There are pioneers and artists — and then there are people whose impact is great enough that they become inseparable with the history of a medium. Bebe Barron, along with husband Louis Barron, was far enough ahead of her time that her ideas remain futuristic today. The Barrons didn’t just produce the first full-length electronic film score with Forbidden Planet; they created an ambient sonic world between music and special effects, and tied it to cybernetic theories. That score stands in contrast to films still dominated by Alfred Newman-style, post-Wagnerian theatrics. Today, artists are only just re-discovering the possibilities of electronic sound without the use of synths and samplers, built from scratch as the Barrons did.
Bebe Barron’s work went well beyond Forbidden Planet, however. She went on to produce music for film, tape, and technology well into her later life. She was an early leader of the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music, and continued — with her husband, and as a solo composer following his death — to lead the way in finding new compositional purposes for electronic sound. (And apparently even seduction through witchcraft! Viva electronics!)
We’ve seen a lot of obituaries in the three and a half years of this site; there’s no question that a generation of composers is passing into history. Bebe died of natural causes at age 82. I was struck by a quote from Barry Schrader, who called her "the last of the pioneering composers of classical studio electronic music." That may be, but listening to Bebe’s sounds and ideas, I wonder what the next generations might still be capable of pioneering, and who will take up the radical element from 1950s and 60s sound and bring it into the coming decades.
The best insight I’ve heard into the Barron’s work comes from a 2005 interview with Bebe on NPR’s Morning Edition:
Matrixsynth has an enormous obituary with lots of background information — a must-read:
And here’s Bebe’s last interview, from the beginning of this year, speaking about Anais Nin. That’s poignant to me — my great aunt and uncle were part of the New York circle that ran with Anais Nin and crowd. It’s a reminder to value your crazy and radical creative friends, to keep supporting what they’re doing to enjoy the short time we all have to make art.
Anais Nin has the best quote — she described the Barrons’ music as sounding like "a molecule that has stubbed its toes."