Season of the Witch : How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll (9780698143722) (22 page)

BOOK: Season of the Witch : How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll (9780698143722)
11.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Moorcock began performing with Hawkwind in the late 1970s and in the 1980s, providing not only themes and lyrics for songs, but backing and spoken-word vocals. Hawkwind went to the Moorcock well often, and the essential song “Black Corridor” on the album
Space Ritual
, a poem about the “remorseless,
senseless, and impersonal fact” of space, is taken directly from Moorcock's novel of the same name.

Moorcock believes, like Arthur Brown, that when art takes on the function of myth, it can actually transform consciousness: “I believe that the artist is a shaman, in that you provide your public (tribe) with images, resonances, stories which symbolise their relationship with the physical world and its questions.” The idea that science fiction could serve to help understand aspects of humanity would have a profound effect not only on the music of Hawkwind, whose sci-fi pretentions were continually rooted in very human, albeit mystical, concerns, but also on the popular consciousness as it related to outer space.
Star Trek
, of course, would use science fiction as a way to say some quite radical things about race, politics, technology, and even religion. Moreover, the notion of aliens functioning as religious emissaries is a far cry from the destructive tripods that raze London in
War of the Worlds
. But the future was also about technology, and rock and roll would soon find the means to express the future.


It was in the early 1960s, at an Acoustical Society conference, that Robert Moog demonstrated his strange new instrument, a collection of electronic filters and oscillators that could be controlled to make sounds not previously heard by the human ear. During a question-and-answer session, a journalist asked him, “Don't you feel guilty about what you've done?” Others balked, too. The critics, often classically trained composers, saw
the synthesizer as an affront. Robert Moog talking about making music with electronics is not unlike listening to a mystic describing an encounter with the ineffable quality of the divine. In documentary interviews about his life and work, Moog did not believe his own abilities as an engineer would help how he solved problems with circuitry: “I opened my mind up and the idea came through me.” His understanding of the synthesizer aligns to a spiritual idea of music as something that exists already in time and space but needs to be channeled into a prepared receptacle. The world was quickly changing, and people's minds were changing along with it. LSD helped, as did explorations of alternative religions; the synthesizer was the perfect instrument to express the paradigm shift. Moog and his radical device opened up a completely new path for musical consciousness, and the sounds it made were otherworldly enough to align with the occult interests that were becoming part of mainstream culture. Rock and almost every one of its extended genres would become invigorated by electronic possibilities, and they would all be underscored by Moog's spiritual vision, one that had been a consistent part of experimental music long before him.

At the time, Moog was angered when a journalist accused him of ruining popular music, but the inventor was not deterred. Not only was his synthesizer a real instrument to be played by real people, it was an instrument capable of revealing the very essence of music, how it rises out of consciousness and becomes real. Moog also believed the synthesizer could show students something beyond theory and the staff and the clef. The Moog synthesizer requires manipulation, and, as such, there
is something deeply personal that takes place. Moog's co-inventor, Herbert Deutsch, believes that Moog's invention was able to capture a shift in consciousness that had begun with LSD and mysticism but needed a push to the next level, a physical tool perhaps, and a look toward the future that did not reject the advancements in technology all around them.

There had always been a tension about technology for hippies, and rightly so. The release from all our energy-sourcing worries—the splitting of the atom and the horizon of the nuclear age—was a great deception, providing nothing more than the ultimate weapon for the military-industrial complex. Stewart Brand, founder of the
Whole Earth Catalog
, remarked how the conflict over the role of technology could be seen in the difference between Berkeley hippies and Stanford hippies. “We were all taking the same drugs,” he said, but the protestors at Berkeley didn't have a solution. More LSD wasn't the answer, unless it was going to help you write computer code. And it seemed to be doing just that for the counterculture nerds at Stanford. In the section titled “Purpose” on the second page of the
Whole Earth Catalog
, first published in 1968, it reads, “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.” Brand and his colleagues saw technology as the most powerful tool in the counterculture arsenal. Many musicians were also beginning to look beyond what had once been the perfect quartet of rebellion (guitar, bass, drums, and vocals) as becoming unable to carry the weight of what they wanted to express.

During the summer of 1965, Deutsch and Moog meandered their way in Moog's VW Bug to the University of Toronto in order to demonstrate their new instrument. It was packed into
two large boxes in the backseat. One contained oscillators and amplifiers, the other filters. When they arrived at the border, their car was searched and the English-speaking guards were mystified by the equipment and would not let them cross the border. Moog tried to explain to the guards that these electronic components were the parts of an instrument. They were not convinced. A French-speaking guard came over after he heard Moog explaining his new invention, smiled, and said, “Ah! Musique concrète.” He then went on to explain to the other guards that this was indeed a way of making music and the two were allowed to pass. Once at the university, they were brought down to the basement where the school's computer was housed, a massive mainframe in a giant room. In the center of the room was a larger piece of equipment that Moog and Deutsch were to plug their synthesizer into. They were asked not to bring a keyboard, since the computer would “play” the music. And indeed they heard Bach in F minor from the electronics of their synthesizer, controlled by a computer. Deutsch recalls being mystified: “This was all magic.” Nevertheless, Moog and Deutsch were not yet interested in the computer as musician. They didn't view the synthesizer as different from a piano or even a violin.

The Canadian border guard had called Moog's synthesizer “musique concrète,” and while the synthesizer is a different beast, their driving ethos and origins are closely linked. The father of musique concrète, Pierre Schaeffer, founded La Jeune France (Young France) in 1940 during the Nazi occupation of France. During an earlier incarnation of the group, one of the cofounders, the composer André Jolivet, believed young artists
should reframe music in opposition to neoclassicism. Neoclassicism wanted a systematic music, relying more on formal technique than emotion. Led by the interests of Jolivet, La Jeune France believed authentic composition was that which drew on music's original intention: ritual and magic. Schaeffer's vision for the group had a political bent, formed as it was during the occupation, when France's very cultural identity was being challenged. By 1942, the Nazis would no longer tolerate ideas about culture that they could not control, and they disbanded the group. But Schaeffer's rebellious instincts were powered by the occupation and after the war he continued with his musique concrète experiments.

Musique concrète creates music out of voices and sounds from nature and instruments. Using tape, these sounds could then be manipulated by cutting and splicing, and music was “composed” using the recording studio as the instrument. Schaeffer would play the works for an audience via speakers, a radical endeavor, since it was assumed that if you went to hear live music, you would see the source of the sounds and the conductor of the musicians. Schaeffer called this “acousmatic” and, according to cultural theorist John Mowitt, he was influenced by Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher known for his method of teaching students while hidden behind a curtain. Music becomes subjective, and the composer of musique concrète cannot assume the music will be received in any predetermined way.

Moog began his career as a teenager when he started selling theremin kits, the instrument best known for its use by soundtrack composer Bernard Herrmann in films such as
The Day the Earth Stood Still
. Moog's interest in electronic music began
to shape a vision for his own future, but it wasn't until he met Deutsch in 1963 at a music conference that a practical idea emerged. Subsequent meetings resulted in an ongoing conversation and collaboration. They initially talked about the possibility of a “small and affordable music synthesizer.” But their first units were extremely large, complex, and expensive. Each sound required a different module patched together by cables. Keeping them in tune made the devices difficult to use as a live instrument. Eventually, Moog combined them into one portable—and relatively affordable—synthesizer instrument known as the Minimoog. Released in 1970, the Minimoog made its public debut on tour with Emerson, Lake and Palmer during their
Pictures at an Exhibition

Moog was the meeting place between two poles of electronic music: the serious and the popular. The music journalist Mark Brend argued, “Indeed, many advances in early electronic music came from the energy created by an overlap between the two.” Though Moog began as a hobbyist—and even his first business selling theremins was for the amateur and the tinkerer—when he began working with Deutsch, already known as an experimental composer, Moog could begin to imagine a new possibility for electronic music. He would have to first unmoor it from the inert critique that electronic music is unnatural and inauthentic. As Moog would explain, his synthesizer is analog, not digital, and therefore “analogous” to instruments made of wood, brass, and string. Vibration is the phenomenon that allows music to take place, be it via the movement of a bow or the flow of current through a resistor; both require human actions, but it took time for the listening public to hear that playing a
synthesizer was indeed “a human activity,” and not another symptom of the dehumanization of culture, a scary move into an unknown future.

And indeed, before it could be heard as a human activity, as music, the sounds produced by the Moog synthesizer would become the soundtrack of the otherworldly, outer space, or the supernatural. Some of the first Moog composers packaged their albums in occultism, such as a popular series released after the success of
The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds
, performed by Paul Beaver and composed by Mort Garson, in 1967. Garson was commercially successful, arranging songs for easy-listening records. But after hearing the Moog for the first time, he decided to use it on other albums. He produced a number of albums using the Moog, but his occult interests peaked with his
Black Mass
(under the name Lucifer) in 1971,
later with
Ataraxia: The Unexplained (Electronic Musical Impressions of the Occult)
in 1975. On
Black Mass
, Garson did his research. The first piece, “Solomon's Ring,” refers to the fabled ring that King Solomon used to control the demons that built his temple to God. The ring, or seal, was found mentioned in various magical grimoires and was an important idea in Kabbalistic magic. Other tracks include “Black Mass,” “The Philosopher's Stone,” and “ESP.” And Garson knew his audience. While the music was experimental, Garson tapped into the occult mainstream of the decade, mixing Satanism, alchemy, magic, and paranormal phenomena into a nightmarish soundtrack.
followed with songs like “Tarot,” “Astral Projection,” “I Ching,” and “Cabala.” Dropping the aura of Lucifer made for a slightly less lurid album, but Garson had mastered the Moog and provided a template for how to use the sound of the future
to conjure images of the ancients, ushering it into more popular uses and interests, and poising it for acceptance.

Concurrent with Moog's work were the pioneers of British electronic music, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, founded by Daphne Oram and Desmond Briscoe in 1958. The Workshop's soundtrack to the BBC television show
Doctor Who
had introduced the mainstream to electronic music in 1963 by way of eerie oscillating thrums that carried the doctor through time and space.

Electronic music was still relegated to commercial use and to the basements of hobbyists, many of whom relied on magazine schematics and shorted-out experiments to build instruments. Electronic music was too obscure, either belonging to the highbrow domain of people like Pierre Schaeffer or to the solitary tinkerer. This reputation made it seem odd, and the fact that it was only popularly heard on soundtracks of science fiction movies made electronic music seem somewhat “weird.” Brend notes that one of the first books for electronic music hobbyists,
Electronic Music and Musique Concrète
, was published in 1961 by Neville Armstrong of Neville Spearman Limited. Armstrong released books on a wide range of curious subjects, including UFOs, the paranormal, and fiction by Conan creator Robert E. Howard. (Armstrong is also responsible for the aforementioned
Spear of Destiny
and in 1978 even tried his hand at an “authentic” version of
The Necronomicon
.) Electronic music, at least in pop culture, echoed the heavenly spheres and the sounds of the untapped realms of human potential. Inner and outer space were locations we wanted to explore simultaneously, but we needed two seemingly incompatible means of propulsion: the arcane sciences to
unravel the mysteries of our souls and computers to unravel the mysteries of time and space; electronic music existed comfortably as the soundtrack to both.


A thoughtful, bearded young man in the audience posed a question to the composer and electronic music architect Karlheinz Stockhausen, a young but formidable man himself, his ideas spilling out as he spoke, one after the other, sometimes to the detriment of their meaning. Isn't electronic music dehumanizing? And because it cannot touch on human concerns such as love and sadness, won't it ultimately fall away? Stockhausen, whose life and work was dictated by the possibilities of electronic music, was not the least bit perturbed by the question. “There are other kinds of human beings,” he said. It was 1972, and Stockhausen had become enamored of the teachings of the Indian mystic Sri Aurobindo, who taught that the physical evolution of human beings is but one step toward the greater spiritual evolution that is our divine right. Stockhausen's take was a bit more literal. He continued, “We are in a situation where the first so-called human being came out of the non-human kingdom. We are at the threshold of a new terrestrial mutation.”

BOOK: Season of the Witch : How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll (9780698143722)
11.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Infernal Affairs by Jes Battis
Deceived by Laura S. Wharton
Kill Zone by Loren D. Estleman
Bound by Their Love by Nicole Flockton
The Three Most Wanted by Corinna Turner
Vow of Penance by Veronica Black
FLAME (Spark Series) by Cumberland, Brooke
A Life Less Ordinary by Bernadine, Victoria