It might be hard to convince most people that electro-rock pioneers Silver Apples are the most important band of the last 40 years. But it’s not such a stretch to suggest that rock and electronic music might have sounded a lot different had the duo not traded in their guitars and bass for synthesizers and oscillators in 1967 to create a sound unlike anything ever heard before.
Electronic music by the mid-20th century had broken off into two completely polarized approaches.
There were the esoteric experimentations of avant-garde composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and Milton Babbit, whose article “Who Cares if You Listen” aptly sums up the mutual disinterest he and the general public had for each other.
And on the other side of the spectrum were the more lowbrow (though no less innovative) commercial composers who used the electronic sound to more gimmicky effect in Sci-Fi movie scores, and novelty Moog covers albums, kitschy enough to make even Lawrence Welk blush.
But between these two artistic extremes existed a chasm, which electronic music had for the most part not seeped into; rock n roll. There had been flirtations with it by more ambitious artists such as Brian Wilson and Captain Beefheart with a Theremin or a sound effect here and there, but no rock band had dared place electronics at the forefront of their sound. This changed when Silver Apples came on the scene with their assortment of homemade synthesizers, oscillators, filters, phasers, and whatever other electronic gear they could get their hands on.
Like any act of brash trailblazing, you can’t help but try to trace the source of inspiration for these visionary ideas. Was it Morton Subotnick’s synthesizer experiments on Silver Apples of the Moon? Was it John Cage’s aleatoric music? Not quite.
“My biggest musical influence was Fats Domino,” explains Simeon Coxe who started Silver Apples along with drummer Danny Taylor. “I hadn’t heard any of the electronic music of the day; (we) were strictly rock musicians. A friend of mine who was a ‘serious’ composer had an oscillator and used to drink vodka and play around with it along with Beethoven records, etc. One day when he passed out I put on a Stones record and started sweeping the oscillator sounds around and had so much fun I was hooked. I introduced it to my band at a gig that night and they hated it, but I didn’t care. I guess I drove them all away except for Danny, and Silver Apples was born.”
Silver Apples play at La Sala Rossa Thursday, Oct. 2.