Cover image for The ambient century : from Mahler to trance : the evolution of sound in the electronic age
The ambient century : from Mahler to trance : the evolution of sound in the electronic age
Prendergast, Mark J.
Personal Author:
First US edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Bloomsbury : Distributed to the trade by St. Martin's Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xii, 498 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : portraits ; 24 cm
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ML197 .P76 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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A comprehensive and absorbing look at the music of the twentieth century, with an introduction by Brian Eno. The 20th Century saw two revolutionary changes in music. First music was deconstructed from its previously strict form, moving from formal constraints to more accessible melodies. Second, the way in which music was generated radically changed as new electronic equipment inspired experiments with sound divorced from traditional acoustic instruments. More and more, innovative musical ideas became intertwined with technological change. Multi-track recording, editing, and improved microphones allowed for quieter, experimental elements to gain prominence. And with the advent of digital synthesizers, new music could be made by anyone and sound like almost anything. The Ambient Century is the definitive chronicle of a century of musical change. It reveals the drift from composers to non-musicians, from the single note to the sample. Encyclopedic, yet with a strong narrative, The Ambient Century covers hundreds of artists, including such diverse artists as Gustav Mahler (the pioneer of modern music), Phillip Glass, New Order, and Moby. Lively, compelling, and authoritative-and boasting an unmatched discography. The Ambient Century is a treat for music lovers of all kinds.

Author Notes

Marh Prendergast was born in Oublin and now resides in London. He has written entensively about ambient and electronics For newspapers, journals, and magaaines worldwide. His Ambient Century is the culmination of two decades listening with 'all gates open.'

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Just as anything evolves when its setting changes, 20th-century music mutated as it moved beyond the confines of concert halls and into listeners' everyday environs. Thanks to car stereos, headphones, even computers, people now move within their own soundtracks. In this chronology of compositional innovations, Prendergast, an internationally published music writer, details the widening of sonic possibilities with advancements in recording, amplification and electronic instruments, and with the creative talents of hundreds of bold, brilliant composers. He credits Mahler with first evoking the hypnotic "ambient experience of landscape and emotion," kicking off the century of "repetitive conceptual music." Prendergast describes how, after a four-day fast, the sound of a single piano tone proved revelatory for Karlheinz Stockhausen; how sitarist Ravi Shankar influenced everyone from minimalist Philip Glass to the Beatles; how Donna Summer "merged Germanicity with black music's long history"; and how scores of house and techno artists have "moved the focus of the music away from its creators towards the listener." Organized by artist, the book provides suggested "Listenings" for each one, as well as a list of the "Essential 100 Recordings," which recommends ambient guru John Cage's "In a Landscape," megastar Bowie's absorbing "Low" and Goldie's "Timeless," a debut that brought ambient jungle/drum and bass into the mainstream. Talking Heads' producer Brian Eno, a maverick whose own music heavily influenced New Age and ambient house music, gives the book his stamp of approval in his foreword. B&w photos. Agent, Simon Trewin of Drury House, London. (Jan. 24) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Here, Irish music critic Prendergast makes an admirable and largely successful attempt to build bridges between the worlds of contemporary classical and rock music. But as the author never clearly defines or describes the term ambient, the reader is left to infer the connections among composers and genres. Prendergast divides his subject into four large sections: "The Electronic Landscape," "Minimalism, Brian Eno, and the New Simplicity," "Ambience in the Rock Era," and "House, Techno, and Twenty-First Century Ambience." The first is the most problematic section, as many of the observations here are simplistic and the listening lists too quirky and subjective to be useful. Prendergast is on much surer footing in the three subsequent sections, however. The text is packed with a wealth of detailed information and cogent observations on minimalist composers, rock personalities, technological innovations, and movers and shakers in the various worlds of contemporary music. Prendergast has an astonishing grasp of the global scene in popular music and writes with authority and conviction. Despite its flaws, this is an important addition to libraries with holdings in cultural and popular studies.DLarry Lipkis, Moravian Coll. Bethlehem, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Addressing the evolution of sound in the 20th century, this book can be used as supplementary reading in courses in 20th-century music, music composition, and contemporary music. Prendergast has written for countless newspapers, magazines, and journals worldwide and is an expert in the field of contemporary electronic music. Emphasizing recent electronic trends and the influence on the social culture of the audience, he makes the point that recording has liberated music from the moment of performance and the performers themselves, making limitless possibilities available to composers and listeners--possibilities that were not available before the 20th century. The work is well written and the quality of illustrations and the index is excellent. Highly recommended at the upper-division undergraduate level and above and for general readers. D. Morris Valdosta State University



Excerpt BOOK ONE THE ELECTRONIC LANDSCAPE It was the summer of 1968. For some a time of student unrest, for others a time of discovery. For the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen it was a time of intense emotional upheaval. His wife and children had left him. Alone in his house in Kurten, near Cologne, he contemplated his fate. Ideas of suicide crossed his mind. He went on hunger strike and vowed to wait for his family to return. As time passed he began to write down Japanese-style verses like: Play a sound, Play it for so long, Until you feel that you should stop or Play a vibration in the rhythm of the universe, Play a vibration in the rhythm of dreaming.     That such words could lead to what Stockhausen termed `intuitive music' is one of the great fascinations of the twentieth century. Here the composer was getting right inside what it meant to create sound, no longer only concentrating on the external but also the internal processes of becoming aware of what a sound was actually like when first encountered. Or, more accurately, when it was encountered in a different way. Stockhausen played a piano tone after four days of fasting. What he heard changed his life for ever.     John Cage had already opened up the world to the reality of silence. During the late 1940s and early 1950s the guru from the American Midwest had pushed music from Eastern-inspired piano pieces of exquisite calm to nothing at all, expressed most concisely in 4 ' 33". Here, for that duration of time, any performer of any instrument was required to not-play. The music was everything else heard, the Ambient sounds of whatever environment the `performance' was happening in. Cage had professed that his favourite music was when everything was still, when nothing was attempted. The very sounds of his everyday environment were `poetry to his ears'.     This non-purposeful acceptance of extraneous sound as music was symptomatic of the increasing hubbub of twentieth-century urban life, where silence as an experience was very rare. To flash back to the mid-nineteenth century, music was something that was experienced as a singular occurrence -- once you'd been to the concert hall and heard the orchestra play the symphony, that was it. Music was live or not at all. There was always the piano, but you had to be musically literate to enjoy it. Or at least know somebody who was.     Then along came the player piano, which could record a composer's performance. But then Edison realized you could record music magnetically and away we went towards the capturing of music on record. By the beginning of the twentieth century even Debussy was putting his music on to the new medium. Add to that the increasing popularity of records, the universality of radio, the rise of the tape recorder, the clatter of mass production, the coming of electronic instruments, the increased demand for cars, the universal spread of television and so on -- and by John Cage's time modern noise was indeed deafening. Music didn't need to have to jolt people out of their quiet lethargy. It no longer, as it did in the Romantic music of the early nineteenth century, had to carry the sum of all human emotions. Life was hectic enough without more stormy symphonies. Many opted for quiet.     The twentieth century saw two things occur in music which had never happened before. Firstly, music was deconstructed. Before, Western music was quite rigid. The sonata form of the Classical period had specific roles which had to be adhered to. Of course there were exceptional talents but they were constrained within a chosen form. Then the Romantics started to loosen things. Wagner's grandiose operatic orchestration and Bruckner and Mahler pushed the symphony to its limits so that by the end of the nineteenth century it began to creak under its own weight. Then along came Satie, Debussy and Ravel with a lighter touch. They wrote more accessible melodies in shorter forms which openly embraced modernity and the need to look beyond parochialism to the riches to be found in other cultures such as the Orient. As a boy in New England Charles Ives would hear his bandleader father's experiments in overlapping the sounds of different marching bands playing different tunes. In France, Messiaen would show that sound could possess rich colours if exotic scales were used. Schoenberg and his pupils of the Second Viennese School tore up the rule book on music and rewrote it imposing upon it a destabilizing force known as Serialism.     As old musical ideas begun to be supplanted by new, a second radical change occurred -- and this was in the very way music was generated. Composers and musicians began to be fascinated by the nature of individual tones. Serialism, in its dislocative way, had thrown up an interest in the essence of a single sound. The leaders of the post-Second World War avant-garde in Europe, such as Stockhausen. Schaeffer and Varèse, seized on new electronic equipment and began to experiment with tape recorders. New qualities in sound were perceived, new tonalities divorced from any traditional acoustic instruments were realized. De Forest's invention of the valve in the 1920s had made amplification possible. This, coupled with the concept of the sound environment, made for some spectacular results. The work of Varèse and Xenakis in the pointed Philips pavilion at the 1958 World Fair in Brussels became a twentieth-century archetype of progress married to artistic achievement.     Many, feeling the tug of technological evolution, had campaigned for new musical means. Debussy famously wrote of the century of aeroplanes deserving a music of its own. Varèse saw that electronics could free music from the shackles of the past. The conductor Leopold Stokowski saw a future in which music would be generated by hitherto unknown means. But it took time for technology to catch up with ideas. There were many brave and interesting attempts at creating music machines. In the 1920s both the Theremin and Ondes Martenot were valid sources of novel electronic sound. But it wasn't until the tape experiments of Schaeffer and others that it was realized that a device would have to be built to handle all aspects of organizing and creating music. Hence the arrival of the first synthesizer in the US in the early 1950s. But, as with the computers of the period, music synthesis was tied to the laboratory or similar locations. Then Bob Moog took synthesizers out of the lab and made them more compact and portable. Electronic means had become accessible to any musician who wanted them. Stockhausen's prediction in 1955 that new electronic instruments would yield `what no instrumentalist has ever been capable of' was at last becoming a reality.     The importance to twentieth-century music of atmospheric sound, its timbre and personality -- indeed its `Ambience' -- is a measure of how much innovative musical ideas intertwined with technological change. The series of quiet, luscious Hispanic-inflected albums which Miles Davis made in the late 1950s are a case in point. The spirit of Debussy and Iberian composers such as Rodrigo infuses this beautiful work but so too does the already impressive state of studio and recording technology of the time. Multi-track recording and editing at the production console, enhanced by special microphone placement, highlighted qualities in the music that in earlier times would have been buried underneath gramophone crackle and tape hiss. It's true to say that improvements in production and consumption of music allowed quieter, more experimental elements to creep in. Could Ligeti's beautiful Lux Aeterna of 1966 have been rendered credibly on old scratchy 78s?     In the nineteenth century symphonies were often loud and raucous affairs that gave the public a visceral jolt through the sheer dynamic of the orchestra. In the twentieth century rock seemed to take over this function. This left composers free to experiment. Wendy (formerly Walter) Carlos transcribed Bach for Moog synthesizer. Iannis Xenakis used mathematics and computers to generate music. Toru Takemitsu fused Debussy with his Oriental sensibility in a reverse image of what had occurred at the beginning of the century. Moreover synthesizers became digital, with the ability to sample other instruments through the new microprocessing technology of silicon chips. By the end of the twentieth century music was capable of being rendered via small personal computers through a veritable treasure-trove of new electronic samplers, effects units and complex software. New music no longer needed to shout loud to impress. It could do so quietly through the beautiful textures of new super sound technology.     The dominance of the computer in music at the end of the twentieth century was made possible by developments in software and miniaturization. In sound labs at prestigious places like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) huge advances were made in areas such as acoustic modelling and spontaneous musical response. In the first of these fields researchers are coming close to a perfect replication of the human voice, in itself an echo from Kubrick's prescient film 2001: A Space Odyssey , where the fictitious HAL 9000 computer could speak. In the latter field computers are being designed to become more musically intelligent, so that they can accompany a human ensemble or instrumentalist.     Important as these things are to the century of sound they would be just aspects of research and development if it weren't for the fidelity of Compact Disc, or CD. The ability of a reflective disc with a diameter of just four and a half inches to communicate music in all its recorded perfection has rendered technological advances audible in the home. With better hi-fi systems the listener can hear the subtleties of Ambient sound whether it be by Satie, Delius, Cage or Eno. Stockhausen has remastered in digital form his entire life's work for presentation on CD. The availability of so much music on the new sound medium has radically changed people's perception of what music is. The combination of constant reissuing of back-catalogue and newer musical hybrids has blurred old prejudices, making it acceptable to like an eclectic mix of styles, At the end of the twentieth century old categories like jazz, pop and classical no longer really applied. Everything was thrown into the sonic soup by virtue of new digital technology. Over a century music had traversed an electronic landscape and now, by virtue of technology, its very texture, its very essence, had become digitally encoded. The search for newer and newer sounds had opened up music to the endless possibilities of Ambient sound. Now, the bleeding heart of electronic progress had, by its very nature, rendered all recorded music, by definition, Ambient. GUSTAV MAHLER Though many point to Wagner's awe-inspiring Prelude to Act 3 of Tristan und Isolde (1859) as being where modern music begins, its chromatic or uncertain key style and hazy effect presaging a future era, for me Gustav Mahler is the real connection between Romanticism and Modernism. His use of extremely long melodic lines, recurring thematic elements and clear orchestral tones shifted the history of music towards the repetitive conceptual music of the twentieth century. Hence it's not for nothing that Mahler became big news when the recording industry coalesced in the 1960s. His cycle of symphonies seemed tailor-made for continuous listening pleasure.     Most people's entry point to Mahler, born in 1860 in Bohemia, is the achingly beautiful Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 of 1902. And this because of Visconti's mesmeric film Death In Venice (1971), which places a fictitious Mahler (played to the hilt by Dirk Bogarde) in a plague-doomed Venice in search of perfect homoerotic love. In truth this limpid masterpiece for harp and strings was a love poem to the real-life composer's future wife, Alma.     Mahler's life was conventional in that he rose through the academic system without fail. He gave his first live performance when only ten and by 1878 had graduated from the Prague and Vienna Conservatories and began conducting to make money. In 1895 he converted from Judaism to Catholicism to become head of the Vienna Opera, then the most prestigious musical appointment in the world. Yet his own music was ridiculed for its ardent sprinkling of cow bells and herd horns, its open-air sound, its use of folk tunes and nursery rhymes. A complete Romantic, Mahler believed he could put everything into his work and every summer retired to a country retreat in the Salzburg Alps to do so.     What is remarkable about Mahler is that through a loosened key structure he created a mysterious language that is full of intense yearning. This was first heard in 1895's Symphony No. 3 , whose concluding Adagio , subtitled `What Love Tells Me', blueprints the Mahler sound. The lilting shifts of the Poco Adagio from 1900's `Fourth' expands the idea with a subtly understated rhythmic figure. The aforementioned Adagietto from the Fifth is a compound of airy lightness and ornate melancholia derived from one of the composer's songs, Ich Bin Der Welt Abhanden Gekommen (`I Am Lost To The World'). The Andante Moderato from 1904's Sixth is sadness suffused in sound and tragically anticipated the loss, in 1907, of both his job and his young daughter and his being diagnosed as having heart disease. His song-symphony based on Chinese poems, Das Lied von der Erde (Song Of The Earth) (1909), was a daring way to come to terms with tragedy but the lengthy Adagio to his unfinished Tenth (1910) revealed his true despair in a music which gradually dissipates tonality until we hear loud discord. Within a year he was dead.     Mahler is singular among Romantic composers in that a selection of his music can be programmed for performance or playing on CD and the result in both cases is a truly Ambient experience of landscape and emotion. This is particularly fascinating in that his use of incidental sounds would be mirrored by such Ambient House stars as The Orb nearly a century after his death. LISTENING Mahler is one of those composers whose work nearly every prominent conductor wants to excel at, and so there are versions and boxed sets galore of his music. Sir Georg Solti on Decca, Bernard Haitink on Philips, Rafael Kubelik on Deutsche Grammophon and Klaus Tennstedt on EMI are the main heavyweights who have recorded all the symphonies. Yet individual works are brought out better by different conductors. My favourites include Bernard Haitink's masterly control of the Fourth's Poco Adagio in 1967, Sir John Barbirolli's velvet touch with the Fifth's Adagietto in 1969 and Herbert von Karajan's 1975 controlled Andante from the Sixth plus his take on `I Am Lost To The World' with Christa Ludwig, and finally Karl Rickenbacher's sonorous 1989 interpretation of the Tenth's Adagio . ERIK SATIE The father of modern Ambience and Minimalism, Erik Satie, in the years 1887-93 changed the whole course of musical history with three sets of miniatures titled Trois Sarabandes, Trois Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes . With their clear melodic phrases, exquisite lightness and fresh texture, Satie literally blew away the pomp and rhetoric of the old order. Here was a music of repetition with strong emphasis on chords which seemed simpler and more fitting to a new age. Not only did he influence the likes of Debussy and Ravel but he also impressed figures such as Picasso and Cocteau. In fact all the way through the twentieth century musicians and composers have acknowledged his vision and rebellious modernity.     Satie's life reads like a catalogue of controversy and recklessness. The son of a shipbroker but reared by a stepmother who was also a composer, Satie was born in Honfleur in northern France in 1866. His entry into the Paris Conservatoire in 1879 led to expulsion in 1882 for absenteeism and laziness. Recognized as gifted, he just wouldn't conform. Private piano lessons exasperated teachers as Satie refused to sight-read. A spell in the army in 1886 led to bronchitis.     With his father trying his hand at music publishing, Satie began to write in earnest. Trois Sarabandes (1887) was a short set of three dance pieces which used unresolved chords to create a strange floating harmony. A certain tranquillity and slowness of movement, particularly in the first piece, would shape his style and have immediate effect on the writing of Debussy and Ravel. The following year came the revolutionary Trois Gymnopédies , three slow pieces lasting together less than ten minutes which gracefully utilized delicate modal harmony and gossamer-like transparency. Satie derived the name from an old Spartan ritual of naked youths dancing around a statue of Apollo. A trip to the Paris Exposition gave him a flavour for the Orient which infected his crowning achievement, the six Gnossiennes of 1890-3. In these pieces, named after the Cretan palace of Knossos, Satie incredibly dispatched with bar lines and any kind of formal time signature. In their place on the score were strange instructions like `be clairvoyant'. Still the ability of these beautifully riveting miniatures to capture a sense of spiritual calm and induce quietude has made them famous the world over.     During this time Satie became a true Montmartre bohemian and official composer of the Rosicrucians, a mystical sect. His Le fils des étoiles (The Son Of The Stars) , written in 1891 for their flamboyant leader, Sar Péladan, was an ambient `sound decor'. That year Satie also met Debussy, who would remain a friend for twenty-five years. Soon afterwards Satie broke with Péladan and, attired in soft cap, corduroy and goatee, this young anarchist in his mid-twenties involved himself with duels, hard drinking, love affairs and even formed his own church. In 1893 came Vexations , an eighteen-note minimalist piece that was scored to be repeated 840 times. During the 1960s John Cage and John Cale would famously perform this in New York. By 1896 Debussy had orchestrated the clever Trois Gymnopédies .     Having gone through a substantial legacy with which he bought, among other things, twelve identical velvet suits, Satie moved in 1898 to the Parisian suburb of Arcueil, where he would spend the rest of his life. He considered himself a radical socialist with an interest in the poor. Every day for fifteen years he walked to Montmartre to earn his living as a café and music-hall pianist. Both Je te Veux (I Want You) and Poudre d'Or (Golden Powder) from 1900-01 reflect gay Parisian life of the period. He wrote the strange Trois morceaux en forme de poire (Three Pieces In The Shape Of A Pear) for four-handed piano and enrolled in the Schola Cantorum in 1905 for a diploma course. Though he was outwardly the eccentric, Satie's humour always hid an insecurity about his lack of formal education. In 1908 he graduated with a diploma in fugue and counterpoint. By 1911 both Debussy and Ravel were performing his music to enthusiastic audiences. Satie's music continued to be best in miniature, the serene second part of 1914's Trois Valses (Three Waltzes) or the Idyll To Debussy from the following year's Avant-dernières pensées (Second To Last Thoughts) .     By now an omnipresent Parisian figure with his bowler hat and umbrella, Satie began an association with the poet, playwright and film director Jean Cocteau which would make him famous after the war. In 1917 a huge scandal erupted over Parade , a ballet on which Satie worked with Cocteau, Pablo Picasso and Francis Picabia. Full of Satie's piano style, the show included the sounds of pistol shots, a siren and a typewriter. Critics were outraged; Satie insulted them and received a jail sentence and a fine (later quashed). In 1918 came the strange cantata Socrate (Socrates) , which many believe to be the zenith of his search for a `music of bare bones'. Based on the dialogues of Plato, the piece has a religious plainchant flavour with unadorned, almost free-flowing piano. A year later came Cinq nocturnes (Five Nocturnes) and in 1920 Satie's famous `furniture music', background Ambience for boring intervals in concert music. His last scandal came in 1924 with Relâche (Relax) another ballet with Picabia, with the highly surrealistic René Clair film Interval inserted in the middle.     Years of heavy drinking had led to illness. Friends put Satie up in hotels but in 1925 his liver gave out and he died. Afterwards associates like Darius Milhaud found piles of manuscript in his bare rooms in Arcueil -- testament to his dedication to a music `conceived in a spirit of humiliation and renunciation'.     The bizarre titles of Satie's pieces (no less humorous in English), such as Dreamy Fish, Cold Pieces or Four Veritable Flabby Pieces For A Dog , hid a talent which Ravel considered to be one of a genius completely ahead of its time. Satie's very nature blueprinted the free-flowing creative spirit of the twentieth century, his ability to shock coinciding with the true artist's ability to produce timeless creations. His pellucid music is the essence of Ambience.     Satie's interest in symmetrical repetition is the essence of Minimalism. The easy swing and luminous texture can be traced right down to 1990s House music. Edgard Varèse, John Cage and even Brian Eno owe him an enormous debt. During the 1980s his music inspired the New Age movement in America, one famous pianist, George Winston, recording an album of the Frenchman's music for the Windham Hill label. A veritable Neoclassicist, Erik Satie took a great risk. History has served him well. LISTENING Erik Satie -- Anne Queffélec (Virgin 1988) Erik Satie: Socrate (Wergo 1991) Satie: Piano Works -- Daniel Varsano and Philippe Entremont (Sony 1992) Erik Satie: Early Piano Works -- Reinbert De Leeuw (Philips Duo 1998) Piano Dreams -- The Erik Satie Collection -- Pascal Rogé (Decca 1997) The practical difficulty with Satie's piano music, particularly Trois Gymnopédies , is that it is often played too fast. Reinbert De Leuuw's performance over three discs recorded in the late 1970s has never been equalled: it is, exactly as per the composer's instructions, exquisitely slow. The Philips Duo reissue of this recording is simply superb. Wergo's disc of Socrate pairs Satie with piano music from his inheritor John Cage. The Queffélec disc combines the Gnossiennes with a range of quirky pieces such as Embryons desséchés (Dried Embryos), Vieux séquins et vieilles cuirasses (Old Sequins And Armour) and Sonatine bureaucratique (Bureaucratic Sonatina) . The Varsano and Entremont performance recorded in a Paris church in 1979 is the most economical entry point as it combines the best of the early pieces with the café music and the later work, including a sample of the Nocturnes of 1919. Piano Dreams -- The Erik Satie Collection (subtitled `25 Hypnotic Tracks') boasts crystalline performances, recorded during the 1980s and 1990s, by the renowned French interpreter Pascal Rogé. CLAUDE DEBUSSY For many modern music began with Debussy and the `voluptuous ambience' of his Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Faun) , composed in 1894. Here was an orchestral music that simultaneously rejected the huge symphonic form of German music, the traditional classical exposition of Mozart and reliance on strong melodic development. In their place, over a compact eleven minutes, was a single series of, according to its author, `discreet' sound events for flute, harp and coloured orchestra, Through his fame, his writings and his uncompromising nature Debussy (even more than Satie and Ravel) was able to raise the flag for total innovation and mesmerically succeed. He once said: `As there are no precedents I must create anew.' And just as tellingly: `The century of aeroplanes deserves a music of its own.'     Unlike most schooled musicians, Debussy was a pure artist whose academic ability had little or no bearing on his eventual winding path towards creative brilliance. Born in 1862, he was brought up in Paris and the South of France by a maternal aunt. Initially he dabbled in art before succumbing to the piano at the age of ten. One of his teachers being related to Verlaine, it is certain that the young Debussy met the bohemian poet's hash-smoking friend the poetic genius Rimbaud. By eleven Debussy was studying at the Paris Conservatoire, where his bizarre chordings, strange tonalities and love of improvisation caused disconcertion. Yet by eighteen Tchaikovsky's wealthy patroness wanted him as her household piano teacher. In 1884 he effortlessly won the Prix de Rome and spent the next three years in the Italian capital.     Here Debussy was to live and write music. He met Liszt, whose spatial pedal technique would be discernible in Debussy's later piano scores. Fascinated by Symbolist poetry and the Pre-Raphaelites, he wrote a piece for submission to the Conservatoire called La Damoiselle élue (The Blessed Damozel) , based on a poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Its wistful aspect, use of harp and woodwinds, wave-like motions and shimmering beauty in one unified block of sound caused his teachers to gasp. They considered Debussy to be afflicted with a disease that made him write music that was `bizarre, incomprehensible and impossible to execute', which they also dubbed `vague impressionism', thus giving Debussy and his followers in 1887 a perfect moniker to hang their art on.     In the second half of the nineteenth century Paris was awash with the dreamy creations of Impressionism and Symbolist poets and painters. The iridescence of Monet, Manet, Degas and Renoir was paralleled by the darker, more evocative worlds of Baudelaire and Rimbaud and the work of the artists Moreau and Redon. At twenty-five Debussy threw himself into this `dream within a dream world', hung out in the salon of the poet Mallarmé, read Poe's story `The Fall of The House of Usher' and Huysmans's brilliantly decadent novel À rebours (Against Nature) , which he described as a `symphony of odours'. He took up with Gaby Dupont, lived in a garret and went to Bayreuth to hear Wagner, a composer he would later disown. It was Debussy's visit to the Centennial Exposition Universelle of 1889 (celebrating the Revolution) in Paris that sparked the greatest change in him. The start of the Belle Époque with the opening of the Eiffel Tower saw the composer tour the folk-music pavilions to hear the music of Africa, Arabia and Russia and especially the gamelan orchestras of Bali and Southeast Asia. The elusive melodies and harmonies of the latter and the black-keyed scales of traditional Chinese and Irish folk musics turned his head. After that he stated: `I should prefer the creation of a type of music that has neither motifs nor themes, a more universal music.'     Both Clair de Lune (Moonlight) and the first of the Deux arabesques (Two Arabesques) from this period are limpid piano pieces, flush with sensual delight as if the finger-runs, with their changing tempi, are playing a hazy summer reflection. In 1891 Debussy met Erik Satie in Montmartre and the two became lifelong friends. Satie purged Debussy of any liking for German music and spoke famously of a desire for `music without sauerkraut'.     After two years' work Debussy produced his masterpiece, Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune , based on Mallarmé's erotic poem. At thirty-two he became instantly famous with a work which for many benchmarked an entire century of music. Gossamer-like, this short but intensely beautiful orchestral work glided across the senses, individual tones flowing out, silence slowly alternating with fantastic sonorities, Eastern and exotic timbres and moods hanging within the sound of clarinets, harp, flute and delicate strings. In 1894 no one had heard anything like it. The critics dubbed it superficial and indefinite.     Personally Debussy entered into a period of confusion. He had many affairs and was for a short time engaged. He worked relentlessly on an opera, Pelléas et Mélisande , based on a play by the Belgian Symbolist Maeterlinck. His perfectionism meant it took him eight years to complete. He was in London for Oscar Wilde's trial, a writer he admired enormously. Publishers' advances kept him in an extravagant lifestyle. His love of women led to Gaby Dupont's attempted suicide in 1897. By 1899 he had married a Burgundy dressmaker, Rosalie `Lily' Texier, with Satie as witness, and the same year he produced the allusive Nocturnes for orchestra. Nuages (Clouds) , from this set of three pieces, was an exquisite example of Debussy's precious art.     Legal disputes about monies for Pelléas et Mélisande dogged the composer, yet he lived and worked in a handsome green study with Chinese cats and ornamental silks. In 1903 came Estampes (Engravings) , three piano pieces full of Spain. In 1904 he met Fauré's former mistress, Emma Bardac, who was married to a rich banker. After Debussy and Emma had an affair on the Channel Isles, Lily shot herself but recovered in hospital. Debussy scandalously refused to see his wife or pay her medical bills. Many friends turned away from him but he poured his turbulent emotions into the symphonic La Mer (The Sea) (1905), which was also inspired by the world-famous wave paintings of the Japanese artist Hokusai.     Now living in the Bois de Boulogne, Debussy settled down to his last phase: one of domestic bliss, increased fame and growing illness. His new wife, Emma, bore him Chou-Chou, his beloved only daughter, for whom he wrote his famous Children's Corner piano suite. Of more import were two sets of Images (1905-7), results of what he termed `experiments with musical chemistry'. In avoiding major and minor tonalities Debussy effortlessly conjured up reflections in water, church bells heard through rustling leaves and the quietude of moonlight. By 1908 Debussy's music was a universal success. His Ibernia (from Images ) was considered another tour de force, particularly its slow and dreamlike section with celesta, oboes and bassoon. The Spanish composer Manuel de Falla found it intoxicating. At a later performance Ravel was moved to tears. Tragedy struck in 1909 when Debussy, while in London on a conducting tour, was diagnosed as having cancer.     Still rejecting the music of Mahler and Schoenberg, Debussy survived to write his last great works, the two books of Préludes (1909-13), which perfectly elicited his `music of the play of waters, the play of curves described by changing breezes'. For example, Des pas sur la neige (Footsteps In The Snow) and La cathédrale engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral) (the latter after Monet) are perfect interior sound worlds. The composer showed an interest in Hungarian dance and collaborated with the Italian poet Gabriele D'Annunzio on a version of the martyrdom of St Sebastian. Such was his fame that Debussy attracted the likes of W. B. Yeats and Stravinsky to his house for intellectual soirees.     The outbreak of the First World War depressed Debussy greatly. While both Satie and Ravel enlisted, Debussy's illness kept him at home, numbed by morphine. Pouring himself into music, he edited works by Chopin and Bach, as well as writing three chamber sonatas, twelve Études (1915) and attempting to finish an opera of Poe's morbid `The Fall Of The House of Usher'. Radium treatment and two operations did not stem his cancer and in March 1918, as German cannon and Zeppelins bombarded Paris, France's greatest-ever composer expired surrounded by family and friends.     Debussy's critics use words like `nebulous' to describe his output and it was true that he hated `musical mathematics' but technically his music was nothing less than brilliant. His use of medieval modes in parallel motion, the whole-tone and pentatonic scales associated with Far Eastern music and folk styles, his strange floating and escaping harmonies and his grasp of instrumental timbre, not forgetting his outspoken writings and predictions, earned him the title `Father of Modern Music'. Certainly, the high points of twentieth-century electronic music, like Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon , were first envisaged in Debussy's ample imagination. LISTENING Debussy In Paris -- Alain Lombard (Erato 1990) Images, Estampes, Masques -- Alice Ader (MusiFrance 1991) Orchestral Music -- Bernard Haitink (Phillips/Duo 1991) La Damoiselle élue -- Esa-Pekka Salonen (Sony 1995) The Complete Works For Piano -- Walter Gieseking (EMI 1995) Bernard Haitink's two-disc set of the Prélude , the Nocturnes, Iberia, La Mer and other pieces with the Concertgebouw Amsterdam, from 1976-7, is a stand-out recording. The sway of the orchestra in Iberia is staggering. Yet I prefer Lombard's shimmering 1975 recording of the Prélude with the Strasbourg Philharmonic on the Debussy In Paris disc, which also includes La Mer . Salonen's version of La Damoiselle élue is silken perfection, as is his interpretation of Nuages . For piano music the undisputed king of versions is Gieseking's, recorded in mono between 1951 and 1955. Full of luminous colour, depth and the breathing pedal so close to Debussy's requirements, this performance was digitally remastered for disc and released in 1995. Those who like their Debussy a little cooler may prefer Alice Ader's renditions of Images, Estampes and Masques . (Continues...) Copyright © 2000 Mark Prendergast. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgementsp. xiii
Forewordp. xvii
Book 1 The Electronic Landscapep. 1
Gustav Mahler
Erik Satie
Claude Debussy
Maurice Ravel
Frederick Delius
Charles Griffes
Charles Ives
Iberian Sounds
William Duddell
Thaddeus Cahill
Lee De Forest
Luigi Russolo
Leon Theremin
Maurice Martenot
Jorg Mager
Friedrich Trautwein and Oskar Sala
Arnold Schoenberg
Alban Berg and Anton Webern
Leopold Stokowski
Edgard Varese
Percy Grainger
Olivier Messiaen
Paul Bowles
Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry
John Cage
Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky
Karlheinz Stockhausen
Miles Davis
Daphne Oram
Raymond Scott
Gyorgy Ligeti
Pierre Boulez
Iannis Xenakis
Morton Feldman
Morton Subotnick
Wendy Carlos
Toru Takemitsu
Kaija Saariaho
Electronic Media
Magnetic tape
Keyboards, Synthesizers and Computers
Compact Disc
Book 2 Minimalism, Eno and the New Simplicityp. 91
La Monte Young
Terry Riley
Steve Reich
Brian Eno
Philip Glass
Windham Hill and New Age Music
Harold Budd
Jon Hassell
Michael Nyman
John Adams
Arvo Part
Henryk Gorecki
John Tavener
Other Minimalists
Book 3 Ambience in the Rock Erap. 179
Leo Fender
Les Paul
Joe Meek
The Beatles
Bob Dylan
The Beach Boys
Jimi Hendrix
Ravi Shankar
The Velvet Underground, Nico and John Cale
Simon and Garfunkel
The Rolling Stones
Marvin Gaye and Van Morrison
David Bowie
The Byrds
Love and The Doors
The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band
Neil Young, Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills and Nash
Tim Buckley
The Grateful Dead
Country Joe And The Fish
H. P. Lovecraft
Quicksilver Messenger Service
The Steve Miller Band
Folk Ambience
Rock Evolves
Pink Floyd
Keith Emerson, King Crimson and Yes
Led Zeppelin
Mike Oldfield
The German Scene
Tangerine Dream
Popol Vuh
Roedelius, Cluster and Harmonia
Manuel Gottsching and Ash Ra Tempel
Klaus Schulze
Holger Czukay
Synthesizer Music
Beaver and Krause
Tonto's Expanding Headband
Tim Blake
Jean-Michel Jarre
The Indie Wave
Cabaret Voltaire
New Order and Joy Division
The Durutti Column
Colin Newman
The Cocteau Twins
Sonic Youth
Dead Can Dance
Spacemen 3, Sonic Boom and Spiritualized
Ennio Morricone
Todd Rundgren
John McLaughlin
Robert Fripp
Peter Gabriel
Bill Nelson
Laurie Anderson
Ryuichi Sakamoto
Seigen Ono
David Sylvian
Michael Brook
Daniel Lanois
Book 4 House, Techno and Twenty-First-Century Ambiencep. 367
Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder
New York Garage and Electro
Chicago House and Acid House
Derrick May and Detroit Techno
Ann Dudley and The Art Of Noise
808 State
A Guy Called Gerald
Ecstasy and the New Rave Psychedelia
The Stone Roses and Primal Scream
Enigma and Spiritual House
The Orb and Ambient House
Mixmaster Morris
The Future Sound Of London
Aphex Twin
Pete Namlook and Ambient Techno
Bill Laswell and Collision Music
William Orbit
Scanner, Biosphere and Isolationism
Massive Attack, Tricky and Trip-Hop
DJ Shadow and DJ Spooky
Goldie and Ambient Drum and Bass
Courtney Pine and Trip Jazz
Talvin Singh and Anokha
Dub Reggae
The Chemical Brothers and Rock Techno
Twentieth-century Ambience - the Essential 100 Recordingsp. 474
Bibliographyp. 477
Indexp. 483