Back in the 60s, before synthesizers were commercially available, the BBC Radiophonic workshop was creating electronic music and sound effects for shows like Doctor Who. The BBC has now published a set of web-based simulations of some of this equipment, using just the Web Audio API of HTML5. The code and explanations are included.
I have a guest post up today at Boing Boing on a subject I think will interest Technoccult readers:
You don’t play the ANS synthesizer with a keyboard. Instead you etch images onto glass sheets covered in black putty and feed them into a machine that shines light through the etchings, trigging a wide range of tones. Etchings made low on the sheets make low tones. High etchings make high tones. The sound is generated in real-time and the tempo depends on how fast you insert the sheets.
This isn’t a new Dorkbot or Maker Faire oddity. It’s a nearly forgotten Russian synthesizer designed by Evgeny Murzin in 1938. The synth was named after and dedicated to the Russian experimental composer and occultist Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin (1872–1915). The name might not mean much to you, but it illuminates a long running connection between electronic music and the occult.
You can find traces of the occult throughout the history of electronic music. The occult obsessed Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo built his own mechanical instruments around 1917. The famous Moog synthesizer made an early appearance in Mick Jagger’s soundtrack to Kenneth Anger’s occult film Invocation of My Demon Brother in 1969. And in the late 1970s Throbbing Gristle built their own electronic instruments for their occult sound experiments, setting the stage for many of the occult themed industrial bands who followed. The witch house genre keeps this tradition alive today.
It’s little the surprise otherworldly sounds and limitless possibilities of synthesizers and samplers would evoke the luminous. But there’s more to the connection. The aim of the alchemist is not just the literal synthesis of chemicals, but also synthesis in the Hegelian sense: the combination of ideas. Solve et Coagula. From the Hermetic magi of antiquity, to Aleister Crowley’s OTO to modern chaos magicians, western occultists have sought to combine traditions and customs into a single universal system of thought and practice.
Electronic music grew from similar intellectual ground, and it all started with Scriabin.
In the 1960s, Stanley Lunetta created a number of interactive scultures using electronic audio generators. Some of them were still running as of 2008. Some responded to elements such as heat and light to change the sounds, others had more explicit human interactive elements.