Thursday, January 17, 2008

My Life in Music: Undergrad, Take 1

This is the first of a series of posts about the albums that were the soundtracks of my college years.

It took me a couple tries to get college right. The years 1982-1984 were in part defined by these albums.
  • Urgh! A Music War
  • Brian Eno, Another Green World and Ambient 3 or anything else ambient
  • Walter Carlos (now Wendy Carlos), Switched on Bach
  • U2, War
  • Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique
  • Mannheim Steamroller (Fresh Aire, Fresh Aire II, Fresh Aire III, and Fresh Aire IV)
  • Jean-Michel Jarre (Oxygene, Equinoxe, Magnetic Fields)
Dan "Mad Dog" Dougherty was one of my pledge brothers at Epsilon Theta. He had the most amazing record collection I have ever seen. It was notable not just for its size (which was impressive), but also for its diversity and quality. He had some really amazing music. One album that struck my ear was Urgh! A Music War. It turns out that it was a soundtrack for a movie that I finally saw sometime last year. It is a concert movie with an amazingly diverse list of performers including The Police, The Go-Go's, XTC, Devo, The Dead Kennedys, and Steel Pulse to name but a few. These are really energetic performances from the apex of the new wave and punk movements. Some performances are bizarre, but many are really full of incredible energy. I just realized that this movie deserves a post all to its own, so I will move on to the next album....

When I studied, I often turned to Dan's collection of ambient music. Brian Eno is the father of ambient music, but he's done lots of other stuff as well. Ambient 3 is actually by Laraaji, but was produced by Eno. It is incredibly subtle (i.e., repetitive) music that I suspect few people can really appreciate. It probably says something scary about me that I like it, but such is life.

Walter Carlos worked with Moog on the original synthesizers. He produced lots of interesting purely electronic music. He did the soundtrack for A Clockwork Orange, but I still remember him primarily for his/her electronic versions of Bach's work. Later, he had a sex change and is now Wendy.

In the summers of '82 and '83 I worked for Bell Labs. The latter year was in New Jersey and my favorite song was New Years Day by U2. That song still reminds me of boring evenings in my apartment on Rutgers' Bush campus in Piscataway.

A couple pledge siblings (Epsilon Theta is co-ed) and I took a music appreciation class (was 21.600, but now is 21M.011) together. I don't remember everything that Lowell Lindgren taught us, but I remember that on the final, we had to name the work, composer, year, place, etc. for a bunch of sound snippets he played for us. One of the snippets was from Symphonie Fantastique. Here is Wikipedia's description of the end of the fourth movement (from which our snippet was taken):

"The scene ends with a single short fortissimo G-minor chord that represents the fatal blow: the dropping of the trap door, or perhaps the guillotine blade; the series of pizzicato notes following can be seen to represent the rolling of the severed head into the basket."

What a wonderful symphony.

A bunch of us were into music that later would be called New Age. Jarre and Mannheim Steamroller were staples. we'd play them quietly (usually with headphones) when studying, but we'd crank some Jarre when cleaning the house or when having a "stereo war" before 24-hour quite time around final exam time. This is Noqui's sound and anything that reminds me of one of my favorite people of all time is a good thing.

Anyway, this is the music that defined my first stint in college. I still listen to Eno and Berlioz and some U2, but most of the rest of it is just for when I am feeling nostalgic. This is the soundtrack of a world completely removed from influence by popular culture. The independence and purity still make me smile.

The Day
  • Workout: short run
  • Music: Cake, Crystal Method, Dave Brubeck Quartet

No comments: