Electronic Pioneers: Louis & Bebe Barron “Forbidden Planet”

Forbidden Planet

In 1956, MGM released the science fiction film, Forbidden Planet. The picture stars Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Leslie Neilson and the brilliant Robby The Robot. How exciting it must have been to experience this film in the theater in 1956! Technically speaking, the film is remarkable, featuring sophisticated visual effects and a visionary musical score.

For Forbidden Planet, married NY duo Louis & Bebe Barron produced one of the very first wholly electronic movie scores. The music was created using custom electronic circuits built by the Barrons, circuitry that they claim was influenced by cybernetics.

Louis and Bebe Barron:

“In Scoring Forbidden Planet – as in all our work – we created individual cybernetic circuits for particular themes and leit motifs, rather than using standard sound generators. Actually, each circuit has a characteristic activity pattern as well as a ‘voice.’ “

These “cybernetic circuits” were used to build multi-musical sound layers, as well as most of the film’s “inorganic” sound effects. This is a wonderful achievement: the basic connection created between the sound effects and the sound music. The SFX and the musical score are interwoven to create a neat, all-electronic union between diegetic and non-diegetic sound.

Tape echo and reverberation seem to be used widely as a sound processor within this production, helping to further a “space-like” or “far-out” atmosphere. All-together, this pioneer production is a fine example of pre-synthesizer electronic music making!

This score might not be the easiest to listen to on its own. I would recommend viewing the movie first, paying special attention to how the electronic music influences the film, and vice-versa. Later, listen to the soundtrack alone, preferably with headphones (there are some excellent uses of stereophonic sound within). I can assure you you won’t be disappointed, or un-moved. This soundtrack is a must have for those interested in early electronic music and electronic music history. A memorable release!

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“Battle With The Invisible Monster”

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  • Awesome!
    Greetings from Brazil.

  • I saw Forbidden Planet in 1956 when I was six years old, it blew my mind and made me a lifelong fan of Leslie Neilson.

    His passing at age 84 on 28 November 2010, reminds one of the warmth he injected into his role in FP, which indeed characterized all of his on screen performances.

  • Len Liechti

    I second the above comments re Leslie Nielsen, whose best known works are of course the Airplane and Naked Gun series. A unique talent, and I was surprised to find him in the much earlier Forbidden Planet, which is possibly the best sci-fi movie ever made, apart from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The FP soundtrack is an essential part of the movie and was years ahead of its time technically. These sound effects would certainly have influenced such electronic music pioneers as the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Silver Apples and Bob Moog, not to mention the splendid Lost In Space TV series.

  • david barber

    1-off-totally unique a stand alone. Saw the film a a boy. Who thought of the
    Barrons at the MGM factory I don’t know. Obviously the whole enterprise had
    some freedom. Kubrick like without Kubrick. A masterpiece.

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