In the late 1940s, Bebe Barron (née Charlotte May Wind) and her husband Louis opened the first electronic recording studio in the United States, filling their Greenwich Village apartment with cutting-edge equipment, much of it self-created. There, the couple created the first electronic composition recorded to magnetic tape, entitled Heavenly Menagerie, around 1950. Inspired by the writings of Norbert Weiner (who coined the term "cybernetics" in the 1940s), Barrons built unique, hand-soldered circuits for each repeating sound (Bebe said each had "a particular sort of nervous system"); since the circuits had limited but unpredictable life spans, the couple recorded hours of raw loops to tape, then composed through editing. Their studio soon catered to the close-knit world of the downtown avant-garde; they created scores for the experimental films of Shirley Clarke and Ian Hugo (husband of Anaïs Nin, a friend of Bebe's), assisted Teiji Ito with the soundtrack for Maya Deren's The Very Eye of Night, and provided the raw materials for John Cage's first two tape pieces, Imaginary Landscape No. 5 and Williams Mix. The Barrons most famous work was the soundtrack to the canonical atomic-age science fiction film Forbidden Planet (1956)-- the first fully electronic score for a feature film. A dreamlike soup of bubbling, organic bleeps and bloops, the soundtrack generated widespread critical praise, but the musicians' union refused to accept the work, so the couple were credited as creators of "electronic tonalites" rather than music. (Despite the Barron's centrality to the art scene, Cage wasn't too generous either: in his 1961 book Silence he states that the Barrons "are not properly termed avant-garde since they maintain conventions and accepted values.") Bebe Barron, who passed away April 20 at age 82, created her last composition in 2000, perhaps tellingly entitled Mixed Emotions; her pioneering career illustrates longstanding difficulties in differentiating art, entertainment and technical experimentation in the world of electronic media. - Ed Halter
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