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Thursday, March 25, 2021

Music in Science Fiction, or Science Fiction in Music?

Ever since Pete Wood first proposed this topic, I’ve had two tracks running in my mind. On the analytical side I’ve been pondering the general question of “Why is there so much stupid music in science fiction?” and on a more specific level, questions like, “Why does the first officer on a starship in the 25th Century play trombone in a Dixieland jazz band?” I mean, a trombone? And jazz? In the 25th century? Why not a sackbut or a krummhorn, for Roddenberry’s sake? It would make just as much sense.

On the emotive side, though, I’ve had one song playing in my mind’s ear all week long: “Telstar,” by The Tornados. In 1962 it was a huge, huge, HUGE worldwide hit that sold millions of copies. If you’ve never heard it before, take three minutes and twenty-six seconds now to go out to YouTube and listen to it:

Not only is it one of the outstanding rock instrumentals from The Time Before Drum Solos, it’s also a milestone in the history of electronic music, as that weird warbly melody line is played on a clavioline, a sort of primitive early forerunner to the 1960s generation of analog synthesizers. If the voicing sounds familiar, it is: clavioline variants were widely used in pop music throughout the 1960s, until the more stable, reliable, and flexible Moog and ARP synthesizers came along. If you’ve ever wondered what instrument made that weird mutant oboe sound on The Beatles song, “Baby You’re A Rich Man,” that was a clavioline.

[Nota bene: And if my comment about Moogs and ARPs being more stable and reliable gave you pause, know that claviolines used vacuum tubes in their oscillators and filters. The very thought of taking one of those beasties on the road makes me shudder.]

If on the other hand this is all old news to you, then for your alternative entertainment I present this video clip of Dick Clark introducing an abridged version of “Telstar” on American Bandstand. If you need a little hipster-grade ironic amusement this morning, you make take two minutes and thirty seconds now to laugh at all those well-groomed preppie white kids trying to figure out how to dance to it: be continued...

1 comment:

Pete Wood said...

I want to see a clip of you dancing to it, Doctor Cyberpunk.
I was getting a real Will Ferrell vibe from the keyboardist and a Rutger Hauer vibe from the lead guitarist.