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CLASSICAL  April 2008

CLASSICAL April 2008

Subject:

Bebe Barron (1925 - 2008)

From:

Karl Miller <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 21 Apr 2008 15:06:54 -0700

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text/plain

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text/plain (160 lines)

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.
  
Karl

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