Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Morton Subotnick
Silver Apples of the Moon

Released 1967 on Nonesuch
Reviewed by Lugia, 04/01/2004ce

Morton Subotnick: "Silver Apples of the Moon"
Nonesuch H-71174, recorded/released 1967.

Part I (16:30)
Part II (15:00)

While Stockhausen these days gets cited as being the 'godfather of techno' and lauded as the innovator he rightfully is, Subotnick's work has gotten more obscure. And that's a shame, as there's still some circles that recognize his contributions...which are not insignificant nor irrelevant. For example, I've heard DJs back during the more creative period of the rave scene (ie: before it got really commercialized in the mid-90s) spin part of Part II of this work right into their sets. It DOES work. Plus during the 60s, it was easier stateside to get Subotnick's work, so you had bands which came along in the wake of this who made stabs at using this same musical vocabulary. And in one case, its literal vocabulary; remember Kapp's "Silver Apples", folks?

Technically, this is 'academic music'. But it's an odd sort of academic music, as it's a lot more organic and unearthly than much of the other stuff going on at the time. This is almost certainly due to Subotnick's use of a honkin-big Buchla synth exclusively throughout the work. It unifies the material, even though...especially in Part I...there's a good amount of musical 'drift' to things. And also, this is a historically-significant work, inasmuch as Nonesuch commissioned Subotnick for this, the first work of electronic music commissioned by a label and created specifically for record playback. Or so the liner notes say.

Of the two parts here, Part I is not quite as satisfying as Part II, if only because the massive rhythmic build of Part II is the work's centerpiece. This was the first instance where anyone heard wholesale use of sequencing, years before TD or Klaus made it a central element of their work. But Part I is more of a 'drift' affair, moving through all sorts of microtonal and atonal bleep-ping-pop alien soundscaping, with offhand noisy bits and bursts. It's neat, though...sort of a miswiring between the "Forbidden Planet" soundtrack work of the Barrons and some of the more isolationist stuff of Asmus Tietchens, et al. It often gets pretty sparse, and also gets rather dense...lots of interesting 'flow' to the textures. But it isn't quite 'standalone' music, not by today's standards. Toward the end, we hear the first starts of the sequencing that we'll get very submerged in after we flip the record over...

Part II of this piece is the real 'meat'. After a few ping-poings like Part I, you notice this...pulse...starting. And it builds. And builds. And builds. And BUILDS. And by the time Subotnick's got the Buchla going full-tilt, we're taking a glimpse into Berlin-school turf, a few years ahead of schedule. But it's a weird, off-skew glimpse...the pulsing tonality we associate with Messrs. Froese, Franke, Schulze, et al isn't here. Instead, things ping around atonally, off-kilter, warpedly...like someone mixed some of Autechre or Aphex Twin in their more evil moments into the brew. Sounds snap and pop aggressively, menacingly out of this. But there is this 'tick-tick-chik-tick' filtered-noise-percussion rhythm that staples it all together, very much like something off of mid-70s TD's stuff, in amongst the building havoc. This, kids, is the dawn of something really damned interesting, and it unfolds right here on the vinyl before your very ears. I put it to you that without these several minutes of sound, we WOULD NOT have gotten to where we are today!

Eventually, the whirling mechanistic klangfest seems to disintegrate about halfway through Part II, and we're left back in the drift-zone we first entered in, albeit a lot sparser. Definitely a 'post-electro-coitus' feel to the final section of Part II, after the thrash and spoo of all that sequential/rhythmic mayhem.

Subotnick went on from this to do a number of works during the late 60s and up thru the mid-70s on the Buchla in its varied incarnations, then went in a more academic direction for a while, digitally tinkering with ambient elements in his 'ghost' works. Later, he came up with some nifty interactive software composition thingies that might be worth some of yours' attention. But it was here on this thing, back in the legendary year '67, that Morton charted the course that almost certainly gave us much of what we listen to today as electronic music and its relatives. Respect due!

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