mode modem modus: war and everything after

Experiments in music, style and art in the UK: 1940 - 1979 using the British Music Collection as source and inspiration


The first few decades of the twentieth century marked a step change in creativity and social attitudes.  And the technological advances that war necessitates bought forward new systems of communication and manufacturing. Entertainment, even: innovations in photography and cinematography offered a new raft of possibilities to creators and audiences alike.  By 1940 the world was at war again.  Burgeoning arts movements stuttered and lost their impetus.  It’s estimated that sixty million people lost their lives in World War II.

The period between 1945 and 1979 (the first year of UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s tenure) is often known as the post-war era, a time in which the world vowed to never again allow such terrible atrocities to take place.  Post-war Britain was battered, bruised and politicized.  Thinkers at home and abroad began to develop ways of protesting through philosophy and action.  Societal divisions were being discussed by a newly educated population. A population - stimulated by the collective power of youth - that was determined to make their voices heard.

The world had been turned upside down and this was the perfect opportunity to reassemble it in new and modern ways. This was a time for change.  

women queuing for food (1940)Sound and Music


Between 1939 and 1945 the world was at war and the wheels of art, fashion and design slowed to a near-halt   Approximately six million Jews were killed during the Nazi Holocaust. Rationing was enforced and the restrictions imposed on food, fuel and clothing in Great Britain were to last long after the war had ended.  Testing and development of the first atomic bombs began with The Manhattan Project in 1942 and the first bomb test took place on July 16 1945 in New Mexico.   The necessity of war once again bought about advances in technology.  Computer science took a leap forward and the Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer (ENIAC) was inaugurated in Philadelphia in 1946, following extensive development from British scientist and mathematician Alan Turing.  Visiting the cinema had become a national pastime by now, finally allowing the working class British access to fashion trends via film stars and news reels.   The likes of Wallis Simpson, Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck dressed in shoulder padded, sleek, tailored lines.  And these looks could be attempted if someone owned a sewing machine and a clever eye, with magazines and pattern companies showing the way.  In 1943 the British government issued the Make Do and Mend pamphlet providing housewives with tips on how to be both frugal and stylish in times of rationing.  

1940s menswearSound and Music

The traditional styles of post-Ragtime jazz (New Orleans, Dixieland) prevailed, softening somewhat into swing music and the big band sound. The ubiquity of radio and improvements in sound recording led to an increased demand for musical turnover and content. Radio programmes now provided live, warm-sounding music provided by sizable bands now augmented by solo singers who could croon softly into the new microphones. The relative affordability of radio sets created a new form of mainstream entertainment. Crooners Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra opened doors for the likes Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.

Albert CamusSound and Music

After the war drew to a close the world began to find its feet again. During World War II The French Resistance had provided one role for those who has begun to form a new set of philosophies in the late 1930s. Now the war was over writers and thinkers like Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone De Beauvoir and Albert Camus (a Resistance member) could really get to work. Not since the 1920s had there been such a rush of new ideas, and many of that decades movers and shakers were still at work. Furthermore, while the century’s previous social divisions had been (broadly speaking) class or race-led, now divisions were beginning to show in terms of the mainstream versus the counter culture. In the 1910s the working classes had neither the time nor the money to question their own existence let alone that of society’s mores or political machinations. However two world wars had created an educated, more secular and politically-empowered class; one that wanted to know more and was not happy to simply exist. This new notion of radical questioning was to have a lasting effect on both music-making and fashion as the two practises would become closely linked.

Electronic Numerical Integrator And ComputerSound and Music

1941 - the USA enters World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
1942 - the use of penicillin to cure infections begins.
1943 - Jean-Paul Sartre publishes Being and Nothingness. The Lockheed Constellation is the first airliner with a pressurized cabin to enter commercial flight.
1945 - atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. World War II ends.
1948 - British National Health Service established. Pierre Schaeffer coins the term musique concrete. Columbia Records unveil the LP (long player) record. Invention of the transistor.
1949 - RCA Victor unveils the 7-inch single. Simon de Beauvoir publishes The Second Sex (1949)

Eric CoatesSound and Music

Ostensibly a march, Eric Coates’ Calling All Workers gained popularity following its use as a theme time for the Music While You Work radio programme. Launched in 1940 the programme’s aim was to motivate British factory workers and increase productivity as well as providing a soundtrack to what were often repetitive jobs. Most of the music played during the programme was performed and broadcast live and bands were given strict rules to follow. Music should be upbeat, cheerful and should not include anything that could be misconstrued as gunfire. Coates would go on to compose the Dam Busters March for the 1955 film The Dam Busters.

Elizabeth MaconchySound and Music

Despite receiving critical acclaim at a relatively young age Elizabeth Maconchy is yet another female composer and musician who suffered from the era’s prevailing sexual discrimination. As early as 1930, when she was just twenty-three years old, Elizabeth was gaining praise from mainstream classical music figures. Henry Wood programmed her orchestral suite The Land for that year’s Proms and plaudits came from no less a luminary than Gustav Holst. However, when it was suggested to music publishers Boosey & Hawkes that they feature Elizabeth’s work they said they …would not consider publishing orchestral music by a young lady, perhaps a few songs…

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Born in 1903 in South Africa Priaulx Rainier is credited as being the first ever athematic composer. That is, she composed without a theme in mind. Her work was inspired by recollections of African rhythms heard during her childhood and is vigorous and tribal by nature, with 1949’s Barbaric Dance Suite using percussive piano. In 1949 she met sculptor Barbara Hepworth in St Ives in the south west of England. She would go on to suggest that only sculptors fully understood her work and dedicated her 1967 piece Aequora Lunae to Hepworth. It might also be suggested that her athematic approach to composing has parallels with a similar kind of nothingness discussed by the Existentialists.

child's drawing from the Terezín concentration campSound and Music

Ronald Senator’s Holocaust Requiem (also known as Kaddish for Terezín) was first performed in 1986 under the auspices of the United Nations, the International Council of Christians and Jews, the Government of Germany and the B'nai Brith. In 1990 the piece was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and is an oratorio based on poems and diaries of children who died at the Terezín concentration camp in German-occupied Czech Republic during World War II.

Simone de BeauvoirSound and Music

Simone de Beauvoir

Introducing the NHS - 1948 short film

Portsmouth Teddy Boys c 1955Sound and Music


Further improvements in manufacturing technologies and materials heralded the introduction of mass consumerism.  The relative availability of portable radios and television sets led to an increased demand for content.  Programming was designed for mass appeal.   Progress in print technology meant more newspapers and magazines, with content interspersed with consumer messages.    Furthermore, a new market had arrived in the shape of the teenager.  Better health care, access to further education and changes in the economic climate meant more children were able to avoid entering into full-time jobs at an early age.  This new young and vital demographic was invigorated by changes in culture and thirsty for new ideas, sounds and shapes.  The Soviet Union’s launching on satellite Sputnik I caused surprise and consternation, particularly in America which saw itself as the leader in international space technology.   And so began the Space Race as super powers jostled to be the first to conquer the great unknown.  

Calyx (1951) by Lucienne DaySound and Music

In fashion trends, fine art continued to feed inspiration to textile print design, with abstract expressionism adding further non-objective abstraction to the styles at play and likes of Jackson Pollock, Wassily Kandinsky and the ubiquitous Picasso adding to the canon. However the same social and technological changes that were fuelling new markets and ways of thinking also began to have a previously-unseen impact on what people were wearing in the UK. In the early part of the twentieth century fashion had been a trickle-down process, with silhouettes, fabrics - even ways of behaviour - starting with the upper classes, royalty, film stars and designers of haute couture. Ordinary people wore what was practical and an approximation of what the upper echelons could afford. The Space Race and science fiction inspired a raft of design and film ideas. Film stars like James Dean and Marlon Brando sought to epitomise the essence of teenage rebellion. Swing and big band sounds had melded with faster dance styles (like the Jitterbug), gospel vocalizations and the piano rolls of rhythm and blues and boogie woogie to create a new genre: rock’n’roll. Cultural tribes and youth movements developed, some with their very own dress codes. With jazz and skiffle as their music of choice, Teddy Boys adapted the 1940s zoot suit into the neo-Edwardian drape coat along with the D.A. (duck’s ass/arse) be-quiffed and slicked back hair style. Girls wore Capri pants, circular poodle skirts, off-the-shoulder blouses and drainpipe jeans. For the first time fashion designers began to take wholesale looks from the high street and re-work them as their own. Different again were the Rockabillies (where country music met rock’n’roll) and the Rockers (where rock’n’roll gets faster), all with styles that were different yet similar.

Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Gregory Corso (1957)Sound and Music

Authority and the status quo had long been under question. Artists, composers, musicians and designers had been advocating new ways of thinking and making since the beginning of the century. However one result of advances in social and technological modernism had presented a new set of rules that were open for contention. Thus the Fifties decade is pivotal in defining the difference between the mainstream - mass consumption, consumerism, prevalent white hegemonies - and the counter culture. The teenage/young adult demographic was also that of the student. Charged by access to literature and new thinking, students and teenagers coalesced into a formidable force.

1957 Lion annualSound and Music

Jazz music had splintered into other genres but it had also taken a few steps forward of its own. And there can be no better style to both describe and sum up the avant garde than free jazz. Very much a child of early-century compositional atonality, Dadasim, Surrealism and Cubism, free jazz questions just about every rule in music. Improvised, spurning following written scores, ignoring established time codes and meters, without structure, of no determined length or adherence to theme. This was sound at its most primitive and a perfect soundtrack to Parisian-based (and now quickly spreading) existentialist thinking. Speaking of Paris, 1951 had seen Pierre Schaeffer, Pierre Henry and Jacques Poullin form the Groupe de Recherche de Musique Concrète. Based in RTF buildings the studio played host to the decade’s most experimental musicians and sound artists including Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis and witnessed Schaeffer and Henry’s own investiagtions into the possibilities of sound outside musical norms.

members of the Beat GenerationSound and Music

Meanwhile America was undergoing a similar change in regard for convention. A group of friends took to meeting in Greenwich Village, New York to discuss and debate ideas, literature and theories, among them writers Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassidy and Allen Ginsberg. There’s some discussion as to the etymology of the term Beat Generation (or Beat Poets). One explanation is that the word ‘beat’ means beaten down, exhausted or repressed. Another suggestion is that it alludes to musical syncopation. Either way, the group advocated a similar questioning of convention - and existence - as the European existentialists and the free jazz advocates. Furthermore, a line can be traced back to the first twenty years of the century and the development of collage and assemblage. Similar to the Dadaists, Beat circle member Brion Gysin came across the cut-up technique that relied on creating new content from randomly cut book and newspaper pages. Meanwhile experimental musician John Cage was perfecting his own Chance Operations in which he would use a translation of the I Ching ancient divination text to dictate the outcome and processes of his own compositions. All of these chance techniques (and more) are used in sound and music composition today.

It’s only natural that the followers of the thinkers, musicians and artists noted had a style of their own. And the cliché does apply - they wore black. Black eyeliner, black turtle-neck sweaters, black jeans and black leather jackets.

Just What Is It That Makes Today's Home So Different and So Appealing? (1956) by Richard HamiltonSound and Music

1950 - Diners Club in America introduce the first credit card.
1953 - Elvis Presley records My Happiness for Sun Records as a self-financed demo.
1954 - invention of the first transistor radio. George C. Devol Jr patented Unimate the first industrial robot.
1955 - Rosa Parks arrested after refusing to give up her bus seat in for a white passenger in Albama, America.
1956 - Jackson Pollock dies in a car crash. The world’s first nuclear power plant opens at Calder Hall in England. The first practical video tape recorder and player unveiled in America. Elvis Presley performs Heartbreak Hotel on Ed Sullivan’s TV show. The film Rock Around the Clock was released in America and the UK. British artist Richard Hamilton exhibits his collage Just What Is It that Makes Today's Home So Different and So Appealing? for the first time.
1957 - Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl draws an obscenity case. The Soviet Union launches Sputnik I, the first ever satellite.
1958 - AT&T unveils the first computer modem. Jack Kerouac publishes his On the Road novel. Jack Kilby invents the integrated circuit - aka the microchip. The Soviet Union launches the first lunar probes.

Pierre Schaeffer (1951) by Serge LidoSound and Music

For his 2012 piece Distortion 1, Clay Gold took media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s entire ten-hour interview that formed part of the Levenson Enquiry into his UK newspapers’ phone-hacking scandal and cut it into one hundred and eighty samples. He then entered the samples into two keyboards and composed the piece. This process is not just a nod to the chance/cut-up techniques of Cage, Gysin et al, it also explores techniques of sound manipulation - looping, rewinding, layering - investigated by Pierre Schaeffer.

Matthew Shlomowitz - Free Square Jazz (2005)Sound and Music

For his 2005 composition Free Square Jazz composer Matthew Shlomowitz takes the free jazz template and updates it for an unusual (for jazz) instrumental ensemble that includes the recorder. Taking a leaf from the Dada playbook, Shlomowitz says …I’m interested in working with musical material that has strong stylistic expectations and then going against those expectations… I’m interested in opening up a listening experience that enhances perceptions of the commonplace, and draws attention to sounds that we usually ignore or don’t take seriously...

Shelly Knotts & Alo Allik - Sisesta Pealkiri (2013)Sound and Music

In 2013’s [Sisesta Pealkiri] Shelly Knotts and Alo Allik characterize a number of similar touchpoints from the developments in sonic experimentation formed in the first half of the twentieth century, this time utilising current digital and wireless technology. Performed live, the piece is in part improvised by the pair using various algorithmic synthesizers. Furthermore the piece employs loops based on data feedback as data is exchanged during the performance.

Ant Dickinson - Music For Hacked Geiger Counters (2016)Sound and Music

As the first nuclear power plant opened in the UK, so others followed. Work began on the Wylfa Nuclear Power station in Anglesey, North Wales in 1963 and was completed in 1971. In 2006 the plant was decommissioned and was closed in 2012, although it will not be declared fuel-free till 2018. Ant Dickinson’s poignant piece Music For Hacked Geiger Counters employs embedded audio whereby Geiger sounds are used to modulate a recording of One Fine Day recorded by Rosina Buckman, a famous Soprano whose spirit is believed to haunt the Wylfa station.

Teddy Boys interview original 1950s footageSound and Music

Teddy Boys interview - original 1950s footage

Jackson Pollock by Hans NamuthSound and Music

Jackson Pollock by Hans Namuth (with music by Morton Feldman)

Fluxus manifesto (1963) by George MaciunasSound and Music


The post-war austerity of the 1950s gave way to a new optimism in the 1960s.  Style-wise the decade was a collision of tribes.  The 1950s had seen high fashion separate from street fashion and in the 1960s the divorce was complete.  The space race, science fiction and fascination with the future had an impact on design and the catwalks, with couturiers employing shapes that were bold, simple and geometric found in Op Art.  Pop Art led to a brashness, almost cartoon-esque design strand.  And the cult of the celebrity was propelled by the proliferation of film stars, mainstream music artists and even international figures like Jacqueline Kennedy.   It had become the norm for designers’ work to be influenced by what people were already wearing.  

1960s street styleSound and Music

By now music and street style were intrinsically linked. Fans of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones dressed like their idols. A new, harder-edged rock music had its devotees dressed in leather and riding motorbikes. Mods wearing Italian-style suits and army surplus parkas spent their Bank Holidays scrapping with rockers and/or Teddy boys on seafronts and high streets. The ready availability of drugs had further affiliations: LSD and marijuana accompanied the rise of psychedelia and hippie culture. Pharmaceutical and prescription drugs, barbiturates, amphetamines and dextroamphetamine meant moods were elevated and people could dance for longer. Up and down the country, boutiques and department stores offered fashionable clothing – often now made from man-made fibres - at affordable prices. Towards the end of the decade attention turned to more exotic prints and fabrics as cheaper flights means more time spent abroad.

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New affluence equalled a new freedom, and that freedom led to the desire for further change. The influence of Existentialism and the rise in student numbers meant that there was now an educated force that used protest to voice their dissatisfaction. Although the Beat Movement never had much of a manifesto for change they had certainly demonstrated the power and influence of a counter culture. Their performances and recitations went hand in hand with the growth of the protest song. As in the early twentieth century, coffee houses and bars had become centres for discussion and organisation. Folk music was always an ideal way of communicating parables and warnings, and the 1960s troubadours used the same methods to protest against civil rights issues, Western-orchestrated wars and the plight of the underdog. Often dressed in the monochromatic, Parisian-influenced threads of the previous century, these people represented the other side. The alternative. These were risk-takers who were railing against conservatism in all its colours. The release of 1967’s The Velvet Underground & Nico album was a watershed moment in musical history. Lead singer Lou Reed wasn’t really a singer, he was a poet born in the Beat Generation. John Cale was a student of experimental music who had conducted the first UK performance of John Cage's Concert for Piano and Orchestra before moving from Wales to America. Once in New York he worked with La Monte Young and Cage before forming The Velvet Underground with Reed. Cale’s use of drones in The Velvet Underground originated from his time with Young. Dissonant, shambolic, uninterested in traditional tropes, The Velvet Underground’s compositions addressed sex, transsexuality, drugs and more.

While the 1960s contribution to music and fashion history is well documented, this was also a decade of crucial experimentation. And, while it might seem that experimentation in sound and music has little to no influence in terms of style, the opposite is true. Its influence is attitude.

Whaam (1963) by Roy LichtensteinSound and Music

1960 - La Monte Young moves to New York. First use of the combined oral contraceptive pill in America.
1961 - Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited earth aboard Vostok 1. Beginnings of the Fluxus art movement.
1962 - the first Telstar satellite launched relaying television pictures and telephone calls. The compact audio cassette is invented. Andy Warhol holds his first solo exhibition.
1963 - American president J.F. Kennedy assassinated.
1964 - BASIC (Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) computer language invented. Robert Moog creates the first voltage-controlled subtractive synthesizer with a keyboard as a controller. Xerox Corporation patent the first commercialized fax machine. Pirate radio station Radio Caroline begins broadcasting off the coast of Great Britain.
1965 - Malcolm X joins the American Civil Rights Movement. The compact disc is invented by James Russell.
1966 - formation of the Black Panther Party. First patent application for fibre optics.
1967 - Ace Tone start selling the FR-1 Rhythm Ace, the first commercially-available drum machine. The Velvet Underground release their The Velvet Underground & Nico album. The second British Broadcasting Channel (BBC2) begins broadcasting its first colour pictures.
1968 - assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
1969 - the moon landing.

Cornelius CardewSound and Music

AMM was founded in London in 1965 by Lou Gare, Eddie Prévost and Keith Rowe. Later additions include Lawrence Sheaff, Cornelius Cardew, Christopher Hobbs, Christian Wolff, Rohan de Saram and Ian Mitchell. Secretive to this day as to what AMM stands for, the collective is considered to be one of the first in Britain to create sound that has no affiliation to musical genre. It is possible to detect the influence of free jazz, though, if only because their work has the same disregard for the rules. There is also a generous proportion of the kind of freedom in experimentation that characterized the 1960s. It was while working as an assistant to Karlheinz Stockhausen that the aforementioned Cornelius Cardew composed his Autumn 60 piece, having been influenced by the chance operations and exercises in random generation pioneered by John Cage, La Monte Young and others. Sonic Youth recorded page 183 of Cardew's 1960s composition Treatise for their 1999 album SYR4: Goodbye 20th Century.

EMS VCS3 synthesizerSound and Music

Tristram Cary’s 1967 abstract, electronically-produced piece 3 4 5 - A Study In Limited Resources uses only frequencies 3, 4 and 5 Hz and their multiples by 10. In 1969 Cary formed the Electronic Music Studios company that specialised in designing and building electronic instruments, developing the first commercially portable synthesizer, the EMS VCS3. The EMS VCS3 would go on to be used by the BBC Radiophonic Orchestra, Kraftwerk, the Aphex Twin, Merzbow and more. Cary was also part of the prevailing fascination with the space-age. Not only was he building instruments for the future he was also composing scores and soundtracks for science fiction TV shows and films.

Christopher Hobbs and Cornelius CardewSound and Music

Another sometime member of AMM, Christopher Hobbs founded the Experimental Music Catalogue in the UK in 1969 which now exists as an online resource at The catalogue served as a label for British experimental musicians, publishing a series of compilations. Voicepiece from 1967 is his earliest composition. It can be performed by anyone and can last as long as the performers want it to last. The score is written and gives a number of instructions that will provide a seemingly unending amount of possible outcomes, for example Open a telephone directory at random, and begin reading at the top of the left-hand page. Dadaism at work and play, then, but also Cage’s (etc.) chance and randomization, coupled with the Beat Poets freestyle attitude and the newly re-embraced rejection of the conventionality of the written and spoken word.

Bonwit Teller store window Andy Warhol display (1967)Sound and Music

Andy Warhol display in the Bonwit Teller department store window in 1961

Velvet Underground original film footage from the Museum of Modern Art (1966)

Black Panther Party membersSound and Music


In a decade crowded with styles and shapes, there was one piece of kit that worked for everyone. The 1970s was the decade of the t-shirt.  Even though Marlon Brando had spent most of 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire wearing what was still considered an under garment, it wasn’t till the 1970s that the t-shirt really became a social signalling short cut.  Whatever the political, social or musical affiliation, by the mid-1970s there is a t-shirt waiting to be worn. 

On May 4th 1970 four students were shot dead by the National Guard in Ohio, USA.  The students had been part of the nationwide protests that followed America’s continuing involvement in the Vietnam War.   Some youth movements - and their modes of dress - morphed.  Others faded away.  Music genres continued to merge or collide. Internationally, economies stumbled as the post-war boom dissolved. In 1973 the UK entered into a three-year recession.  Strikes by coal miners led to the unprecedented three day week measure, whereby commercial users of electricity were limited to three specific consecutive days' consumption of electricity.  America’s persistent actions in the Vietnam War, the stagnation in changes to civil rights and a general distrust of then-president Richard Nixon meant unrest felt in the 1960s was carried over to the new decade.  Personified by the likes of Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie previously, there was a continuation of music as a political message.  From Marvin Gaye's 1971 track Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) that laments continuing black ghettoization, to racist attacks documented in Steel Pulse's Ku Klux Klan (1978) and Tom Robinson’s Glad To Be Gay (1976), music was used as protest and motivation. While some escaped into the flashing lights and glitter of glam rock and disco, others adopted sound, music and style as a method of showing their dissatisfaction.  Furthermore, following the 1960s’ fascination with space travel, the future was now in sight and innovations in computer and electronics technology provided sound experimentalists with a new suite of tools with which to synthesize sound.    

Yoko OnoSound and Music

There’s no clear date to the formation of the Fluxus movement. Suffice to say it started sometime in the 1960s and continued throughout the 1970s and beyond. If it helps, George Maciunas put together a manifesto of sorts in 1963. What is crucial is the movement’s impact on how art and music was conveyed. Fluxus was about total art with no boundaries between disciplines. What’s more, their stated invocation of conceptual art - where the idea was as important as the realisation - brought exciting possibilities to the creative process. Yoko Ono was an early Fluxus artist and the group followed closely John Cage’s unanticipated outcome approach to creating work. Furthermore the group expressed an anti-elitism in their ethos, that the arts should be in the hands of the masses and accessible to all.

Richard HellSound and Music

The Fluxus Movement’s anti-establishment, quasi-anarchic outlook chimed well with discontent and the kind of rebellious, questioning outlook that had been fermenting since the 1950s. In the late 1960s, King Mob - a group of art provocateurs that were inspired by the Situationist movement - helped distil this outlook and came to the attention of Malcolm McLaren, amongst others. History has shown that McLaren used the prevailing social moods to his advantage, although his partnerships - with clothes designer Vivienne Westwood and the Sex Pistols - certainly helped spread a kind of commodified look and sound of the punk rock movement. A legacy of Fluxus, Dada and 1960s-spawned disaffection, punk was a way of life that dragging anti-fashion, anti-art and anti-music in its wake. With an outlook inspired by The Velvet Underground, American poet/songwriter Richard Hell had started ripping his clothes and skewering them with safety pins in around 1975, the same time that he wrote his seminal anti-society track Blank Generation. Punk rock was about dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction with the status quo, with politics, with the government, parents, education…

London 1977Sound and Music

Parallel to the dissonance of punk, there were other changes in music and style that took their cues from the general malaise. Reading Sartre, Kafka and Nietzsche, some wearing Camus trench coats and sunglasses (even indoors) and with possible associations with art colleges. This was the new wave and it encompassed a counter culture that was somewhat more staid than punk rock. 1977 was the year of the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks album but it was also the year that America’s Talking Heads released their debut album 77 and the UK’s Throbbing Gristle released their debut set, The Second Annual Report. The twenty-century new wave (sometimes referred to as No Wave in America) pursued threads started by the Existentialists in the 1940s and 1950s. Protagonists created sounds and music that communicated moods that were often sombre and reflective as well as disaffected. They improvised the use of objects alongside traditional instruments and - as Schaeffer etc. in years before - cut and spliced recorded sound to create new textures. This was the Blank Generation and their do-it-yourself approach meant a further democratization of art, music and design.

1970s iron-on t-shirt slogansSound and Music

1970 - Germaine Greer publishes The Female Eunuch. The floppy disk invented. Kraftwerk album Kraftwerk released.
1971 - LCD display invented.
1972 - Intel introduces its first 8-bit microprocessor. Video cassettes available for domestic use. First programmable word processor with a video screen.
1973 - Motorola demonstrate the first handheld mobile phone.
1975 - Vietnam War ends. The British government passes the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equal Opportunities Commission is formed.
1976 - first sampling synthesizer was made commercially available.
1977 - Harvey Bernard Milk, the first openly gay American public official - elected to local office. Throbbing Gristle release debut album Second Annual Report.
1979 - first Walkman marketed in Japan. Conservative party leader Margaret Thatcher becomes the first female British Prime Minister. The Sugarhill Gang release the Rapper’s Delight single.

Tim Souster Sonata album coverSound and Music

In 1977 Tim Souster released the album SW1T DR1MZ. Souster spent the 1960s working on his compositional approach and worked as an assistant to Karlheinz Stockhausen in 1971, embracing the new opportunities that electronic synthesizers brought in the early 1970s. Taken from the SW1T DR1MZ album, his track Arcane Artefacts seems to work as a snapshot of sound and music experimentation from the early to mid-seventies. Starting as what sounds like gnomic tape manipulation, the tracks quickly becomes a hectic, almost trippy, adventure in funk, free jazz and trippy psychedelia. And, at around the eight-minute mark, there’s a marked change as the piece slips into sci-fi territory before bringing itself back to a by now slightly paranoid-sounding atonal funk.

Trevor WishartSound and Music

Trevor Wishart’s Singularity series was a set of social interventions as the composer and associates descended on different areas and performed with live instruments, manipulated tape loops and electronic sounds. Very much in the Fluxus style of disruption and anti-art, the final Beach Singularity piece was assembled from recordings of day-long events with live improvised instrumentation, the tape loops and two stereo sound system playing the electronic sounds. The recordings took place on beaches at Morecambe, Cleveleys, St Anne's and Southport on the British coast in 1977.

Penguin Cafe Orchestra - Telephone and Rubber Band - Live in Tokyo, September 2014Sound and Music

The composer Simon Jeffes is a singular figure in British experimental music composition, somehow managing to embody a quintessential Englishness in a body of work that married experimentation and improvisation with traditional musical tropes. In 1972 Jeffes formed The Penguin Café Orchestra, releasing the first PCO album Music From the Penguin Café on Brian Eno’s Obscure Records label in 1974. Emboldened by the DIY spirt of punk rock (the first album was recorded in his back garden on a standard issue reel-to-reel tape recorded), Jeffes cast his net wide to pull in all kinds of musical influences from around the globe, as well as avoiding the restrictions of composing via traditional means. The Penguin Café Orchestra’s two best known tracks are Telephone and Rubber Band and Music for a Found Harmonium. Telephone and Rubber Band features the recording of a telephone’s ringing and engaged sounds along with the plucking of a rubber band. Music for a Found Harmonium came about when Jeffes found an abandoned harmonium in a street in Kyoto and composed the piece on it there and then. In 1978 Jeffes provided the string arrangement for Sid Vicious’ version of My Way.

Stockhausen Kontakte score notesSound and Music

Born in New Zealand, Barry Anderson moved to London in 1962. His interest in experimental composition started after he heard Stockhausen’s Kontakte and he would go on to form the Electro-Acoustic Music Association of Great Britain (EMAS) in 1979. Domingus was created for Paul Hyland’s poetry cycle of the same name but the work could happily stand-alone thanks to its sheer depth. Inhabited with the kind of swampy, disorientating nature that characterised the new wave of 1970s electronica, the density of Anderson’s Domingus pieces gives them a power all of their own.

Punks in 1977 London

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With thanks to Harry Cooper at Sound and Music, Davide Cavagnino and Louise Rytter at Google and Denise Coates (for her patience).

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