Gershon Kingsley is most famous for working with Frenchmen Jean Jacques Perrey as they collaborated together on The Out Sound from Way In! That album was created almost entirely out of edited and manipulated prerecorded tape in the form of electronic pop music and was one of the first of its kind. It later inspired everyone from Stereolab to the Beastie Boys. After working together, they each went their separate ways, yet worked on similar works. Kingsley continued to experiment with electronic instruments and music, recording two Moog albums for Audio Fidelity in the late 1960s/early 1970s and have now been reissued by Dagored. Music To Moog By (which will be reviewed next week) continued in a similar pop music vein originally created by Perrey-Kingsley on the The Out Sound from Way In! The First Moog Quartet, however, was a commissioned work in which Kingsley attempted to lead a live Moog quartet at Carnegie Hall in early 1970. No one had used Moogs live in such a way, and the results found here are often startling and innovative, sometimes silly, often failed, but always interesting.
The First Moog Quartet is like a cross between the BBC Radiophonic Workshop recordings of Delia Derbyshire and co. mixed with the musicals popular in the day, such as Hair or Jesus Christ Superstar. It also reminds me of Sun Ra's chaotic experiment of the 1960s and 1970s. It's worth noting that Ronee Blakely sings soprano on this album; she would go onto greater fame in the mid 1970s starring in Robert Altman's Nashville.
The end results sounds best when the works seem the most abstract, like in the first 2 tracks which start the album. In The Beginning is an electronic soundscape very much like work by electronic pioneers such as Pierre Henry, Sun Ra or Delia Derbyshire. Miracles is an avante-garde collection of poems written by children between the ages of 9 and 11 from across the globe (from Uganda to Australia to the United States) and combined with the Kingsley moog electronics makes for an amazing, intriguing listen. Have It - Or Grab It - Or Go is a post 1960s groovefest with squealing electronics bounced off of angelic voicings and angst ridden male vocals. Images is a far-out Hair inspired musical number which works best when the electronics balance out the vocal bits.
Covers of Simon & Garfunkel's Sounds of Silence and The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby don't work so well here as they might work in the pop song structures used in the earlier recordings by Gershon. Also, things get a little dated sounded on originals like Did You Ever Take a Journey and the finale Rebirth. I think if these flaws had been ironed out, perhaps Gershon's The First Moog Quartet would be considered a masterpiece. As it stands, The First Moog Quartet is a fascinating experiment of early electronic music.