100 Records That Set The World On Fire (While No One Was Listening): Bob Graettinger. City of Glass / This Modern World

Every week, we’ll be looking at 1 or two records from The Wire’s “100 Records That Set the World On Fire (While No One Was Listening)” list, originally published in the The Wire 175 (September 1998). You can find the list we’re working from in several places: A Discogs List, and a Rate Your Music List. Both the Discogs List and the Rate Your Music list also have an additional 30 Records that the Wire published later. You’ll also notice that the original lists are in alphabetical order. The Rate Your Music list is in chronological. I think it’s far more interesting to do it chronologically, so that’s how we’re going to do it. The text below the pieces are from the Wire writers. Please listen and comment on reactions.

Bob Graettinger. City of Glass / This Modern World (1953)

Graettinger’s entire body of work consists of about a dozen original compositions and song arrangements commissioned by Stan Kenton from 1947-53, but it was enough to briefly shake the foundations of big band jazz before sliding into obscurity. Such aggressive dissonance, jagged polytonality and clashing rhythms, in scores like “Incident In Jazz”, “House Of Strings”, and his four movement “City Of Glass”, were previously unheard in the jazz world, and quickly confused and alienated critics and even the musicians themselves. Graettinger’s unorthodox compositional methods were drawn in part from Bartok, Stravinsky and especially Varese in his collision of dramatic blocks of sound, but his own unusual psychological/acoustic theories – plus the undiluted intensity of their presentation – turned them into a musical Rorshach test for listeners. They’re just as shocking and breathtaking today.

Look Ahead: Louis & Bebe Barron. Forbidden Planet (1956)

By the time MGM got around to asking Louis and Bebe Barron to compose an electronic soundtrack for their prestige sci-fi presentation, Forbidden Planet, the husband and wife team had already worked with John Cage, Anais Nin, Aldous Huxley and Maya Deren. Mimicking Norbert Weiner’s experiments involving negative and positive feedback in stressed animals, the Barrons had learned to make electrical circuits literally ‘shriek’, reprocessing the results through careful tape manipulation into extremely rich and varied electroacoustic soundscapes. Having supplied not only the film’s music but its alien sound effects as will, the Barrons had to abide by the studio’s decision to list their contribution as ‘electronic tonalities’ in the credits out of fear that the Musicians’ Union might sue. This unfortunate trivializing of their pioneering work might explain why the Forbidden Planet album became such a relatively rare and neglected item. Harsh, metallic, and cavernous, the future never sounded this good again.