Monday, October 31, 2011

Anxiety in Space-Age America

While French artists such as Pierre Henry and Michel Colombier took a fairly optimistic approach to the musical interpretation of space-age innovation, the Cold War anxieties of United States citizens fueled much more apprehensive works. This sense of foreboding lingered from the detonation of the atom bombs at the end of World War II, as well as an anxiety about the possibilities implicit in soon-to-be explored outer space. As Taylor writes on page 87 of his book, Strange Sounds, “I’m describing this as a kind of drama because it is. It can be read as caputuring—even forecasting—the attitudes toward the technology of the era, attitudes that were somewhat playful and hopeful while at the same time concerned and anxious.” This cultural context is well-illustrated and incorporated in Louis and Bebe Barron’s track “Deceleration” from the soundtrack for “Forbidden Planet”.

“Deceleration” begins with slowly undulating waves of low-pitched sound, slowly rising to a crescendo of high-pitched noises with interspersed higher-pitched glitchy sounds. The electronic sounds emulate the movement of something rotating faster and faster, building up to ear-splitting screeches. Finally, the momentum breaks as the high-pitched screeches give way back to slowly undulating lower-pitched sounds. This track represents the descent of the spacecraft in one of the first sci-fi movies released in the 1950’s, Louis and Bebe Barron’s experimental approach succeeds in creating an eerie discomfort regarding the unknown of this “Forbidden Planet”. This track compares strongly against the musical creations of Pierre Henry and Michel Colombier, which convey a more upbeat, adventurous outlook on the future with compositions that employ some of the same abstract, glitchy electronic sounds, but also incorporate a quick, upbeat melody throughout songs such as “Psyche Rock”. Together, these two outlooks on the changing technologies of the Space Age create a strange duality of fear and excitement, foreboding and embrace.

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