The Robots: Oscar on Accordion, Ernest on Sax, and Anatole on Drums (image via 4peepsake)
Seen above is The Robots first lp record album cover released in the late 1960s. They were the first animatronic musical group that actually play real instruments.
An ex-POW in Germany during WWII, [Edouard] Diomgar was an engineer willing to raise money for his ex-POWs relief foundation (whose logo can be seen on the bass drum). During the 1950s and 1960s, he exhibited his robots trio at fun fairs, open air markets or train stations in France…Automatically synchronized, the bots’ movements are impulsed by photoelectric cells reading punch cards, sending information to arms and fingers via electromagnetic action. Most importantly, the robots actually produce music from their instruments, contrary to playback systems in US animatronic. Only the sound of the saxophone is replaced by what sounds like a mechanical Ondioline. Their repertoire includes everything from French musette accordion and popular songs, twist and rock’n’roll numbers from the 1960s, US musicals (#1, Leonard Bernstein) or jazz (#6, Sidney Bechet).
Les Robots-Music were exhibited during an all-robot show in Berlin’s Museum für Kommunikation in 2007. Check out their lively rendition of La Bamba below…
To read a bit more about the history of animatronic robot orchestras click here to get the scoop from Continuo.
When Art Clokey was a boy he would spend his summers on his grandfather’s farm in Michigan. He had a good pal who lived on a neighboring farm and, as boys liked to do in those days, Clokey and his pal often played with toy soldiers. Sometimes, when the battles were particularly fierce, they would need more troops. Clokey would raise them up by fashioning them out of a mixture of soil and water known as ‘gumbo’ – clay.
Some years later Art Clokey would create a children’s television icon – a kind of strange little character made of clay named Gumby.
Gumby – he’s known to skate on one foot rather than walk.
Before Art Clokey created Gumby he was an early claymation pioneer. It was his 1953 experimental claymation short, Gumbasia, that excited 20th Century Fox producer Sam Engel into giving Clokey his big break. ‘Art, that is the most exciting film I have ever seen in my life,’ Engel said. Engel envisioned a children’s television show using the idea of little claymation figures in various storylines. Giving free reign to Clokey he financed the Gumby pilot, introduced it to Tom Sarnoff at NBC Hollywood, and the rest is history.
Art Clokey’s Gumbasia was a fascinating project. Inspired by his mentor in film making, Slavko Vorkapich, Clokey wanted to work with the idea of ‘kinesthetic film principles’ which enabled him to show film forces through moving objects.
The movements exert a force on your nervous system. They pinch on your nervous system through your eye cells. When you organize the images in the movement from cut to cut, it stimulates the autonomic nervous system. It gives you added excitement and it can start a feeling of movement.
Combining the kinesthetic film principles with Vorkapich’s philosophy of film as poetry and music, Clokey created a short film unique for its time. Music wasn’t used just as a cover – it was an intrinsic part of the experience. The transformation of the objects along with their movements blend with the lyric and the pulse of the jazz. It’s a visual sound experience. It’s also the concept for what would become music video. Gumbasia might properly be considered a prototype for music videos into the future.
Just a musical interlude to let the fine readers of Atomic Flash Deluxe know that it’s still in operation. So much to explore and various projects to work on, but this lovely corner of the web is still very much in line for some new posts. Thanks for your patience.
The dreamy video above features the Francy Boland Orchestra playing an ethereal lounge version of Claudia.
Unique footage you’ve probably never seen – in the midst of the fight against the corrupting influence of the West. The Lev Golovanov Moiseyev Dance Co/Ballet jivin’ to the Moses Ensemble. (Video via Olga BSP)
Soloists Tamara Golovanova and Lev Golovanov of the famed Moiseyev Dance Company in ‘Roch ‘n Roll,’ which created a sensation at Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow, 1962. (Photo via Selina Moore)
Lev Golovanov would go on to become a Professor of Dance and a Choreographer Assistant at the Igor Moiseyev State Academic Ensemble of Folk Dance. He received a Russian government culture prize from Russia’s prime minister Dmitry Medvedev in 2014.
The Shaggs – Philosophy Of The World LP Cover (Reissue 1980) (via Bradley Loos)
The Shaggs / Philosophy Of The World
LABEL: Rounder / Red Rooster
DATE: originally released 1969, this is a 1980 reissue
Not sure if this was tongue-in-cheek, but Zappa rated The Shaggs the #3 best band in history in a Norwegian newspaper (April 1988). It’s said that Kurt Cobain liked them as well. While the girls never had the interest in making a band, they did so at the insistence of their demanding father – their father had been told in a palm reading by his mother that his daughters would form a popular musical group. When dads felt the time was right, he took the girls out of school, gave them instruments, and this happened.
Music critic and musician, Cub Coda, wrote this about The Shaggs first album release, Philosophy Of The World:
The guilelessness that permeates these performances is simply amazing, making a virtue out of artlessness. There’s an innocence to these songs and their performances that’s both charming and unsettling. Hacked-at drumbeats, whacked-around chords, songs that seem to have little or no meter to them (“My Pal Foot Foot,” “Who Are Parents,” “That Little Sports Car,” “I’m So Happy When You’re Near” are must-hears) being played on out-of-tune, pawn-shop-quality guitars all converge, creating dissonance and beauty, chaos and tranquility, causing any listener coming to this music to rearrange any pre-existing notions about the relationships between talent, originality, and ability. There is no album you might own that sounds remotely like this one. – ALLMUSIC
Reportedly, during the recording sessions the band would occasionally stop playing, claiming one of them had made a mistake and that they needed to start over, leaving the sound engineers to wonder how the girls could tell when a mistake had been made. – wikipedia
Since 1980 there has been spurts of rediscovery for The Shaggs – a reissue of their first album on vinyl, a reissue on CD, reviews from The Wall Street Journal, The Rolling Stone, and The New Yorker, a Shaggs tribute album, a stage musical, and a BBC4 Radio documentary.
Like ‘em or hate ‘em, they sure make for some lively conversation around the interwebs. So, prepare yourself, this is The Shaggs performing their positive parent message Who Are Parents?:
Janet Greene Sings: Fascist Threat and Commie Lies – 1966 Single Cover, Chantico Records
Lately this song has been making the rounds – for some it’s seen as a cheeky throwback tune, for others it’s a once-again relevant social/political statement. It’s a 1966 number called Fascist Threat by singer, Janet Greene. Station Manager Ken of WFMU’s Beware of the Blog gives the lowdown on its history:
In the early to mid-Sixties, the anti-communist movement was trembling before the power and popularity of singers like Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. Searching for a solution to this problem, Dr. Fred Schwarz recruited one Janet Greene (a Joan Baez fan herself) to be the “Musical Director” of his organization, The Christian Anti-Communism Crusade (CACC). As his Musical Director (or “Anti-Baez,” as he referred to her), Greene converted Schwarz’s red-baiting tirades into pithy right-wing folk songs. From 1964 to 1966, Schwarz released eight songs by Greene on the CACC’s Chantico label, and then in 1966, he reissued all eight songs as part of his 4-LP set, Nature of Communism Series.
By 1967, Greene had grown disenchanted with Schwarz and quit the CACC. While there were a few other attempts at right-wing folk music during this period, most notably The Goldwaters, Greene was the darling of the anti-communist right during a period when leftist folksongs dominated the popular imagination.
Janet Greene’s “Fascist Threat” from the Omni Recording Corporation’s  compilation of conservative folk music: “Freedom is a Hammer: Conservative Folk Revolutionaries of the Sixties.”
CONELRAD has a blog post featuring ‘a brief assessment of Ms. Greene’s ten original recordings’ as well as a play list with all the tracks here. CONELRAD also has an interesting Greene biography that tells of her life from poverty, to opera, to playing CInderella on television, to becoming the ‘Anti-Baez’, to her long career as a cocktail lounge entertainer, here. So, without further ado, Janet Greene’s Fascist Threat.
‘This is a Mills Panoram. This fantastic machine was first produced in 1939 by the Mills Novelty Company of Chicago, Illinois. The fabulous wood cabinetry houses a 16mm projector that plays special continuous loop films (Soundies) that typically show jazz and other musicians of the day.’ – via jayandwanda.com
Picture yourself in your favorite tavern. You’ve had a couple cocktails. You drift over to the Panoram, drop in a dime. The 24″ screen comes alive with action. You’re taken to a world of sound and vision.
Happy Feet – Edited as a soundie, 1941
From the 1930 film, ‘King of Jazz’
Bing Crosby and The Rhythm Boys (Harry Barris and Al Rinker)
One of the few color soundies.
Panoram was all about the music. In 1941, Soundies attempted to introduce the comedy sketch but the viewers weren’t convinced – they wanted their machine music. From 1940 to 1947 the Panoram could be found anywhere people congregated – soda shops, taverns, restaurants, bus and train stations, etc. WWII slowed the production of soundies – but some 1800 had been produced in a six year period. The popularity of television would lead to the Panoram’s ultimate demise.
Fast forward to France, 1960. Enter the Scopitone. With similar technology as the Panoram – but this time equipped with a magnetic soundtrack – the 16mm music film jukebox begins a comeback.
Le Scopitone – French promo brochure
The popularity of the Scopitone spread across Europe, the UK, and the States. The content, known as scopitones, combined creative visual expression with modern and pop music in particular. It’s in this way that they have come to be known as the forbears of the music video phenomena that emerged via MTV in 1981. The Scopitone faded from the scene by the end of the sixties. Fortunately, many of the gems have been preserved and can still be appreciated today.
Robot performed by The Tornados, c. 1964
Produced by Joe Meek
The Cinebox was another visual music jukebox that appeared in ’59 – ’60. This one was produced by an Italian company, Ottico Meccanica Italiana.
Cinebox promoted on a cigarette pack.
Cinebox didn’t catch on like scopitones – the works are fewer and more difficult to find. Below is a Cinebox film from the highly unusual, Screaming Lord Sutch. It was produced in 1963 and its influences to future visual music recordings are significant.
SCREAMING LORD SUTCH – Jack The Ripper (Cinebox film, 1963)
For the people of the time, visual jukeboxes presented a novel and interesting way to experience music and other entertainments. Musicians who would never be known on a large scale found a medium that afforded them the opportunity to reach out to more people. As it turns out, that reach has spread across the decades.
For an extensive list of Soundie films, visit the Romano-Archives here. For all things Scopitone and Cinebox, visit the Scopitone Archive here.