OHM: The Early Gurus Of Electronic Music is a compilation of various electronic composers with music from 1948 to 1980. The compilation spans over three compact discs with forty-two tracks by forty-two different composers, and a total of 3 hours, 39 minutes, and 50 seconds worth of experimental electronic music.

The Music

Taking close to a year to compile a satisfactory track list, Thomas Ziegler and Jason Gross, the producers of the compilation, wanted OHM to be a documentation of the earliest and most important electronic music the world has seen. They also wanted OHM to act as a gateway that the common music fan could pass through on his journey into the land of experimental electronic music.

To get this desired effect Zigler and Gross wanted to get as many different types of early electronic music as possible, but, unfortunately, many things stood in the way of allowing them to paint the perfect picture. The duo wanted to get their brainchild out as quickly as possible, so they were always had time on their always busy minds. Another negative aspect they had to deal with was their contacts being largely unresponsive to inquiries about obtaining, what they considered to be, vital contributions the compilation needed, and because of this certain key figures were sadly left out of the compilation. Some composers even asked for their pieces to be left out of the process, some going as far as taking legal actions to prohibit their music from appearing on the compilation.

At the same time, however, the team found themselves with an over-abundance of ancillary experimental music that they found just as important to document as some of the larger pieces of the puzzle that would have to be left out. However, a lot of this subordinate music broke the electronic mold they were looking for; the music contained non-electronic instruments like acoustic guitar and drums, and also some music that was relatively recent, although gravely important to the electronic music scene. It was because of these two factors that Zigler and Gross decided on a set of strict guidelines:

  • Only electronic music that was 100% electronic.
  • Only electronic music falling between the years of 1948 and 1980.

With these two guidelines set in stone the group began to whittle down the list of contestants that would eventually end up as the forty-two finalists. This is the three-disc set that they came up with…

CD #1

The first two songs off of the first compact disc, one song by Clara Rockmore and the other by Olivier Messiaen, sound like they would fit perfectly on any classical compilation, but the reason they find their home on OHM is that they were both done with very early experimental electronic instruments. Carla Rockmore utilizes the theremin, with piano accompaniment (I know, they already broke one of their key rules), on the set off track of the comp, and Olivier Messiaen, on the follow up track, uses an ondes martenot for his piece that sounds very much like it was done with a group of brass instruments. The ondes martenot, however, is not a brass instrument at all; rather it is a primitive synthesizer with a string and ring attached to a device that allows the performer to manipulate the sounds by putting his finger into the ring and moving it back and forth.

Dabbling in the art of magnetized tape manipulation, the next duet of songs takes prerecorded found sound and messes with them to the extremes. These two tracks, however, are very different even if they are similar. "Etude aux Chemins de Fer" must have been constructed by splicing random samples of various prerecorded sounds (birds, babies crying, trains, ect.) onto one tape, looping them and then manipulating them to no end. The next track, by John Cage, is in a similar vein but has many more manipulative things done to it, including slowing down and speeding up the tape speed, reversing the tape, and other such techniques. If you have heard The Beatles’ "Revolution 9" then you can easily imagine these two songs.

Following in the tradition of coupling similar songs together, the next two tracks off of OHM are both highly reverberated synthy soundscapes. These two songs were made in a similar fashion; both came from those huge room-sized supercomputers that you only see in pictures from the 1950’s. With these supercomputers every move they made, every note they plugged in had to be preplanned with the utmost care. Any miscalculation would send them back to phase one from a months worth of progress. Seriously.

The next ten tracks take all of the previous techniques displayed on the first six tracks and doing a dramatic mix and match as they go along. In general, however, all of the following songs on the disc will revolve around some sort of swelling, random notes that make up the main force behind the movements. Then, at times, random blips and bleeps are thrown into the mix as well, along with some manipulated samples for good measure.

This first disc, whose music spans the thirty years between 1937 and 1967, sets up a nice audio/visual of what the rest of the compilation will be: various soundscapes, various cut up samples, and various synth tones combined to make interesting experiments of sound.

Track list:

  1. Clara Rockmore - "Tchaikovsky: Valse Sentimentale"
  2. Olivier Messiaen - "Oraison" (performed by Ensemble D’Ondes De Montréal)
  3. Pierre Schaeffer - "Etude aux Chemins de Fer"
  4. John Cage - "Williams Mix"
  5. Herbert Eimert / Robert Beyer - "Klangstudie II"
  6. Otto Luening - "Low Speed"
  7. Hugh Le Caine - "Dripsody"
  8. Louis and Bebe Barron - "Main Title from Forbidden Planet"
  9. Oskar Sala - "Concertando rubato"
  10. Edgard Varèse - "Poem Électronique"
  11. Richard Maxfield - "Sine Music"
  12. Tod Dockstader - "Apocalypse Part II"
  13. Karlheinz Stockhausen - "Kontakte"
  14. Vladimir Ussachevsky - "Wireless Fantasy"
  15. Milton Babbitt - "Philomel" (edited)
  16. MEV - "Spacecraft" (edited)

CD #2

With the opening track of the second compact disc to the compilation you can’t help but be reminded of your old Nintendo. I know it’s a cliché and it’s said time and time again: "Hey! That reminds me of Nintendo music!" Yeah, yeah, yeah, but this time it really is true. For this song Raymond Scott uses blips and bleeps to compose, what at the time was, a very original and unique piece of music. Only when we hear it now we hear nothing but the approaching boss that waits for us in Nintendo Land.

You better believe this sort of 80’s nostalgia doesn’t last long, however. The next series of tracks, that being tracks two through four, are all centered around extremely high and low frequency sounds. At times the sounds swell up from their low fidelities, but only to subside again into the abyss they came from. At other times, however, the tones zoom up into the high pitches, piercing the eardrums we love so much, but they too eventually subside back to a regular tone or, sometimes, resonant hiss.

“Silver Apples On The Moon Pt. 1” by Morton Subotnick is next in line on disc two. This song is interesting because it is the first on the comp to use rhythmic static as a base for the composition. Rhythmic static is now a must in some genres of electronic music and even in some non-electronic venues. But along with the random hits of static there are similar jabs of random synthesized notes, which sometimes sound like a violin being plucked with a razorblade. Also mixed into this song are various ascended and descending pitch shifts.

The next three tracks are based around a critical understanding of the art of stereo. Throughout these tracks of various sounds are continually panning from the left to the right, back to the left and then to the right again, giving the songs the depth of motion only stereo can provide. This is a studio technique that wasn’t quite utilized in experimental music until around 1969, or about when these songs began to surface.

Incredibly interesting in both concept and execution, “Boat-Woman-Song” explored what at the time was considered completely impossible: multi-cultural music. Without the participants even knowing they were in on the deal, Holger Czukay, member of Can, found old tapes of various Middle Eastern vocal performances and spliced them onto a tape of a prerecorded synthesizer song. Highly original. Another important aspect of this song is that the synthesizer sounds being used are beginning to sound very respectable, sounding like a legit string orchestra, only more fake.

The remainder of disc 2 is a combination of more sample based manipulated sounds, as well as more Moog-like experiments. What emerges is truly some really exciting stuff. However, disc two of OHM is brought down by the ending track. Unfortunately, the last track is nothing but a single tone played for roughly seven minutes. It’s quite the let down of a climax.

Track list:
  1. Raymond Scott - "Cindy Electronium"
  2. Steve Reich - "Pendulum Music (I)" (performed by Sonic Youth)
  3. Pauline Oliveros - "Bye Bye Butterfly"
  4. Joji Yuasa - "Projection Esemplastic for White Noise"
  5. Morton Subotnick - "Silver Apples of the Moon Part 1" (edited)
  6. David Tudor - "Rainforest Version I" (edited)
  7. Terry Riley - "Poppy Nogood"
  8. Holger Czukay - "Boat-Woman-Song" (edited)
  9. Luc Ferarri - "Music Promenade" (edited)
  10. Francois Bayle - "rosace 3"
  11. Jean-Claude Risset - "Mutations" (edited)
  12. Iannis Xenakis - "Hibiki-Hana-Ma" (edited)
  13. La Monte Young - "Drift Study 31 I 69 12:17:30 - 12:49:58 PM NYC" (edited)

CD #3

With two discs down the third installment to the OHM compilation brings about much more recent sounds. You can hear the beginning of early vocoder techniques seeping into the experimental music community, giving birth to what would become known as Speech Songs. In fact, the pioneer of Speech Songs, Charles Dodge, lays down the first track of this CD with his Speech Song entitled “He Destroyed Her Image”. Speech Songs are basically recorded poems that are then fed through a vocoder and manipulated whenever certain emphasis or feeling is desired.

OHM then revisits the idea of coupling two similar sounding songs together for your listening pleasure. These two songs, done by Laurie Spiegel and Bernard Parmegiani, are multiple-layered Moog blips that are heavily delayed and somewhat ambient. These songs again conjure up a similar sound and feeling to that of the opening track to Kraftwerk, in particular the opening track off of “Trans-Europe Express”.

With a plainly Japanese-oriented motif, “On the Other Ocean” swells in with what sounds like a synthesized flute of sorts. This composition is interesting in that at times the progression will being to rise, but then come to an end and dwell on a single note drone for intervals ranging up to a minute. The next two songs are very similar to “On the Other Ocean”; only they exchange the simulated flute for simulated bells, and then get rid of the Japanese motif completely in exchange for other motifs.

Track eight is one of the most interesting tracks off of the OHM compilation, in my opinion. Robert Ashley throws us a curve with a song that sounds like pots and pans being hit with wooden spoons slowed to incredible lengths but with preserved pitch. In the distance there is a bassline going where it wishes as omnipresent voices speak into your ear at all times. This song is definitely a stand out track on this compilation.

The remaining tracks of disc three are all various drones of various tones and composition. Most of the tracks are drenched with the reverb and provide a very eerie feeling; very, very ambient stuff. Once in a while, amongst these slow moving works, something unexpected will be thrown in to pull the listener out of the trance the drone has put on them. The last track on the album is done by perhaps the most famous of all the composers on the OHM compilation: Brian Eno. Although his song fits in well with all of the other drone songs that close the disc, his presence is a fitting symbol of ground future OHM compilations could travel on. Track list:
  1. Charles Dodge - "He Destroyed Her Image"
  2. Paul Lansky - "Her Song"
  3. Laurie Spiegel - "Appalachian Grove 1"
  4. Bernard Parmegiani - "En Phase / Hors Phase"
  5. David Behrman - "On the Other Ocean" (edited)
  6. John Chowning - "Stria" (edited)
  7. Maryanne Amacher - "Living Sound Patent Pending"
  8. Robert Ashley - "Automatic Writing" (edited)
  9. Alvin Curran - "Canti Illuminati" (edited)
  10. Alvin Lucier - "Music On A Long Thin Wire" (edited)
  11. Klaus Schulze - "Melange"
  12. Jon Hassell - "Before And After Charm (La Notte)" (edited)
  13. Brian Eno - "Unfamiliar Winds (Leeks Hills)"

The Packaging

The Early Electronic Gurus comes in some really great packaging. A outer layer holding case made of thin plastic works as a shell for keeping the two main components of the OHM comp: the CD gatefold and the OHM booklet.

OHM Booklet

It is incredible how much information is in this tiny 95-page booklet. The research to gather all of the information it holds must have taken a huge chunk time, but it is definitely worth it as the booklet adds an incredible amount of depth and understanding to the OHM compilation.

The booklet starts off with several brief introductions. The first introduction is a brief letter from the producers, in which they explain how OHM came about and why they found it necessary to document the vast amounts of music that appear on the comp. Right after this is a forward by OHM contributor Brian Eno. In this forward Brian Eno explains what electronic music means to him and give a nice amount of detail in explaining electronic music. The next and final introduction piece is by the president and founder of EMF, Joel Chadabe. In his short piece he explains a few things about the different types of composers about to be heard on the OHM compilation. And with that the introduction area ends and we move on.

Each CD has it’s own section in the booklet. Then in those sections each song that appears on the given installment has it’s own small write up. These write ups usually contain information about the song, the composer, or various other things about the music being made. This information is usually incredible interesting and helps add a greater understanding of what exactly is being done on any given track.

Interspersed throughout this whole booklet are random quotes, by artist like Sonic Youth and DJ Spooky, and sometimes short paragraphs about the nature of electronic music or other interesting things in general. There are sections devoted to the theremin, the synthesizer, and various universities of sound.

And perhaps the best part of the booklet is all of the amazing photographs that are held within. Each composer on the OHM compilation has at least one picture in the booklet, as well as many of the instruments they used to make the music on the comp and various live performance pictures.

CD Gatefold

The flip-out CD gatefold holds all three CDs in respective locations. On the back of the gatefold a little synopsis is given for the compilation and it can be seen through the clear plastic case when it is fitted in properly. Also one the back is a brief excerpt of the forward by Brian Eno that is in the OHM booklet.

On the inside the track listings are given for each of the compact discs contained in the compilation.

Sources:

The OHM Booklet
http://www.furious.com/perfect/ohm/

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