Exotica, Moog Rock and Moog Acid

15 April 2009

Today I continued the old-school synth and moog vibe, firstly by listening to A Psychedelic Guide to Monsterism Island again, and secondly by listening to Les Baxter and Martin Denny and some other stuff for the first time in ages.

One of the first cool things I found was Luke Vibert and Jean Jacques Perry‘s album ‘Moog Acid‘, again out on Lo Recordings from 2007. This is a really modern electronica album with gorgeous retro synth sounds but current, booming beats. Highlights would have to include their somewhat dischordant rendition of Frere Jacques, Analog Generique and the onomatopeic Messy Hop. 


Then I started listening to some older stuff, checking out Les Baxter‘s ‘Moog Rock: Great Classic Hits‘. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this stuff, but it’s probably the time that I’ve most appreciated it. Les Baxter composed and arranged for loads of swing bands, but is most noted for founding exotica, a partially electronic variation on easy listening which nodded it’s head towards the musical styles of Polynesia, Africa and South America. Baxter also pioneered the use of the theremin, the electronic instrument.


Next I listened to Martin Denny, who has a ‘The Best of Martin Denny’s Exotica‘ from 2006 available on Spotify. After a stint in the Army, Denny settled in Los Angeles and eventually in Hawaii. He formed a band, and supposedly one summer night in 1956, the band noticed that the croaking of some nearby bullfrogs complimented their tropical music. Some of the band began imitating the bullfrogs, and before long South Pacific and Middle Eastern instruments found their way into Denny’s Exotica sound.


Tunes like ‘Quiet Village’, ‘Misirlou’, ‘Forbidden Island’ and ‘Hypnotique’ are firmyl etched in my memory from spending 20 hours a day downloading electronica and moog-pop from Soulseek seven or eight years ago. 

What I find really interesting is that despite it sounding very quirky now, at the time exotica was extremely popular. It seems that it is a brief point in post-war history which seems to have been forgotten. Before music became over-ran with scruffy-haired rock ‘n’ rollers, the cutting edge was governed by orchestral composers who were starting to think about new sounds and arrangements.

Stereo also appeared roughly in this time frame, which changed the way music was made. Esquivel, a South-American contemporary of Les Baxter and Martin Denny onced recorded two orchestras simultaneously in recording studios accross the road from each other, so great was his desire to seperate the left and right channels.

Hopefully one day I’ll soon I’ll pick up this topic again and write about Andre Popp and Pierre Henry, two of my favourites…


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