Photo: Adam Barron
Bebe Barron, the last of the great pioneers of early electronic music, died on April 20, 2008, at the age of 82. She and her first husband, Louis Barron, formed the composing team that did the first electronic-music score for a commercial film, Forbidden Planet, released in 1956.
Married in 1947, the Barrons began composing with a tape recorder they received as a wedding gift. In 1949, in New York, they set up one of the first private electronic-music studios, which became the center for John Cage's creation of Williams Mix, his first chance piece.
They designed their own circuits, which they viewed as cybernetic organisms, having been influenced by Norbert Weiner's work on cybernetics. The circuits, built with vacuum tubes, would exhibit characteristic qualities of pitch, timbre, and rhythm and had a sort of life cycle from their beginnings until they burned out. Unlike other electronic works of the time, the couple's music reveals long phrases, often stated in tape-delayed rhythms. They created a style that was uniquely their own yet married to the technology they were using.
The Barrons composed a variety of works for tape, film, and theater but are largely remembered today for the Forbidden Planet score, which has been available for decades as a soundtrack album. The score broke down the traditional line between music and sound effects because the Barrons' electronic material was used for both. This not only created a new type of unity in the film-sound world, but also foreshadowed by decades the now-common role of the sound designer in modern film and video.