Silver Apples of the Moon by Morton Subotnick
Shared by Nick
My pick for this month is Silver Apples of the Moon by pioneering electronic composer Morton Subotnick. It’s one of his early pieces and one that put him on the map. I hear you asking: Is it fair to dwell on someone’s early success when they’ve had a long and ongoing career? No! Insert shrug emoji! It’s still a favorite of mine along with the other music he made around this time (The Wild Bull, Touch, Sidewinder).
I remember reading something by Gunther Schuller describing his excitement over the possibilities of the then newly emerging genre of electronic music, and his consequent disappointment that most of what he heard just sounded like “sssssssshhhhtack!…………ppfffffffffft……..” . Hey, it’s funny cuz it’s true! As preemptive handholding for those who might have a similar allergy, I’m going to invoke an episode of Mad Men, where Megan Draper is just about to go out and Don is staring quizzically at a copy of Revolver that she has just bought. “Listen to side 2 first” is her advice just before she heads out the door. As the show closes we witness Don having his mind blown by Tomorrow Never Knows.
So get cozy in your inflatable vinyl armchair and enjoy the exciting new sounds of this record which came out in 1967! If after hearing side 2 you aren’t excited to go back and listen to the whole thing, then you’ll probably know it’s not for you.
In part 2 of Silver Apples of the Moon, sparse chirps, warbles and mewls soon give way to the insistent percolating of an analog sequencer which appears out of the reverberated distance. One layer above, we hear the pseudo-random gyrating of ring modulated tones generated by a sample and hold circuit. A strobing, 16th note-like pulse with on and off beats separated hard left and right emerges. A rich square wave starts an ostinato and in combination with some triggered bursts of filtered white noise, settles into a vaguely West African rhythm. A mysterious hovering tone emerges amid punctuations of gurgling frequency modulated squirts and clangorous clusters. The passive voice is used! I'll end my play by play description there because I need to save some adjectives for next time.
None of this music could have occurred without the modules designed and created by Don Buchla. Even though some have said that the ideal synthesizer shouldn’t have a recognizeable sound, I’m really glad that’s not the case here. I got to mess around with a Buchla music easel once and it is it’s own work of art. Too bad they all seem to be made of unobtainium.
Herbie Hancock was a fan of Subotnick, and faithful readers of this blog will now realize that the point of it is to show that Herbie Hancock has a very open mind and knows a good thing when he steals it. If you listen to the first cut from Sextant I think you might hear some influence there.
And here’s Part 1 since I assume you want to hear it now: