Mid-Century Modern Music on Air

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Eames House

Monsanto House of the Future

David Garland, host and producer of the WNYC radio music show Spinning On Air, has produced a show that will be of particular interest to designers. He calls it part one of “a sort of quest to find the musical equivalent of mid-century modern design.” It airs this Sunday, April 17, at 8 pm on WNYC FM 93.9 yet is currently online for all to hear. I recently asked him to talk about this special show and the intersection of design and sound:

What prompted this show on mid-Century Modern music?

Several things prompted the show: I love the mid-century design aesthetic; the philosophies behind it; the encompassing, integrated way designers like Alvin Lustig and the Eamses tried to view the world; and the magical

intensity of some of those “vital” forms. Also I recently moved into a Techbuilt house from the era, and am savoring the experience of that environment. For a different radio project, I’ve been reading up on the interaction of the “New York School” painters and composers of the mid 20th Century, and that made me curious to see if I could make a good case for the music I feel best reflects mid-century modern design. Plus I love the adventurous music of that era.

Since there is a sound track for most eras. How do you define this postwar- through late sixties period?

The music of the postwar era was very varied. The era’s usually characterized by examples such as Elvis, doo-wop, Patti Page, and Lawrence Welk. But there were also John Cage and others radically deconstructing music; Cool and

“Third Stream” jazz; and the eccentric lounge music of Les Baxter and others. So I DON’T define the era–an easy definition would have to ignore the complexity!

Why was music so integral to the mid-Modern aesthetic?

The modern-ness of modern music in the mid 20th Century was pretty obvious. Things were getting radical in terms of parting from tradition, and new music could certainly provide a conducive soundtrack for new thoughts and perceptions.

Here’s the playlist for my Mid-Century Modern Music radio show:

John Cage – In a Landscape (1948); Stephen Drury, piano – In a Landscape: Piano Music of John Cage

George Russell – Knights Of The Steamtable (1956) – The Complete Bluebird Recordings

Jim Hall – Piece For Guitar And Strings – John Lewis Presents Jazz Abstractions (1961)

Jimmy Giuffre – The Sheepherder – The Jimmy Giuffre Clarinet (1956)

Miles Davis & Gil Evans – Blues For Pablo – Miles Ahead (1957)

Miles Davis – Max is Making Wax – performed on WNYC, February 18, 1950

Elmer Bernstein – House: after five years of living (1955) – Music for the Films of Charles & Ray Eames

Monsanto Plastic’s Home of the Future – Disneyland

Jim Henson and Raymond Scott – Limbo: The Organized Mind (1966) – Manhattan Research Inc.

Stan Kenton/Robert Graettinger – Modern Opus (1952) – City of Glass