Wednesday, 19 September 2007

"What the Future Sounded Like"

An incredible Australian made documentary on the early years in Britain of electronic music was screened last night on the ABC. Without reducing the music itself to a vulgar sociologism, it was fascinating in the way it not only detailed the production/compositional techniques, but also the context of Harold Wilson's government, with its ambition of ushering into being a new technologically driven liberal state functionalism. Not surprisingly, there were all sorts of cross fertilisations anticipating some of the later phenomenon captured by Frith in Art into Pop, or Simon Reynolds in Rip It Up & Start Again (e.g. the idolisation of Wendy Carlos's score for A Clockwork Orange by the burgeoning Sheffield elecronic scene, such as Cabaret Voltaire, The Human League etc). For in What the Future Sounded Like, it became evident how important Doctor Who was in the popularisation of the form, given its disseminaton by a national broadcaster. Moreover, as James Chapman argues in Inside the Tardis- The Worlds of Doctor Who, the Jon Pertwee era was effective in the manner in which it reflected the apprehension with which many people regarded the agenda of Wilson's government. Hence Pertwee's stories are filled with depictions of a new Britain that is suffering from class divisions, militarisation of scientific research, and consequently an ominous lack of public accountability with respect to the implementation of government policy.
As far as I know, the connections of the specific aforementioned cultural artefacts with much of the cultural criticism of Raymond Williams from the same period, are still awaiting articulation. For it was Williams who launched one of the most vigourous campaigns for the democratisation of British society. Indeed, his manifesto, Britain in the Sixties, was a reaction to his disappointment with the Wilson government. It follows that Williams's writings on science fiction and television culture generally demand to be articulated to not only this formative period, but also to his penultimate work, Towards 2000, which concerned nothing less than what was required in order to realise a progressive future.
So many rich associations sparked off by this brilliant program:
"Post-war Britain rebuilt itself on a wave of scientific and industrial breakthroughs that culminated in the cultural revolution of the 1960’s. It was a period of sweeping change and experimentation where art and culture participated in and reflected the wider social changes. In this atmosphere was born the Electronic Music Studios (EMS), a radical group of avant-garde electronic musicians who utilized technology and experimentation to compose a futuristic electronic sound-scape for the New Britain. Comprising of pioneering electronic musicians Peter Zinovieff and Tristram Cary (famed for his work on the Dr Who series) and genius engineer David Cockerell, EMS’s studio was one of the most advanced computer-music facilities in the world. EMS’s great legacy is the VCS3, Britain’s first synthesizer and rival of the American Moog. The VCS3 changed the sounds of some of the most popular artists of this period including Brian Eno, Hawkwind and Pink Floyd. Almost thirty years on the VCS3 is still used by modern electronic artists like The Emperor Machine. What The Future Sounded Like colours in a lost chapter in music history, uncovering a group of composers and innovators who harnessed technology and new ideas to re-imagine the boundaries of music and sound. Features music from Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, Roxy Music and The Emperor Machine".

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