Let’s kick it 1955 style and get down with Louis and Bebe Barron on Altair 4 and their Tonalities – yeah, bitchez! Forbidden Planet time!
Two things that strike me as I wend my merry way through my records is that a) I own way more compilations than I thought I did and b) I own far more soundtrack LPs than I thought I did; oh and c) there’s just as much nudity as I remembered. Sadly, nude compilation fans we’re solely in soundtrack territory here, although that cheeky metal tease Robby The Robot does seem to be trundling around in the altogether for most of the film; Ro-booty?
I have always loved the film Forbidden Planet, all those fabulous 50s and 60’s sci-fi classics always seemed to be on TV when I was growing up and I watched them all, not knowing my thinly-veiled-allegory-about-the-evils-of-communism from my giant dudes with death rays, I had no idea that Forbidden Planet was loosely based on The Tempest, but it always seemed one of the more spacey ones to me. Invisible monsters*, Robby, ancient Krell civilisations and Leslie Neilsen in a straight role – what’s not to really love? I can’t say I ever noticed the soundtrack, but bought it for totally nostalgic reasons in 2000 from the ever-excellent Adrians Records. Bought it, listened to it and then popped it back next to Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Foo Fighters until last Monday.
You see, whilst this is a genuinely ground-breaking work, I’m afraid it scores low on the listenability front. I wouldn’t put it on for a romantic evening, when I’m getting ready to go out, chillin’ on a Sunday mornin’, looking to dance, raging at something, or, 1537 prime listening time, doing the ironing. It is a pivotal chunk of electronica, without any tunes. But I’m still pleased to own it.
When MGM were looking to soundtrack their no-expense-spared production**, they wanted to go the whole space age hog and commissioned Louis and Bebe Barron to produce a suitably spacey soundtrack. They did this by building their own instruments and thus side-stepping all the usual orchestral clichés in one swift move. The cybernetic circuits they built were christened ‘ELECTRONIC TONALITIES’ (so good they, use capital letters in the sleeve notes^), these were conceived, designed and built by the duo. In fact, leave me out of it, here it is direct from the horses’ mouth:
Personally I think this is exactly how all music should be made. Upon election as Overlord of the Universe I will pass a decree that henceforth anyone wishing to make music, should have to build their own instruments with which to do so first. I like the idea of Ted Nugent, that Bieber fella and Beyoncé attempting to put the theories of Prof. Norbert Wiener^^ into practice. I think we’d weed out the ones who really wanted to make music from the careerists that way. #votefor 1537.
But to return to Forbidden Planet though. The results are really good, atmospheric and interesting and clearly set the foundations for the likes of Cliff Martinez Solaris and others much later on, but the lack of a tune does limit Forbidden Planet as an album, as opposed to a historical document. One of the things I like best about this are the track titles, my favourites include:
- Robby arranges flowers, Zaps monkey (possibly the name of the atonal indie math-rock band I’m going to form next week?)
- A Shangri-La in the Desert / Garden with Cuddly Tiger
- Robby, The Cook and 60 Gallons of Booze
(the random capitalization belongs to the Barrons, although I know I am rather Prone To it myself).
*from the Id, as it turned out.
**Robby the Robot cost $125k by himself – which I have calculated to be $8.9 billion-gazillion in today’s money.
^^no giggling at the back there!