The note below comes from Barry Schrader.
Bebe Barron, along with her husband, were pioneers in the development
of electronic music and are credited as having composed the first piece
of tape music in America. While they did some commercial work, much of
what they did could be described as art music. Their best known film
score was for "Forbidden Planet."
Bebe Barron (1925 - 2008)
It is with great sadness that I report the death of Bebe
Barron on April 20, 2008 at the age of 82, of natural causes.
Bebe was the last of the pioneering composers of classical
studio electronic music. She was a close friend, an
enthusiastic colleague, and a most gracious lady.
Bebe Barron was born Charlotte Wind in Minneapolis, on June
16, 1925. She received an MA in political science from the
University of Minnesota, where she studied composition with
Roque Cordero, and she also spent a year studying composition
and ethnomusicology at the University of Mexico.
In 1947 she moved to New York and, while working as a
researcher for Time-Life, studied composition with Wallingford
Reigger and Henry Cowell. That same year, she met and
married Louis Barron (1920 - 1989). Shortly thereafter,
the Barrons began their experiments with the recording and
manipulation of sound material by means of a tape recorder
that they received as a wedding gift. They created a private
studio in New York and, in 1955, composed the first electronic
music score for a commercial film, Forbidden Planet.
In 1962 the Barrons moved to Los Angeles; they divorced
in 1970. In 1973, Bebe married Leonard Neubauer, a screen
writer. Bebe became the first Secretary of the Society for
Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS) in
1985, and also served on the Board of Directors. In 1997
Bebe was presented the SEAMUS Award for the Barrons life
work in the field of electro-acoustic music. She is survived
by her husband, Leonard, and her son, Adam.
Bebe's last public appearance was on January 12, 2008, at
an event held at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, celebrating
the work of her good friend, Anais Nin. Bebe was too ill
to speak in public at this point, but she agreed to be
interviewed for a video piece that was shown at the event.
This is her final interview, and you can see it on YouTube.
Bebe's final composition, Mixed Emotions (2000) was composed
in the CREATE studios of the University of California at
Santa Barbara. I'll be putting this work up on the Downloads
2 page of my website, along with some photos of Bebe and
myself taken in 2005 at her home on the Photos page within
the next week.
I first met Bebe Barron in the middle 1970s; I don't
remember exactly when, but I think it was around 1975. I
had asked Bebe and her former husband and composing partner
Louis to attend a showing of Forbidden Planet that I had
arranged as part of a class at CalArts. They agreed to do
it, and I quickly became good friends with Bebe and we
remained close over the years.In writing about Bebe Barron,
it's impossible not to focus on the pioneering work that
she and Louis did in electronic music. They began their
experiments in 1948, shortly after they were married. This
early work was done using a tape recorder, preceding the
work of Luening and Ussachevsky and the switch from disks
to tape by Pierre Schaeffer and the GRM.
But, to my knowledge, the Barrons' early experiments did
not result in any completed works, a state of affairs not
uncommon with early pioneers in the field. In 1949 they set
up one of the earliest private electro-acoustic music studios
and began their experiments with electronically generated
sounds. They built their own circuits which they viewed as
cybernetic organisms, having been influenced by Norbert
Weiner's work on cybernetics. The circuits, built with
vacuum tubes, would exhibit characteristic qualities of
pitch, timbre, and rhythm, and had a sort of life cycle
from their beginnings until they burned out. The Barrons
recorded the sounds from the amplification of these circuits
and this formed the basis of their working library. They
also employed tape manipulation techniques as part of their
compositional procedures. The sound qualities of these
various amplified tube circuits and the tape manipulations
that they underwent formed the musical language that the
Barrons created in their studio. Unlike some of the work
being done elsewhere, the Barrons' music reveals long
phrases, often stated in tape-delayed rhythms, with the
stark finesse of the tube circuit timbres. They created
a style that was uniquely their own yet married to the
technology they were using.
The Barrons earliest finished work, Heavenly Menagerie
(1951) does not seem to have survived in a complete form.
But their score for Ian Hugo's film Bells of Atlantis (1952),
based on a poem by Anais Nin, who appears on screen, does
exist on the film sound track. This may be the earliest
extant work of the Barrons and presages what was to come
with Forbidden Planet, the music for which was composed in
1955, the film being released the next year. The music for
Forbidden Planet is truly a landmark in electro-acoustic
music. This was the first commercial film to use only
electronic music, and the score for the movie displays an
attitude towards film scoring that was different from
anything that had happened before. In Forbidden Planet,
while there are themes for characters and events in the
film, as was traditional in the scoring of that day, the
themes are composed and perceived as gestalts, rather than
as melodies in traditional movie music. Even more important
is the fact that the scoring of Forbidden Planet breaks
down the traditional line between music and sound effects
since the Barrons' electronic material is used for both.
This not only creates a new type of unity in the film sound
world, but also allows for a continuum between these two
areas that the Barrons exploit in various ways. At some
points it's actually impossible to say whether or not what
you're hearing is music, sound effect, or both. In doing
this, they foreshadowed by decades the now common role of
the sound designer in modern film and video.
The Barrons composed many other works for tape, film, and
the theater in the 1950s. Their studio became the home for
John Cage's Project of Music for Magnetic Tape, and they
assisted in the creation of Cage's first chance piece
Williams Mix (1951-52), as well as works by other members
of the group such as Earle Brown and Morton Feldman. As a
studio for the creation of their own and other composers'
works, the Barrons' studio served as a functioning center
for electro-acoustic music at a time when there was no
institutional support of the medium in the United States.
It's curious, then, that, for many years, the Barrons, their
studio, and their works were largely overlooked by composers
and historians in the field. Fortunately, that injustice
has since been corrected, and, in 1997, it was my great
honor to present to Bebe and, posthumously, to Louis, the
SEAMUS Lifetime Achievement Award. Bebe was involved with
SEAMUS from the very beginning of the organization. She was
one of the ten original members who responded to my
organizational call and met at CalArts in November of 1984
to form the group, and she was SEAMUS's first secretary.
There may have been a little strong-arming on my part to
get her to be involved so actively, but Bebe was always
ready to support the cause of electro-acoustic music in
whatever way she could. Bebe created a firm legacy in her
music. If the importance of one's work is to be judged in
any regard by it's influence, acceptance, longevity, and
innovative qualities, then the score for Forbidden Planet
is an enormous success. It remains the most widely known
electro-acoustic music work on this planet. For me, Bebe
Barron will always be the First Lady of electronic music.
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