Donna Summer Sings “I Feel Love”

SummeryesterdayListen to this track by Boston-born disco queen and original dance-pop music diva Donna Summer. It’s “I Feel Love”, the breakthrough 1977 electro-dance hit as produced by Italian producer and musician Giorgio Moroder . It would appear on her fifth album, I Remember Yesterday and as a 12 inch extended single (an innovation of her label, Casablanca), which is what you’re hearing now. It would appear in multiple re-mixes over the years.

Legend has it that Brian Eno and David Bowie discovered the song while in the middle of making the Berlin Trilogy, convincing even them of what dance music would sound like in the ensuing decades. They were right on the money, of course. Along with being thoroughly innovative, this song was also a huge pop hit that immediately appealed to the masses. It scored top ten status all over the world and effectively solidified Donna Summer’s star status at just the right time, which was the height of the disco period.

Amazingly too, it paved the way for modern club music in general by freeing it from the world of American R&B, and introducing decidedly European influences instead. Its influence would have a lasting impact well beyond disco, particularly where music technology was concerned, but for many other reasons, too. Read more

Neu! Play “Hallogallo”

Neu_albumcoverListen to this track by Dusseldorf duo and krautrock architects with an ironic consumerist moniker, Neu! It’s “Hallogallo” the lead track off of their eponymous 1972 debut record.

The band was made up of guitarist Michael Rother, and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Klaus Dinger. Both were involved in early iterations of fellow innovators Kraftwerk, and deal in many of the same musical approaches to a generous use of space and economic instrumentation. Speaking of space, this tune in particular seems to evoke a vast aural landscape of motorways and fast car travel. A sense of childlike wonder is contrasted to the idea of a dehumanized world of metal and glass that is an important undercurrent and vital tension in the music.

The incredible thing about this song in general is that this tension is evoked by the sparsest means, most notably a simple and unrelenting drum beat that is so undeniable it even has it’s own name: motorik. Read more

Orbital re-mix the Doctor Who Theme

Here’s a clip of British techno-geeks Phil and Paul Hartnoll, AKA Orbital with their take on a British musical institution – the Doctor Who Theme.  The original theme was composed by Ron Grainer and realized in the studio by Delia Derbyshire in 1963 using electronics in the BBC Radiophonic workshop.  The tape machines are not unlike the ones used by the Beatles to create their 1966 track “Tomorrow Never Knows”, also revered among 90s turntablists.

Delia Derbyshire
The first British techno sampling wizard? Delia Derbyshire at work in the BBC Radiophonic workshop created music from sound effects both manually as well as with sine wave oscillators. The Doctor Who Theme composed by Ron Grainer and realized by Derbyshire was made into a whole piece through tape loop editing technology, with each note literally sampled from raw source material. She would go on to create themes for many British television shows, including the Doctor Who Theme in 1963, as well as working with techno-boffins The Aphex Twin and Sonic Boom before her death in July, 2001.

I’ve been a fan of the original show since I was a kid, the show being broadcast in Canada first on provincial TV, and then by American public television, beamed across the border.  I was always struck by the theme song – kind of ghostly, otherworldly – and I’d always wondered what instruments they were using to create it.  Basically, the original Doctor Who Theme is a series of sound affects moulded into a piece of music, including a middle-eight section.  To me, it’s a towering achievement in sound.  And the original piece, although translated by modern technology, is also the theme to the more recent version of the show, which picks up where the original show left off.  Geeks like continuity, you see.

The first time I’d seen Orbital perform this one was live at the 1999 Glastonbury festival.  They’d released their version of the theme on 2001’s the Altogether entitled “Doctor?”, but it was known to be a set favourite a few years earlier.  This is more of an affectionate tribute than it is a serious take on making a viable single.  And they would have been hard pressed to make this a representative piece.  But, it’s the affection that makes this piece so charming.  It reveals a funloving spirit, and a humanity that is often not associated with the genre. It’s also something of a tribute to Delia Derbyshire, who was able to find music in everyday objects, with the skill of being able to translate those sounds in accessible ways by using technology.  So, the affection is also about what she created; music as organized chaos, pulling as it does from unlikely sources while being appealing and enduring too.

For more about this band, check out the Orbital MySpace page.

Read more about Delia Derbyshire and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

And for more about Doctor Who, check out these fine websites too:

BBC – Original Doctor Who Series

BBC – New Doctor Who Series