Morton Subotnick

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Silver Apples of the Moon by Morton Subotnick. Nonesuch H-71174.

This is the first LP of electronic music I ever heard talked about by people who were not Electronic
Groupies. A proper lady in New Haven recommended it to me, as did an improper Head
in New York. So I got it and sat down with it and became discouraged by the first side: more
Grape-Nuts synthesizer. I turned it over and hoped for better times, but Part Two started out
the same way. Then someth ing began happening - a sound I ike a nervous foot tapping underneath
the perfect surface. Someone (was it me? ) was impatiently drumming his fingers. The
tapping grew, the drumming advanced, a bass-octave motor started up in the right speaker -
and for eight minutes (the magic number) a great beating, zapping, rhythmic exercise went on.
(I mean "exercise" in the sense of muscular repetition.) It sustained and built in a slow, exactly
controlled crescendo, a kind of New Bolero (I like the Bolero). At the peak, great warblesappea
red overhead and a skipping wh ite-noise cymbal pattern darted in and out of the croaking,
snapping motor. There was no overlaid melody; it was inside the rhythm. Then suddenly, it all
fell away, leaving just the low note of the octave beating, then just the original foot-tapping,
and then it all evaporated into random twittering, and I was back where I started. But I wasn't
the same.

I played the first side again, right away, and I just began to see the whole piece - all the Apples
- as a Work, even with the lumps in the serial which always give me trouble. It's a beautiful
record, very clean and crisp; it seems to glitter with precision, but it's not cold chrome -
there's a good deal of wit in it. I found there was a kind of preview of the rhythm, toward the
end of side one (I hadn't identified it as any kind of coherence the first time, being severely
serial-sick by then), but it was hilariously disjointed, and collapsed on take-off like a garageroof
airplane.

I expect I'll wear out those eight minutes of grooves on side two before I've scratched side one.
When you know what's on the second side, it takes great discipl ine to start at the beginning.
But - if you haven't heard it yet - do it, because it all belongs together.

Nonesuch commissioned this work for LP publication. It's worth a lot more than a dollar-ninetyeight,
and I hope they all make money on it; and I hope (probably vainly) that other companies
will start commissioning works in the same way so we can have a rain of Apples this year.

- Tod Dockstader, ELECTRONIC MUSIC REVIEW, No. 7, July 1968

Milton Parker, Friday, 14 October 2011 22:29 (nine years ago) link

Silver Apples of the Moon by Morton Subotnick. Nonesuch H-71174

Morton Subotnick is to be congratulated for this beautifully sounding composition. I admire Subotnick's
taste in sounds, and his ear in selecting and balancing them. The result is one of the
"prettiest" electronic compositions released on record to date.

Much of the formal organization is right and proper. One has the feeling that this is a composition:
integral and complete, and not a mere stringing together of sections and sounds. All this
is to the good. But the surprise comes when one attempts to I isten with concentration to the entire
record, from beginning to end. My opinion, which comes from five such sessions over three
months, is: 11m sorry, but Silver Apples is a bore. Perhaps 31: 30 is just too long a duration for
a single electronic composition in th is style and density; or perhaps, more likely, the Buchladesigned
synthesizer contains certain operational II traps II which are avoided only with great difficulty.
I am referring to two problems. The first is the definite lack of any sense of performance.
The phrasings and articulations are not particularly expressive; they either sound inflexible
and mechanical, or aleatoric and unimportant. Pretty little IIg lissandi ll tones of sine and
sine-Ilke waves dance about in a cloud of constant-perspective reverberation (Fairchild reverberation,
I think). They neither recede into very heavy echo, nor emerge in razor-sharp dryness.
Nothing shapes towards or away from tension or release. All is euphoric and pleasant, but
never musically compelling - sort of like the 20th century equivalent to late 19th century salon
art.

Secondly, the sequencer, the heart of the Buchla System, is to my ears simply over-used, and
overly depended upon to make the composition move. And move it does, with a dull peck-peckpeck-
peck of sixteenth notes, rhythmically accurate and, as any performer will admit, perfectly
deadly. The bulk of side two is the finest example of this sort of hangup. The album is worth
buying and listening to just for this.

Despite these comments, I sincerely do recommend this record. In all fairness to the very talented
Morton Subotnick, Silver Apples of the Moon is perhaps described best as a poor performanceof
a fine composition. More of this sort of music, instead of the usuaillcop-outll style one
is accustomed to finding of late, would be very healthy for the field at large. I still am looking
forward to a convincing marriage of performance practice with the new electronic musical art,
but this may be my own hangup.

- Walter Carlos, ELECTRONIC MUSIC REVIEW, No. 7, July 1968

Milton Parker, Friday, 14 October 2011 22:30 (nine years ago) link

If I had been thinking, this could have been a poll thread on the first six albums, the ones realized on the Buchla --

1967 - Silver Apples of the Moon
1968 - The Wild Bull
1969 - Touch
1971 - Sidewinder
1974 - 4 Butterflies
1976 - Until Spring

The later pieces that expand into live instrumentalists modulated by 'Ghost Electronics', good too, but this initial stretch -- one of the best composer / instrument designer collaborations of all time

Milton Parker, Friday, 14 October 2011 22:36 (nine years ago) link

ha, 'more Grape-Nuts synthesizer'

tod is the man

geeta, Friday, 14 October 2011 22:50 (nine years ago) link

Tod OTM, Wendy not OTM. Not surprisingly. It's been a while since I listened to all of these but I seem to remember liking the Wild Bull the best. Not in a real standout way though, they're all great.

the wheelie king (wk), Saturday, 15 October 2011 04:25 (nine years ago) link


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