Tonight we quizzed on machines in music. Bleep Bloop Bleep! Browse nine rounds of industrial artistry below.
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) Symphony No. 101 in D 'The Clock' The gears of Haydn’s mind had actually been turning on the subject of his famous symphony known as “The Clock” for quite some time before the work was actually premiered. In the early 1790s, Haydn had written a minuet, along with several other pieces, for the FLÖTENUHR or FLUTE CLOCK, a kind of mechanical organ activated by clocks that were popular in Vienna and Eisenstadt at the time. This minuet, with a few changes, became the basis for the third movement for Haydn’s Symphony No. 101, premiered in 1794. However, the name “The Clock” actually came from the second movement, which we just heard, because of the persistent “tick tock” sound heard in the accompaniment. Such instruments as the Flute Clock quickly fell out of favor, but the four instruments for which Haydn composed survive and even still work. They play forty short pieces by Haydn between them, and represent one of the earliest examples of music preservation after sheet music.
Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) Sonatas K.531, K.455 Composer Wendy Carlos was an important promoter of the use of electronics in both new music and in the interpretation of older works. In 1968 Carlos collaborated with famed electronic instrument inventor Robert Moog, which led to the album “Switched on Bach.” On this successful record, Carlos reinterpreted the works of the Baroque master on the then-new Moog synthesizer. Initially the Moog synthesizer could only play single-line melodies, so Carlos had to record each of Bach's melodies independently with a click-track and combine them in post-production. Bach was not the only older composer to get the “Carlos treatment.” In the musical score to Stanley Kubrick’s controversial 1971 film “A Clockwork Orange,” Carlos reworked the music of Beethoven, Rossini. In our example, Domenico Scarlatti. Since the analogue synth revival of the 2010s, musicians are now producing new recordings of classical works in the style of Wendy Carlos.
John Adams (b.1947) Short Ride in a Fast Machine John Adams’s orchestral fanfare A Short Ride in a Fast Machine is one of the most frequently performed orchestral works by a living composer. In 1986, Adams was commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony to write an opening work for the Great Woods Summer Festival. The resulting piece was inspired by the exhilaration the composer felt as a passenger in a SPORTS CAR. When asked about the title in a Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross, Adams remarked “You know how it is when someone asks you to RIDE IN A SPORTS CAR, and then you wish you hadn’t?” In this case, the sports car was a Ferrari owned by a relative, who wanted to show Adams that the car could go from 0 to 100 in under 16 seconds.
Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880) Tales of Hoffman: 'Les oiseaux dans la charmille' The so-called “Doll Aria,” titled “The Birds in the Bower,” is from Jacques Offenbach’s bizarrely delightful opera The Tales of Hoffmann, a work based on the writings of author, critic, and composer E.T.A. Hoffmann. Hoffmann is even the main character in the opera, recounting the stories of the three women he’s loved (it turns out that all three are in fact different sides of the same woman). The first of these three is Olympia, a character from his short story The Sandman. Olympia is not a woman at all, but rather an automaton invented by the mad scientist, Spallanzani. Hoffmann believes her to be a woman thanks to a pair of magic glasses also invented by Spallanzani. He falls for Olympia after she sings this mechanized aria about birds—while periodically being wound up during the performance. After Hoffmann accidentally breaks his glasses, he realizes he’s been duped, and we re-enter the present time where he continues with another tale of a past love.
Raymond Scott (1908-1994) Powerhouse Born with the name Harry Warnow in Brooklyn, New York, the jazz musician who became known as Raymond Scott was an inventor and bandleader. A musical prodigy bent on studying engineering, Scott was persuaded by his older brother, also a musician, to stick with music. Scott attended the school that would become The Juilliard School in New York. Upon graduation, he chose a new name for himself, supposedly selected at random from the phone book, and got a job as a studio pianist for CBS. Bored by the repertoire, he soon began writing his own distinctive type of music, and assembled several CBS colleagues to form the Raymond Scott Quintette, Scott wanted to revive swing music with a developed style he termed “descriptive jazz” This style featured little improvisation, and instead focused on tightly structured arrangements with an occasional musical gimmick, often hinted at by programmatic titles. Though many might not realize it, Raymond Scott’s compositions are familiar to millions because of their frequent use in Looney Tunes. Scott’s composition “Powerhouse” is almost as ubiquitous with cartoons as Dave Franklin’s “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down.”
Joan Tower (b.1938) No Longer Very Clear: II. Or Like a....an Engine Joan Tower is widely regarded as one of the most important American living composers today. Although she has written music in most classical genres, she returns to her roots as a pianist for her suite of four solo piano pieces titled No Longer Very Clear. Each movement of the piece is named for a line from a poem by John Ashbery, although Tower writes in her own introduction that, like Debussy’s Preludes, the music came before the poem.We heard the 2nd movement performed by Ursula Oppens, the pianist for whom this piece was written. It is based on line 11 of the poem, and depicts what Tower describes as like a “motorific” version of a Chopin etude.
George Antheil (1900-1959) Ballet mécanique Before shifting to a neo-Romantic style in the late 1930s, American composer George Antheil’s career centered on the avant-garde art scenes of Berlin and Paris in the 1920s. This was an atmosphere that thrived on musical scandals, and Antheil had a talent for providing such scandals. Ballet Mechanique, premiered in 1926, was perhaps the pinnacle of Antheil’s interest in overlapping technology, physics, and ultra-modernist music designed to irritate the “squares.” Partially inspired by the Futurist movements, which celebrated technology and the aesthetic value of pure noise, Ballet Mechanique was originally conceived for sixteen PIANOLAs (a type of player piano) and various percussion instruments. The near-impossibility of synchronizing this many mechanical instruments led to several re-orchestrations, one of which included electric sirens and a variety of airplane propellers.
Frederic Rzewski (b.1938) North American Ballads: Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues Modernist composer and pianist Frederic Rzewsky frequently incorporates political and social themes into his compositions, especially those which are sympathetic to the working class. Pieces like his piano variations The People United Will Never Be Defeated or his Four American Ballads use music to draw attention to the struggle of historically downtrodden people. His most popular of the North American Ballads, titled “Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues”, incorporates an old song sung by cotton mill workers as they labored in the difficult and dangerous conditions of the cotton mill. The piano itself is made to sound like a cotton machine, and we can hear the tune struggle to be heard over the monotonous and perpetual dissonance of machinery. Modernist techniques like using the whole forearm to play tone clusters on the piano achieve this effect. The contrast between art and industry becomes an allegory of humanity vs inhumanity, and the piece ends uncertainly as to what will survive in the end.
Kraftwerk (1978) Robots Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider of the German electronic group Kraftwerk first met as classical music students at the Düsseldorf conservatory. They were early adopters of synthesizers, drum machines, vocoders, and other electronic instruments, and soon transformed their sound into something entirely electronically-produced. Today, they are considered pioneers in electronic music, a genre that permeates the modern pop music landscape. Kraftwerk scored their first international hit in 1974 with their song “Autobahn.” And most of their songs are inspired by some kind of electronic machine, including “Computer Love,” “Radio-Activity,” “The Robots,” “Neon Lights,” and “Pocket Calculator.” Their electric roots are even present in their name. Kraftwerk is the German word for Power Plant. (or Power Station, Power House, etc.)