After graduating from New York’s Eastman School of Music in 1931, US composer, educator and critic Remi Gassmann (1908-1982) relocated to Berlin to study with Paul Hindemith at Berlin’s Musik Hochschule, where he met fellow student Oskar Sala (1910-2002). Back in the US, Gassmann asked contemporary artist Laszlo Maholy-Nagy to create the stage design for some of the Composer’s Concerts Gassman organized at the University of Chicago between 1942 and 1945. Gassmann wrote stage music for ballets like Billy Sunday, 1948, with costume and stage design by Alexander Calder. He first collaborated with Oskar Sala on the electronic music for the ballet Paean, 1960, with choreographer Tatjana Gsovsky. After Gassmann and Sala conceived the score for George Balanchine’s ballet Electronics in 1961, the choreographer introduced the pair to the technical team of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, for which they famously created the eerie bird sounds from Sala’s Mixtur-Trautonium.
♫ Electronics was premiered by the New York City Ballet in 1961, with ballerina Violette Verdy and choreography by George Balanchine. Gassmann was commissioned to create the stage music, which he recorded in Oskar Sala’s Berlin studio and is entirely played on the latter’s Mixtur-Trautonium. Divided into 11 short sequences, the music plays as a continuous exploration of the instrument’s gorgeous tonalities and goes through various moods and rhythms, from meditative to imposing, from enchanting to glorious. To these ears, it seems well suited to dance performance, but Paean, the other electronic ballet music Gassmann wrote in 1960, was not well received.
Sala’s Five Improvisations showcase both the Trautonium’s potential and the composer’s skills. Here the multi-tracking technique – well, 2 tracks on average –, creative use of reverb and virtuosity are more obvious than on Electronics, but the music retains the typical clarity and playfulness of Sala’s better known compositions. Sala’s unusual pitch system and mastering of studio technique are prominent, as well as striking sounds somewhere between Forbidden Planet and Pierre Henry’s musique concrète with electronics. This LP was Sala’s first appearance on disc.
01 Electronics – Music to the ballet (17:31)
Oskar Sala Five Improvisations on Magnetic Tape
02 #1 (1:41)
03 #2 (1:55)
04 #3 (2:09)
05 #4 (1:39)
06 #5 (3:56)
Total time 28:51
LP released by Westminster, ref. WST 14143, USA, 1962