Discovering Electronic Music: 1983 Documentary Offers a Fun & Educational Introduction to Electronic Music

The late six­ties and sev­en­ties pro­duced an explo­sion of elec­tron­ic music that arrived on the scene as an almost entire­ly new art form. So much so that when com­pos­er Wendy Car­los released an album of Bach com­po­si­tions played on the Moog syn­the­siz­er, it was as though she had invent­ed anoth­er genre of music, rather than played baroque pieces on a new instru­ment. We had fore­moth­ers like Delia Der­byshire, exper­i­men­tal bands like Sil­ver Apples and Sui­cide, inno­va­tors like Bri­an Eno and David Bowie and Kraftwerk, dis­co pio­neers like Gior­gio Moroder and Don­na Sum­mer… the list of elec­tron­ic musi­cians at work cre­at­ing the genre before the 1980s could go on and on.

You won’t learn any of that from the 1983 doc­u­men­tary above, Dis­cov­er­ing Elec­tron­ic Music, which is not at all to damn the short film; on the con­trary, what this pre­sen­ta­tion offers us is some­thing entire­ly dif­fer­ent from the usu­al sur­vey course in great men and women of com­mer­cial music. With an under­stat­ed, ped­a­gog­i­cal tone, Dis­cov­er­ing Elec­tron­ic Music gen­tly leads its view­ers through a thought­ful intro­duc­tion to elec­tron­ic music itself—what it con­sists of, how it dif­fers from acoustic music, what kind of equip­ment pro­duces it, and how that equip­ment works.

There are many musi­cians fea­tured here, but none of them stars. They demon­strate, with com­pe­ten­cy and pro­fes­sion­al­ism, the ways var­i­ous elec­tron­ic instru­ments and (now seem­ing­ly pre­his­toric) com­put­er sys­tems work. We do hear lots of clas­si­cal music played on syn­the­siz­ers, though not by the enig­mat­ic and reclu­sive Wendy Car­los. And we hear mod­ern com­po­si­tions as well, though few you’re like­ly to rec­og­nize, from “Jean-Claude Ris­set, Dou­glas Leedy, F.R. Moore, Stephan Soomil, Rory Kaplan, Ger­al Strang and more for­got­ten genius­es of ear­ly elec­tron­ic music,” writes Elec­tron­ic Beats.

Ear­ly in the film, its pre­sen­ter talks about the specif­i­cal­ly mod­ern appeal of elec­tron­ic music: com­posers can work direct­ly with sound like a sculp­tor or painter, rather than com­pos­ing on paper and wait­ing to hear that writ­ten music per­formed by musi­cians. Much of Dis­cov­er­ing Elec­tron­ic Music shows us com­posers and musi­cians doing just that, with the thor­ough­ly mat­ter-of-fact man­ner of the most com­pelling­ly dry pub­lic tele­vi­sion doc­u­men­taries and with the strange­ly sooth­ing qual­i­ty com­mon to both Mr. Rogers’ Neigh­bor­hood and Bob Ross’s paint­ing lessons. Like the sound of the ana­log syn­the­siz­ers and antique com­put­er sequencers it fea­tures, the doc­u­men­tary has an eerie beau­ty all its own.

Find more doc­u­men­taries in our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

via Elec­tron­ic Beats

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How the Moog Syn­the­siz­er Changed the Sound of Music

The His­to­ry of Elec­tron­ic Music in 476 Tracks (1937–2001)

Two Doc­u­men­taries Intro­duce Delia Der­byshire, the Pio­neer in Elec­tron­ic Music

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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