the form of a theme for a popular science fiction serial. This music would also slip it’s way into the pop music charts later in the decade via the Beatles.
The weird swelling noises around the 1:35 mark are Paul McCartney nicking Stockhausen’s experiments with tap loops and applying them in a pop music setting. The point is that this music didn’t merely remain underground, but seeped into the musical overground through odd channels. The Moog synthesizer was one of these channels. One of the early adopters of the Moog synthesizer in the was Jean-Jacques Perry, and enthusiast of the cut-and-splice tape music made by Pierre Schaeffer. In 1972, he used the Moog to create “E.V.A.” a piece of music that was a decade ahead of its time, with danceable, electronic rhythms and odd sounds that were not directly analogous to the popular music of the time. In fact it even predated the emergence of disco in the New York club underground.
Another Moog enthusiast, Brian Eno applied the Moog in a Glam rock band known as Roxy Music, as seen in the song “Ladytron”. Roxy of course might be more familiar to some readers through their early 1980 hit “Avalon” which applied synths to a much smoother effect. Yet it began in the early 70s with Eno, and while the music they made is closer to the Beatles than Stockhausen, it clearly owes a debt to the weirdness of that music with its dissonant qualities and refusal to settle into easy harmony. Eno of course was familiar with Stockhausen, as well as Cage and sundry other experimental composers. And his ability to channel their ideas was enhanced by the Moog synthesizer putting a new swath of sounds at his finger-tips whereas Stockhausen worked with large, clunky tape machines and audio generators the size of large filing cabinets.
Eno later left Roxy, and following a health crisis began to take a different approach to his music that was even more indebted to electronics. He took these ideas to David Bowie who took them up during the late 70s with songs such as “Always Crashing the Same Car” from his famed trilogy of electronically themed albums that he recorded in Berlin. Both men were enthusiasts of German musicians of the 1970s who were influenced by composers such as Stockhausen, psychedelia, and a desire to escape Germany’s wartime legacy. These musicians ended up expanding popular music further beyond the borders of the lauded psychedelic heroes of the 1960s. Among the most familiar examples were Tangerine Dream who used the Moog to create soundscapes that conjured up outer-space itself. Yet they would eventually turn these skills towards producing popular film soundtracks in the 1980s. Kraftwerk on the other hand basically created techno using the Moog to realize their desire to create wholly mechanized music. Using the Moog, both bands realized musical visions that were far outside of the psychedelia of the Beatles or Hendrix because it made entirely new sounds available to them, much in the way that guitar distortion and the fuzz pedal made new sounds available to Jimi Hendrix.
All of the synth pop bands I mentioned earlier were directly influenced by David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy, Eno, and Kraftwerk. Though perhaps one of the more direct bridges between the underground music of German and the pop overground of the 1980s was disco producer and Donna Summer collaborator Giogorio Moroder. Moroder first employed the Moog on “Love to Love You Baby”, but didn’t really come across its sonic possibilities until the ground breaking single “I Feel Love.” Upon hearing this in Berlin in the late 1970s, Brian Eno told David Bowie that this single would influence pop music for a generation to come. That it certainly did, though the Telegraph writer might dismiss its successors as not being “real” music. Yet Moog’s machine was built for composers who sought to break away from the confines of “real” music and conjure up new sounds, as much as 80s electronic musicians like Gary Numan and Cabaret Voltaire sought to discover entirely new sounds to create music that reflected the world around them. It doesn’t matter if Moog intended for his instrument to be used by traditionally skilled musicians. It is enough that opened the door to new sonic possibilities - even those possibilities were created by by smaller, cheaper instruments that replaced the Moog in musicians’ arsenals. These days I can access a much larger array of synthesizer effects (not to mention a virtual guitar amplifier and effects processor) for free via Ubuntu Studio. Though I might not have had access to these instruments, had Moog not developed a readily accessible keyboard with a synthesizer attached to it that allowed music to make the journey from Stockhausen to Kompakt. And it is for that reason all “non-musicians” like Eno owe Moog their gratitude.
…I actually have two versions of this tumblr. The second can be found here under the name Throwing Guitars Through TVs. It is Not Safe For Work (NSFW) because I felt it prudent to have a separate version of this blog for posting the nudes I draw. I also have an eye open towards it containing more erotically charged material if my creativity takes me there.
And of course you can find my art as well at: http://adan-cricjer.deviantart.com/
Today I came across no less than five news items about this government’s disregard for accountability when it comes to public expenditure. Five in ONE day.
Remember the problems highlighted with the procurement of the F-35 fighter jets and their actual cost? Our defence minister Peter McKay has decided to limit what people can know about the Department of Defence. Among other things a previously public report on the Defence Department’s strategic investing has suddenly been labelled ‘classified’. Meanwhile the Department has claimed that $105 million spent on building 13 armoured engineering vehicles for the Canadian Armed Forces are just “vehicular power transmission components,” and claimed that the deal was only for one of these units.
Unlike the F-35 fiasco, it is quite possible that these thirteen vehicles are legitimately needed by the armed forces, who have suffered serious attrition in terms of equipment over the years. It is also quite possible that this equipment is fairly fairly priced. Then again I’m not well versed in the world of defence hardware and the costs involved, and the Department’s handling of the F-35 jets has been exposed as dishonest both by the Auditor General, the opposition parties, and in news reports. (All of which just had to look at the costs claimed by the Canadian government and the actual cost of the F-35 program as reported through the US Department of Defence.) That said, the Department’s dishonest reporting on the nature of this expenditure doesn’t leave me with any confidence regarding the expenditure.
Which brings me to a related note, four regional government development agencies are having their internal auditors removed. Those former duties of those auditors will be transferred to the Office of the Auditor General. However, at the same time the Auditor General has announced that his office shall conduct fewer audits due to budget cuts. How does this affect its job?
Senior Finance Canada officials outlined how the Auditor-General will be cutting back. For instance, the office will no longer audit how the Canada Revenue Agency and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency report their performance.
Officials also listed several annual reports all departments will stop tabling, covering a wide range of areas such as public-service management and the use of alternative fuels by government vehicle fleets.
That’s right, no more auditing of how our tax collection agency or the agency charged with inspecting the safety of our food report on their performance. Can anyone say that’s inessential?
But this is all in the name of saving money right? I mean we have to address the deficit? Perhaps, though the Tories refuse to co-operate with budget watch-dog in terms outlining how they they are cutting spending. According the Parliamentary Budget Officer, what information has been provided lacks even the most basic information to properly assess how these cuts are being carried out. Jim Flaherty claims that his previous statements that they could provide estimates this may were a mistake. But what reasons do we have to give him the benefit of the doubt on this? He now claims we’ll have to wait until spring 2013, nearly an entire year, to find out what the Departments will cut. They cannot even provide estimates on what should be cut before that?
If I seem uncharitable let’s bear in mind the exactly the kind of government we are dealing with here. Nothing on the size of the Sponsorship scandal, but a fairly consistent trend of breach of ethics and disregard for public accountability that should be unacceptable in any democratic society. And just last night, I found out that the Human Resources Minister overrode her own officials on whether a project was eligible for funding. The project in question? A social hall being built by Rabbi Chaim Mendelsohn, who has close ties to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. What program was the Rabbi applying for the funds under?
After speaking to Mr. Baird, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley personally approved the project even though her officials determined it did not meet the criteria for a federal program aimed at making facilities wheelchair accessible.
The money for the project came from the Enabling Accessibility Fund, a short-term program that offered federal grants for projects that “improve accessibility and enable Canadians, regardless of physical ability, to participate in and contribute to their communities and the economy.”
Which under the pattern we’ve seen thus far from the government, particularly Tony Clement’s use of unrelated funds for a series of pork barrelling projects, shouldn’t leave anyone particularly sanguine about the matter.
I remember when the Federal Election of 2011 concluded with a Conservative majority. Many columnists predicted that the Conservatives would be more compromising and less secretive now that the party had a secure majority in parliament. At the time I was utterly flabbergasted at how any of them could draw this conclusion. It was utterly contrary to the most basic logic of politics, and ethics, I’ve known: if you reward people engaging in bad behaviour, then they will keep doing it and probably act worst. By handing the party a majority, the electorate simply rewarded the Conservatives bad behaviour and sent them a message that they could get away with these sorts of things. Many similar examples of this sort of behaviour could be found well before the election, particularly Tony Clement’s misappropriation of public funds. And yet this was the sort of behaviour that got the Liberals tossed out of power. These are the results of the Conservative majority and this is apparently what Canadians voted for. If you yourself voted Conservative back in 2010 can you really say that it was worth it?