By Richie Unterberger
When Paul Beaver and Bernie Krause began to record for Warner Brothers in the late 1960s, they were already electronic music pioneers. They'd been instrumental in introducing the synthesizer to popular music via the Doors, the Byrds, and numerous others. They'd also established themselves as recording artists under their own name, with The Nonesuch Guide to Electronic Music (also reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music), and with Mercury on the Ragnarök album. In a Wild Sanctuary used the then-young Moog synthesizer, but also added environmental sounds, employing the duo's innovative instrumental and production techniques on tracks that also drew from a wide range of musical styles, including jazz, blues, rock, and more.
Beaver and Krause
brought to their new label by Warner Brothers executive Joe Smith, who
as Bernie recalls "was getting some positive input from both Van Dyke
Parks and Randy Newman to add us to the label. The Nonesuch Guide was on the
[Classical] charts for 26 weeks, and Joe had the vision to see that as
a plus. WB, like many other labels at the time, were driven more
by aesthetics and risk than by MBA-types who run the organizations now.
It was a great time to be associated with recording and the industry."
With Warners, the pair delivered a trio of albums that were quite
different from each other, as well as breaking into different territory
than they'd explored on their previous recordings.
"We never repeated ourselves on albums we created," explains Krause. "We pretty much experimented at every stage mostly because we were the only ones who knew enough about the instrument, what it could do, its limitations, and ways to expand the then-current paradigms of music. After all, the Moog was considered to be the first operational and functional instrument to emerge since the 1860s when the saxophone came into being (even though it was a synthesis of many electronic technologies that had been developed from the turn of the century), and we were having a great time pushing the limits. The only times our collective feet were held to the 'fire' of repeating ourselves was on the sessions we played for others. On those we were often ordered to re-create the sound we did for the Doors, or the Byrds, etc. Other than that we were less determined than free to let the newly discovered synth sounds take us wherever they might (and did)."
Continues Bernie, "In a Wild Sanctuary was the first album, or, for that matter, piece of music, that included the natural soundscape as a component of orchestration. Also, its theme was ecology. The only challenging aspect was going out into the natural world to record. It was a place completely foreign to me and one in which Paul would not even deign to venture. So I was both terrified and exhilarated at the same time. But it was an epiphany for me in that the experience transformed my life to what I'm doing now -- recording and archiving natural soundscapes from both terrestrial and marine habitats worldwide."
To that end, as Krause wrote in the original liner notes, "We spent a month walking around the San Francisco area with a portable stereo tape recorder taking in sounds of streams, birds, people and animals at the zoo, and machinery." At the zoo, in fact, sounds were recorded not only of animals, but of a canned narration about orangutans, confirms Bernie, that was "taken off one of the push-a-button sound stations" at the San Francisco Zoo." Also in San Francisco, "late one night, while hunched over the cable car tracks in the middle of a Telegraph Hill street recording the rhythmic 'clicks' of the cable under the roadbed, a man came up from behind and scared me nearly to death. 'What are you doing?,' he inquired. I told him I was collecting sounds for an album in process and might use the cable clicks as a rhythm or effects track. When I finished, he invited me to have a cup of coffee at a nearby shop. A little weary of the encounter, I went and we began to talk. Turned out he was Frank Oppenheimer, brother of the late J. Robert, and founder of [San Francisco science museum] the Exploratorium. He was famous for wandering around the hills of SF late at night smoking and cogitating. As a result, I was invited to create one of the first sound exhibits at the new facility."
In a Wild Sanctuary, however, was not just a blend of environmental and Moog synthesizer sounds. These were used within the framework of pieces drawing from a wide range of musical genres. "Another Part of Time" and "Sanctuary" used a German chorale that had been set to music numerous times by Bach. The melody in "So Long As the Waters Flow," as Krause wrote in his back sleeve notes, "was also performed by the Weavers as a fuguing tune during their last year together in 1963," when Bernie had briefly been a member of that immensely popular and influential folk group. Blues organ and guitar provided backdrop for "Walking Green Algae Blues," which Bernie says "was reportedly used as the anthem for Daniel Cohen-Bendit's Green Party for a long period of time in the '70s, much to Paul's conservative embarrassment." Supporting musicians on the album included Hammond organist Dave Grusin; percussionist Milt Holland (heard on tablas, drums, cuicas, tambourines, and congas); Bud Shank, who in the words of the sleeve credits contributed "all kinds of flutes"; and jazz guitarist Howard Roberts. All were selected, Krause affirms, "because both Paul and I loved to be in the company of great players, and those were the ones we knew and felt comfortable with."
One sound on the record that will instantly sound familiar to anyone who's sat through previews at a movie theater in the last few decades is the final chord of "Spaced." As Krause explained in his book Into a Wild Sanctuary: A Life in Music & Natural Sound (Heyday Books, 1998), "Conceptually, the music begins with the chaos of simulated wooden wind chimes mixed with a flute-like obbligato that has the spatial effect of moving around the listener's head as it is performing. Toward the end of this section a single note, G, is introduced and heard from a distance. Gradually, as it is brought closer in perspective to the listener, it splits into eight parts with each note traveling through a long glissando, while, at the same time, getting closer and closer to the listener until it finally resolves into an eight-note D-major chord. That piece was knocked off by radio stations for their identifications, a major automobile company for its commercials, and a well-established Northern California film company that has used a remarkably similar concept as a trailer for their cinema audio system for years. Their film company composer failed to disguise this 'coincidence,' beginning his iteration on the same note and resolving it on precisely the same D-major chord."
Though this wasn't the most flattering testament to its influence, it served as evidence that the record was reaching the ears of quite a few listeners, even if it didn't make the Top 200 Billboard album charts. "According to some reports In a Wild Sanctuary and [the next Beaver and Krause album] Gandharva sold very well, although the WB statements were less than reflective of that reality," observes Krause. "It had great underground appeal."
Summarizes Bernie, "With a lot of support from WB, we were given the latitude to experiment on that album. Because we weren't constrained and the company left us to our own devices, it represented some of our best and most imaginative work and tested the outer limits of audio synthesis, both technically and aesthetically, at the time. We were very proud of that effort and, with the exception of one or two things we might have reconsidered upon reflection, came to actually like ourselves a little bit for what we had created." -- Richie Unterberger
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