Born: June 16, 1925 | Died: April 20, 2008 Primary Instrument: Composer/conductor
The 1956 sci-fi thriller Forbidden Planet was the first major motion picture to feature an all- electronic film score a soundtrack that predated synthesizers and samplers. It was like nothing the audience had seen or heard. The composers were two little-known and little-appreciated pioneers in the field of electronic music, Louis and Bebe Barron.
Married in 1947, the Barrons received a tape recorder as a wedding gift. They used it to record friends and parties, and later opened one of the first private sound studios in America. The 1948 book Cybernetics: Or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, by MIT mathematician Norbert Wiener, inspired Louis Barron to build electronic circuits, which he manipulated to generate sounds. Bebe's job was to sort through hours and hours of tape. Together they manipulated the sounds to create an otherworldly auditory experience.
The Barrons' music caught the ear of the avant-garde scene: In the early 1950s, they worked on a year- long project with composer John Cage. They also scored several short experimental films.
The Manhattan-based couple having completed several short experimental film scores, utilizing electronics but had never employed their apartment electronic music studio for a full-length soundtrack. The Barrons described their compositions in an early article as not functioning in a traditionally musical way but instead as non-linear constructions designed to describe a cast of characters engaged in a dramatic plot.
Once they decided on the characters' moods and situations, the couple completed a series of electrical circuits which functioned electronically in ways analogous to the human nervous system. Decisions about the circuitry were strongly influenced by their studies of the science of cybernetics which proposes that certain natural laws of behavior are applicable to both animals and more complex modern machinary. The composers employed their noise-producing circuits to emulate such needed characterizations as serenity, anger, and love.
The story of Forbidden Planet is a re-telling of Shakespeare's Tempest with the modern additions of spaceships, mysterious killer creatures, and the lovable and now famous Robbie the Robot. The crashing beats of the deadly ID Monster Theme coupled with the bubbly mood music designed for Robbie and other electronic sound effects added a creative integrity and believability to the film clearly separating it from much of the more lurid post World War II Nuclear Age horror and sci- fi Hollywood fare. Bebe and Louis' success signaled the beginning of the effective use of electroacoustic music by the modern movie industry.
But avant-garde didn't pay, and the Barrons decided to cash in by turning to Hollywood. Their score for Forbidden Planet drew critical praise, but a dispute with the American Federation of Musicians prevented them from receiving proper credit for the soundtrack. Their names were also left off the film's Oscar nomination.
Union rules continued to be an obstacle, and technology eventually passed the Barrons by. Though they never scored another film, Louis and Bebe Barron, who divorced in 1970, continued to collaborate until his death in 1989.
Bebe Barron didn't compose for a decade, but in 1999 she was invited to create a new work at the University of California-Santa Barbara, using the latest in sound-generating technology. The work, completed in 2000, is called Mixed Emotions.
The soundtrack did more than anything to popularize electronic music, which until the movie's release belonged exclusively to the academic and avant-garde recording studio. The score was an extraordinary achievement, leading the way for music and sound design to merge. When listening to sound effects or music, the whole line is blurred.
The Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States annual award for lifetime achievement in electro-acoustic music was presented to film music composer Bebe Barron (and posthumously to Louis Barron) at the SEAMUS national conference in Kansas City.
Bells of Atlantis. Film score. 1952.
Cannabis. Film score. 1975.
The Circe Circuit. Tape. 1982.
The Computer Age. Film score. 1968.
Crystal Growing. Film score. 1959.
Elegy for a Dying Planet. Tape. 1982.
For an Electronic Nervous System. Tape. 1954.
Forbidden Planet. Videotape or Laserdisc. MGM/UA Home Video, 1991.
Heavenly Menagerie. Tape. 1951-52.
Jazz of Lights. Film score. 1956.
Miramagic. Film score. 1954.
More Than Human. Film score. 1974.
Music of Tomorrow. Tape. 1960.
New Age Synthesis II on Totally Wired. 1986.
Space Boy. Tape. 1971.
Time Machine on Music from the Soundtrack of Destination Moon and Other Themes. Cinema Records LP-8005, 1970.
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