Silver Apples

Released 1968 on Kapp
The Seth Man, December 2022ce
“Some are going back into country, some are going back into basic blues. I guess in four or five years, the new generation's music will'll have a synthesis of those two elements and some third thing. It might rely heavily on electronics, tapes...I can kind of envision maybe one person with a lot of machines, tapes and electronic setups singing or speaking and using machines..."
-Jim Morrison, interview with Richard Goldstein (Critique, PBS, April 28, 1969)

Plucking their name from the W.B. Yeats poem, “The Song Of The Wandering Aengus” as electronic composer Morton Subotnick did the previous year for his debut album, Silver Apples were the true NYC missing link between the academic Subotnick and the art-damaged Suicide as a two-man team whose electronic minimalism was comprised of a maximum of repetition and unswerving rhythms skewering a variety of electronic pulsations and vibrations.

Silver Apples were Simeon Coxe (electronics, vocals) and Danny Taylor (drums). A Barbarian Pulse Rock duo who weren’t living on the streets but high above it as people in the sky, their music expanded and contracted beyond the reaches of both the avant-garde and the demands of pop music for the simple fact that no one knew exactly what to make of it at the time. It was electronic music, but it was produced through equipment whose component parts were patched together from unmusical sources plus one drum set and vocals. There were lyrics, but they were sung usually with all the stilted rhythmic accuracy and tracking of computer punch cards. And lastly, Silver Apples’ self-titled debut LP was released months before Walter Carlos’ SWITCHED-ON BACH, an album of classical pieces performed on Moog synthesizer which in time, would prove to be a revolutionary release that would ultimately spread the idea of electronic music to the masses. (By January of 1969, it hit #1 on Billboard’s classical music chart and would remain at that placement for the next three years.)1

But Silver Apples were worlds away from the halls of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, Columbia Masterworks, or anything approaching academia. As a group without a category even in the then-expanding boundaries of pop and Rock, they were able to land a deal with Kapp Records, whose roster included the likes of Louis Armstrong, The Chad Mitchell Trio and Burt Bacharach. In 1960, Kapp scored a US #1 hit with the Brian Hyland novelty, “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini” so they weren’t exactly Red Seal, Nonesuch, nor even Cardinal Records. However, the label made up for this by backing the group and even plumping for the expensive utilisation of silver foil for the album’s front and back sleeves which made the record look as futuristic as it sounded.2

Enclosed within the album was a 12” x 24” poster comprised of 32 panels, 29 of them occupied by photographic images taken by arts patron, Virginia Dwan on the rooftop of the Park Avenue South penthouse Silver Apples shared with their manager, Barry Bryant. Like two hippie cloud minders, or psychedelic custodians of the upper floors, Coxe and Taylor were captured 15 floors above the bustle of the New York City streets below. But above, the cityscape looked eerily empty and silent save for Silver Apples, their equipment, and girlfriend while the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and the Pan Am Building all loomed in the background.3 Silver Apples’ album would debut on the same roof in May, 1968 when members of the press were invited and met with an entire penthouse spray-painted in silver. This included not only the floors, ceilings and walls, but all the furnishings as well.

But before the Empire State Building loomed 8 blocks away as Silver Apples were doing their thing on the roof, it was Coxe who was first taken with the bizarre sounds produced during an initial session with a World War II US Army oscillator. He was intrigued to such a point that he harassed his soon-to-be-previous band mates out of the rehearsal space with his relentless experimentation. With only a jug band background, an intrigued Coxe began to assemble even more World War II-era Hewlett Packard oscillators with dozens of controls that could be directed by hand, feet and even elbow until Coxe’s single oscillator turned into many, connected by switches and plugs so that all could be played alone or simultaneously. Rounding out Coxe’s arsenal were additional tone filters, a wah-wah, an echo unit, an AM-FM tuner and a telephone. Eventually, he organised all these secondhand components into a handmade, unfinished plywood console and christened it “The Simeon.” As aesthetically unpleasant as it was effective, it added to the duo’s look, which was also unglamourous but equally effective.4 Meanwhile, Danny Taylor’s “The Taylor Drums” were also cited on the album, listing “thirteen drums, five cymbals and other percussion instruments.”

Left to engineer the album by themselves, Silver Apples set about tackling the mesmeric rhythms and pulsations of the first track, “Oscillations.” Sounding off with otherworldly sounds and mechanical precision, interchanging between Danny Taylor’s tom toms and reporting snare hits, Coxe’s vocalisations indifferently repeat the title as the oscillators meld, merge and then accordion into silence. “Seagreen Serenades” is sung ballad-y, despite the repetition of the cross-clattering of the Taylor Drums. Coxe sweetly renders a recorder line throughout, as the several pulsations continue their burrowing into silence. The following track, “Lovefingers” comes on like something performed at an exhibition called “Group Of The Future” during the Japan World Exposition, Osaka in 1970. Two years too early, bleeps and echoed bloops ricochet and rebound, neatly regimented into pinball rhythms by Danny Taylor. Expo ’70 would’ve benefited immeasurably, as this is Silver Apples’ at their most inventive and futuristic. A shift away into some old-timey polka, then static catching between stations, and interview voices fade out as the music prepared by Silver Apples fades in with “Program.” Spinning the radio dial across the bandwidth as Coxe monotonally sings the phrase at precise intervals, “The flame is its own reflection” while the sporadic radio dial spinning catches fragments of symphonies, a woman’s voice and static. Wayward oscillations corkscrew through “Velvet Cave” as Coxe recites sexually-charged lyrics while the Taylor Drums propel it all forward with a quick shuffle beat. The velvet cave has shadows on its wall that dance as the firelight flickers, soon flickering higher and higher as several oscillators crazily tilt and whirr until an abrupt US radio edit.

Side two opens with the kiddie-fair paces of “Whirly-Bird.” Somewhat at odds with its unwavering punch-key repetition, it proves that true experiment music is not without pitfalls. “WOM-WOM-WOM” bass tones that reverberate and catch in thy chest cavity, “Dust” features broken vocal intonations amid scattered electronics and shimmering cymbals. Rhythm-less and expressionistic electronics fringe the vocals and cymbals, dripping icicle-like behind those throbbing bass tones that had supine audience members levitating off the floor at live gigs. The thundering tom-toms of The Taylor Drums evoke the chants of Native American Indian spiritualism with “Dancing Gods” that endure for nearly six minutes of severe trance while Coxe places skimming electronics to the side for his vocals to remain all but drowned out by the stentorian repetitions of the drumming. As electronics playfully alternate against the beat, “Misty Mountain” ends the album with Coxe’s fragile vocals threading among Taylor’s shuffle drums and his own electronic pulsations.

Silver Apples would continue piloting their avant-garde airwaves in this way for two years until a figurative crash landing brought it all to an abrupt end.

  1. Speaking of that aforementioned sales-driven industry magazine, the June 22, 1968 issue underlined several misapprehensions generally held by the media of the time with then-nascent electronic music in general and Silver Apples in particular: ‘Silver Apples, new Kapp duo featuring Dan Taylor & Simeon, tune in the twilight zone with a high-strung barrage of oscillations, vibrations and impulses that sound like the mating calls of two IBM machines. “Oscillations” and “Whirley-Bird” [sic] highlight the duo’s electronic tribal rock blend, which also features percussion tantrums and twangs to delight the underground listener.’ They might as well have just published the following and been done with it: ‘An instant hit with the LSD Set. Silver Apples Are The Sound of ’68!!’

  2. In retrospect, albums manufactured with foil sleeves reached an apogee in 1968 with the use of this then-futuristic visual element. It was used not only for Silver Apples’ debut album but for those of both Quicksilver Messenger Service and Steppenwolf. As well as the latter’s second LP, other examples from 1968 include: The Monkees’ “Head,” The Glitterhouse’s “Color Blind” and most famously, Martin Sharp’s design for Cream’s double album, “Wheels Of Fire.” Yes, 1968 was the year when technology in the arts stepped up the discussion of all things ‘cybernetic.’ Defined as “the science of communications and automatic control systems in both machines and living things,” an exhibition curated by Jasia Reichardt at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, England from August 2-October 20, 1968 was entitled “Cybernetic Serendipity.” In conjunction with the exhibition, contributions by Iannis Xenakis, John Cage, Peter Zinovieff, and the greatly-named Wilhelm Fucks resulted in the album, CYBERNETIC SERENDIPITY MUSIC. Less academic reflections arrived in a trio of albums released by new groups: Lothar And The Hand People’s self-titled album (which featured theremin); The United States Of America’s self-titled album (which featured ring modulators); and The Fifty Foot Hose’s CAULDRON (which featured theremin, electronics, and audio generators). While the disjointed off-beats of Spirit’s “Mechanical World” combined with a string section created an analogue audio portrait of the future, none of these produced as truly futuristic a vision and sound as Silver Apples.

  3. Although both the building and its recognisable logo are reproduced in reverse (possibly in order to obscure the logo and thereby steer clear of any copyright infringement) it strangely foreshadows events in the following year regarding the group and the popular airline corporation. Oddly, a second photo of Danny Taylor also shows the Pan Am Building in the background reversed, as well as the positioning of the Maestro logo on one part of Simeon’s equipment pile indicates it’s reversed as well. Judging from the year, the Maestro effect box was in all certainty a G-1 Rhythm 'N Sound For Guitar or a W-1 Sound System For Woodwinds box, judging from the Maestro logo clearly reversed and situated below the segment of 3 pairs of dials. Seeing as Simeon Coxe also played recorder, it may well have been a W-1 box. An early effects processor designed to be used with a signal from a woodwind instrument, it was comprised of circuits more commonly found in an organ: frequency dividers to drop the signal down by an octave or two octaves. fixed low pass, high pass, and band pass filters, and a fuzz circuit. (Several other shots are also reversed: One that shows what is obviously a white Fender Showman amplifier despite its trademark silver logo retouched out of the photograph, while another shows a conspicuous blonde Fender Showman Amp head with a blackface control panel, with both the metallic Fender logo on the grill and the ‘Showman Amp’ type on the blackface panel retouched out. Unfortunately, this primitive CYA maneuver would be of little use when events in the following year conspired against the pioneering duo.)

  4. However, their short-lived stage gear of matching pellegrina (short shoulder capes sported by Catholic ecclesiastics) did reinforce Danny Taylor’s medieval look, courtesy of his pageboy haircut and penetratingly stoned stare.