Les Baxter
Music Out Of The Moon






The technocracy of the Space-Age has often been questioned in hindsight, the gullible belief in utopias, the overall naïveté. But these ephemera still spawn colorful thoughts, flashes of genius and many moments of epicurean escapism. One of these scintillating markers is Music Out Of The Moon, composed by Harry Revel (1905–1958) but severely altered and modified by conductor Les Baxter (1922–1996) who at the time has yet to show that he can take any material and transmute it into an alteration of his own. Released in 1947 on Capitol Records, Music Out Of The Moon is one of the post-war revelations when Les Baxter’s career as a composer is in its infancy stage. He is therefore not allowed to bring in a song of his own, but comes up with fantastic isospins and textural twists that let the material shine in technicolor.


The album’s subtitle Music Unusual Featuring The Theremin meanwhile causes alertness, as it seems to pitch the theremin as the signature instrument that makes or breaks an entire arrangement, either subtly or forcefully if need be. Played by Samuel J. Hoffman, the instrument is indeed utterly noticeable in every one of the six tracks, but it thankfully never becomes the center of attention and rather integrates formidably with the caproic choir, piano perianths and harp halides. Here is a closer look at a conductor who should have peaked too soon, given the class of this material, but who nevertheless went on to invent the Exotica genre only three years later and come up with hundreds of polyfoil arrangements… of which Music Out Of The Moon provides six early ones.


Say what you will about the theremin, but it doesn’t have to emit that alienating otherworldly aura at all costs, especially not when it is tightly integrated into an auroral thiazide of fluid-processed harps, aqueous piano prongs and a silkened mixed choir: Lunar Rhapsody is the object of desire that kicks off Les Baxter’s short EP. With a rhythm-shifting physiognomy and grandiloquent wordless vocals intact, the theremin doesn’t have a chance to creep the listener out. As a result, the opener isn’t all that eerie, but the polarimetry of the – back then nascent – Space-Age genre is nevertheless fully intact. Meanwhile, Moon Moods is the successful attempt to add magnanimously catchy doo-dup-doo chants to the playful fermion-laden space opera. The various punctilio phases of the song make it a swinging piece, the jazzy backdrop is fragile, only illuminated by the occasional cowbell coruscation or verglas vibraphone. The theremin appears in the shape of an oscillating bumblebee, but doesn’t destroy the titration. This song has also been tastefully sampled by Koop and appears on their fittingly titled song The Moonbounce off Koop Islands (2006).


Lunette follows suit and tones the eclecticism down a notch. A lachrymose ballad with pulsatile pianos and love-stoned hums, it is a comparatively earthbound rhizome until the last 20 seconds propose the return of the – gnat-like – theremin amidst a viridian and tremendously catchy piano appendix à la Baxter. In a similar way, Celestial Nocturne is an almost appallingly Baroque ventricle. It is a wonderfully romantic composition at the end of the day, what with its stardust glockenspiels, fluvial harps and dark-magenta contrabass ventiducts, but the wider scope of a galactic notion is unfortunately mostly amiss. On the plus side, Mist O’ The Moon is anything but a fast-paced mercurial tunnel vision with piano salvos, polyphonic – or was that polyhedric? – chants and a greatly uplifting, centrifugal complexion of high-rise chords, tempo shifts and theremin amanitas. This song has it all: great textures, surprising shapeshifting shards and that bachelor pad aura. The EP ends with Radar Blues, another song for lovers only. With its hazy midtempo hi-hats and aureate piano phoresy, the finale shuttles between a bar atmosphere, translucent sanctuary phototropism and moments of a weird theremin-fueled perapsis. All is well in space.


Music Out Of The Moon is a delightful EP that showcases the real power of Les Baxter’s aural visions and prepares the contemporary listener of the things in place and yet to come: the atmosphere of all six compositions is mercilessly rose-tinted, enthralling and joyously exciting. No danger looms, no portentous tone sequence is allowed to enter the amethystine homeostasis. One of Les Baxter’s earliest works fully soaks in the power of technocracy, of vivid imaginations and the vermillion color of the sky which is, as the saying goes, the limit that has to be overcome. Even today, Music Out Of The Moon is a wonderful orthochromatic time capsule into the future as seen in the late 40’s. That this little mica is a sight to behold for the ears can be linked to the multiplex of great textures, melodies awash with chromodynamics and a choir that is less tacky than the year of its release might let today’s listeners think.


The theremin is just another incidental addition, it is never in the limelight, nor does it destroy the carefully set balance. Even though it is marketed as the primary showstopper, Baxter tightly integrates it into the arrangements and even mutes it for several minutes, thereby making it entirely non-gimmicky, a feat that so many panpipes and bongo albums completely missed decades later when their signature instruments carried – and more often than not annihilated – whole compositions. Music Out Of The Moon is the real deal, one of the earliest and most melodious Space-Age examples and therefore available in all physical and digital incarnations.


Exotica Review 451: Les Baxter – Music Out Of The Moon (1947). Originally published on Sep. 19, 2015 at AmbientExotica.com.