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Between the Ears - Sound of Cinema: Return of the Monster from the Id

Ken Hollings tells the story of how Louis and Bebe Barron created the first electronic film score, for Forbidden Planet.

In 1956 Louis and Bebe Barron birthed the world's first electronic film score with their unearthly soundtrack to M.G.M.'s Forbidden Planet. Ken Hollings considers their act of creation and wonders if the Monster from the Id can ever be re-awakened?

Forbidden Planet was M.G.M.'s lavish leap into science fiction. Fusing Shakespeare's Tempest, pop Freud and pulp SF. Fleetingly Hollywood and the electronic avant-garde embraced to make unworldly music inspired by the new science of cybernetics. The Barrons were close associates of John Cage and at the cutting edge of new technology and music. Their "electronic tonalities", as credited on screen in deference to an anxious musicians union, were groundbreaking for both experimental music film scoring.

In the cramped space of their Greenwich village apartment the Barron's poured current through home made circuits made up of valves, oscillators and wires. Music, sound effects and character were all arrived at by wiring, art and sweat. The roaring Monster from the Id, the bubbling sounds of Planet Altair IV and the vast caverns of glowing, ancient Krell technology. Even the Krell music, anthem to a long dead race of technologically advanced beings.

Audiences and filmmakers were startled by this great musical experiment. It remains one of the most perfect fusions of film and music, defining the way we thought the future would sound. In rare recordings Bebe and Louis Barron relate their adventures in sound. Meanwhile, somewhere near Stoke, Ken Hollings challenges music boffin Phil Taylor to a hardwired search for the secrets of Krell music and the electronic heartbeat of the Monster from the Id.

Producer: Mark Burman.

  • Broadcast on BBC Radio 3, 9:30PM Sat, 21 Sep 2013
  • Available until 12:00AM Thu, 1 Jan 2099
  • First broadcast BBC Radio 3, 9:30PM Sat, 21 Sep 2013
  • Categories
  • Duration 30 minutes

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