Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Switched On Bach

One work (of course from me, a musical one) that I was reminded of while reading the Sturken and Cartwright chapter was Wendy/Walter Carlos' Switched On Bach from 1968, which I was just listening to on the way to class Tuesday. Although it is an early example of these ideas of postmodernism, the record (in which Carlos, creates elaborate interpretations of well known Bach pieces with early Moog synthesizers) fits more into the postmodern ideas of remake and pastiche than the standard practice of classical re-recording. The sounds of the synthesizer were highly uncharacteristic of classical music at the time, and were highly experimental, but the whole record has a playful feeling to it. Many of the pieces were sped up, making them sound a bit like electronic circus music, and the timbres used can also sound comical during some of the faster pieces. Carlos is playing with, morphing, prodding the music of the past to create something seemingly new. This requires, as was said in the text, a rich knowledge of media, which in this case is the history of music.

The record is also a great example of Sturken and Cartwright's assertion at the beginning of the chapter that we are not entirely in a postmodern world. Although Switched On Bach can be seen as postmodern because of its relationship to the past, it is also fiercely modernist because it was also a demonstration of the power of the Moog synth, which was extremely new at the time. The idea was that this is the future of music, and that this progress was going to lead to a greater understanding of sound in relation to composition. Although many other composers were more modernistic in terms of their experiments with electronics (Xenakis and Stockhausen especially), it was the mechanical nature of Bach compositions that was built into the music that made it such an important example of the power of synthesized sound.

This album is really amazing, and highly recommended by me. Wendy has done a lot of soundtracks including the soundtracks to A Clockwork Orange and Tron. Below is the only example form the record I could find on Youtube, and it is of one of the very short pieces, but there are clips available on iTunes and Amazon and such.

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