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It’s about time—it’s about space


April 7, 2011

Being an avid science fiction fan and music lover, I was excited to be one of the first to experience “Spaced Out! The Final Frontier in Album Covers” exhibit, debuting at the Museum at Bethel Woods (bethelwoodscenter.org/museum) this past weekend. Scanning the website, I was intrigued by this unique aspect of artwork created to “reflect the growing interest generated by the space race”

“Musicians flocked to the fad” I read “and space themes invaded album covers of different genres, including pop, jazz, folk and classical” influencing what people of this era imagined space would be like. Adding to this heady time warp was the presence of curator Brooks Peck, founder of Science Fiction Weekly and associate curator at Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum (empsfm.org) in Seattle, WA.
Peck, a published author specializing in sci-fi and fantasy, has written for Wired and SciFi Channel Magazine, and is currently working on “Avatar: The Exhibition,” an exploration of James Cameron’s film.

“This exhibit is very visual,” Peck began, “but there is a musical story behind it—and that is what we are going to explore today.” Funny, informative and armed with anecdotal references, he went on to tell the audience that the artwork and music combined to mirror “the excitement surrounding the exploration of outer space,” which sparked new musical techniques that combined electronic and synthesized sounds with more traditional arrangements. A brand new genre, “Space Pop,” was born, and echoes of this transformation can still be heard in compositions being created to this day.

The invention of a new instrument, the theremin, enhanced and propelled this new sound into every aspect of musical exploration. The theremin was invented in 1919 by a Russian physicist named Lev Termen (in the United States his name was Leon Theremin). Today, “this marvelous instrument is once again in the musical spotlight.” Besides looking like no other instrument, the theremin is unique in that it is played without being touched.

Record labels of every type jumped on the theremins bandwagon and experimented with the new sounds, including infusing well known orchestral works with the weird, funkadelic electronic interpretations the instrument inspired. Children’s records, Big Band stars and world-class orchestras all began experimenting as film scores were transformed along with the mind-set of a nation.