May 09, 2008

RIP Bebe Barron

Bebe.jpgThe world recently said farewell to one of the giants of 20th century electronic music, Bebe Barron. Along with her husband, Louis Barron, she will always be remembered for the soundtrack to the 1956 sci-fi film, Forbidden Planet; a score that was so far ahead of its time that their peers refused to recognise it as "music".

The Barrons' career as musical pioneers began in 1947 with a wedding gift of an early tape recorder, given to them by Louis' cousin who worked as an executive at 3M. The gift inspired them to delve into the radical new field of musique concrete (they subsequently produce the first piece of musique concrete composed in the US) and to set up one of the first recording studios in the States.

Initially, the clients at their studio were avant-garde musicians and writers like Henry Miller, Tennessee Williams and Aldous Huxley, who recorded early versions of audio books. In the early 1950's, they moved into films, producing soundtracks for notable figures like Maya Deren. Eventually, this brought them to the attention of Metro Goldwyn Mayer, who had initially chosen Harry Partch to score Forbidden Planet but, after hearing a sample reel, decided to hand the whole score over to them.

As there were no commercially available electronic "instruments" at the the time, all the sounds on the score came from circuits constructed by Louis; circuits which were often designed to feedback and literally burn out in a single session, and which Bebe diligently recorded to tape, treated with delay and ring modulation effects, then assembled into compositions.

The final product was a hit with fans, but not the musicians' union who refused to recognise the Barrons as "composers", thus denying them the chance of being nominated for an Oscar. After this experience, they continued working with avant-garde luminaries like John Cage, but they never scored another Hollywood film.

Louis & Bebe Barron - Forbidden Planet (Main Titles)

Posted by Warren at May 9, 2008 10:36 PM | Experimental