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.
One of many fascinating pieces of musical trivia shared from the podium was that famed composer David Rose (“The Stripper”) was not only fired from working on the sci-fi classic “Forbidden Planet,” but also that the film score itself was denied consideration for Academy Award nomination based on it’s bold use of experimental techniques and therefore deemed “not real music.”
The recordings’ cover art is the real star of this exhibit, which features 117 space-themed albums, released between the 1940s and 1969, appropriately dubbed “the dawn of the space age.” Most of the artwork is uncredited, having been created by in-house artists under contract to the various labels that were popular at the time. While some are considered camp or cheesy, the range is extraordinary and encompasses a wide array of themes. “Spaced Out!” is on view to the public through June 26, and features a rare unexplored glimpse into pop culture. I’m compelled to declare that this museum rocks.
On the other side of the county, I popped into the Old Stone House (oldstonehouse.catskill-life.com) in Hasbrouck, NY for “A Performance of Shorts and Sweets” produced by Big Sky Productions, a Grahamsville-based community theatre company that produces a mixture of straight plays, murder mystery dinner theatre and staged readings at venues in and around Sullivan County, NY.
The afternoon featured Carol Montana, who read and performed a variety of short stories, jokes and an amusing pastiche of pieces with which I was, for the most part, unfamiliar. The work to which I had been exposed to prior to the reading was given a new slant with Montana’s clever rendition, and the audience was alternately amused, touched and tickled by the her fresh interpretations.
Sprinkled with some “adult” material, Montana’s repertoire is vast and (IMHO) she would make an excellent choice for toastmaster/host of any event looking for a great opening act. The Old Stone House is expanding its series of events, and although a bit off the beaten track, is certainly worth a visit. For more information, call 845/436-7720 o. Yet another Catskill destination that deserves our attention.