I think it’s safe to say that if you’re a vinyl collector/lover/addict/sociopath, then more than likely you’ve got a few “Whaaaa????” purchases in your collection. Sometimes curiosity, nostalgia, melancholy, uncontrollable urges, madness, and even possibly pride pushes us to snag some record that you may listen to once and then shove it into the record shelf(alphabetically, you fool!) and then forget you own it for years until you’re looking for that debut Violent Femmes LP and come across Vinnie Vincent Invasion’s self-titled instead. You wonder why in God’s name I have that, until you remember you bought it when you were 13 and never got rid of it. And that reason you didn’t get rid of it is because that girl(which will remain nameless) you had a crush on in 7th grade thought the androgynous guys in the band were hot. And that gave you a glimmer of hope that maybe she might let you hold her hand, or play “House Of The Rising Sun” on your crappy acoustic guitar for her, or maybe even have a quick heavy petting session in her darkened bedroom while your parents and her parents get drunk and play cards in their dining room.
But hey, that’s just a hypothetical situation that I’m sure is far too vague to assume is someone’s actual story. Move along, nothing to see here. Nothing to see here.
So yeah, I’ve got a few of these purchases that will be played once and then shelved into the Hubner vaults for all eternity. Or, until I die and leave my records to the many miniature schnauzers I will leave behind(“I know you’ll appreciate Vinnie Vincent Invasion’s debut, Mr. Pooch McGooch and Col. Klink!”) I thought I’d share a few of them with you before I lose my nerve and trade them in for something even worse. First up, Morton Subotnick’s Silver Apples Of The Moon.
Let me make it clear with Mr. Subotnick’s record, that I don’t find it embarrassing. In fact, I think it’s pretty cool. But on the repeat listens scale it’s at about a 4. It’s one of those albums that you put on to show off to a house guest…or to scare them off. Subotnick is an experimental electronic music composer that made music on a modular synthesizer. I’d first heard of Morton Subotnick a couple years ago when I first started getting into the likes of Steve Reich and Terry Riley. His name was mentioned in articles when discussing electronic and avante garde composers. While Reich and Riley composed pieces reveling in repetition and phasing, their music was still quite palatable and engaging. Morton Subotnick on the other hand made sounds that wouldn’t sound out of place in the back room of IBM laboratories back in 1963. Silver Apples Of The Moon is an album of noises, bleeps, pings, whaaaas, and whizzes that is the sound of a modular universe being born.
The first modular synthesizers were these gigantic machines that weren’t unlike some of the first computers. Huge machines that filled up a whole room, and something the regular music guy wasn’t going to figure out or have the cash to purchase. Subotnick was already heavily involved in experimental electronic music in the 50s, and by the early 60s he taught at Mills College. Why do you need to know this stuff? You don’t. In the mid to late 60s Subotnick began working with Don Buchla, and electronic instrument designer. Buchla created the modular voltage-controlled synthesizer, with some of Subotnick’s suggestions taken into consideration. The results were a much easier and compact synth Subotnick could compose on. The initial result was Silver Apples Of The Moon.
While most electronic music of the time was pitch and timbre shifts, with no discernible rhythm, Morton Subotnick actually tried to infuse rhythm patterns within his android noises. But regardless of those rhythms, it’s an insane listen. I mean, we’re talking about Subotnick and his electronic composer pals that actually had a red-colored plate on the front of one of these synthesizers that had LSD on the plate. So, while you’re composing you could run your finger along the plate, swipe your tongue, and BAM! you’re in another dimension fighting interstellar ogres and performing brain salad surgery with wooden spoons. This is hardcore. These are guys that actually got pissed off when Robert Moog added a keyboard to his modular synths in order to make it easier for people to use, and would allow them to actually play melodies.
Melody???? Melody????? We don’t need no stinking melody!!!
So why buy this album? Well, I guess it comes down to a couple things. The bizarre nature of the music for one. Besides the fact of the album sounding like a robot dying with a bird inside it’s metal chest, or the universe being re-programmed by Daleks, there’s something insightful about Subotnick’s musical “vision”. The more you listen to this album the more you can hear a musical arc, albeit a bizarre one. The guy is incredibly bright, and I’m sure he was incredibly high at some points as well, so I can only imagine what he was seeing and hearing around him as he sat at this strange machine and composed.
The other reason to own this quite simply is because I think it’s an important step in the history and evolution of electronic music. This was where electronic music went from soundtracking The Day The Earth Stood Still and Lost In Space, to being taken seriously as a musical art form. And really, you couldn’t be a complete dolt and use one of these modular voltage controlled synthesizers. Not by a long shot.
This won’t be thrown on the turntable for get togethers or for a quiet evening of beer sipping and reflection, but as far as oddities go it’s a fun one to throw on now and then. I’m glad I (recently)grabbed a copy of this off of Discogs for a pretty low price. It’s an OG pressing and in NM condition to boot. Silver Apples Of The Moon will spend a lot of shelf time next to the likes of Sufjan Stevens and Sonic Youth, but I think they’ll get along just fine.
Up next : TBD