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The Beaver and the Ex-Weaver

Beaver and Krause give the Moog treatment to Nez Pearce Indians, ecology and gospel

Robert Moog and Moog synthesizer

American inventor Robert Moog smiling as he rests his arms atop his pioneering Moog synthesizer, with a keyboard and electronic circuits, circa 1970.

Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty

You do not remember Beaver & Krause for particular songs. But that drawn-out gunshot in the “Turner’s Murder” segment of Performance, and the cut, “Harry Flowers,” on the soundtrack — those were Beaver & Krause. That swelling in Garfunkel’s voice when he sings “Save the Life of My Child” — that was synthesized by Beaver & Krause. The “Space Odyssey” segment on The Notorious Byrd Brothers: Beaver & Krause. Neil Young’s “Old Laughing Lady.” The Beach Boys’ Sunflower. The Doors, on “Strange Days.” That splash of chimes that used to signal “20/20 News” on your local AM. Little sound effects in Catch 22 and Grand Prix, and film-scoring on The Anderson Tapes, Hellstrom Chronicle, Drive, He Said, and 60 or 70 others. Numerous, numerous sound-affected lacings for radio and television spots, for everything from the Bank of America to Sunkist prunes.

Also, several albums bearing their names, most notably In a Wild Sanctuary, a whooshy paean to what’s left of our ecological wonders, and Gandharva, a sun-kissed blend of Moog, Bloomfield, gospel, and Gerry Mulligan, Howard Roberts and Bud Shank, bouncing off the high walls of Grace Cathedral, the cavernous gothic church on Nob Hill in San Francisco. And, flashback: one of the first astrology albums — Zodiac Cosmic Sounds, on Elektra — and The Nonesuch Guide to Electronic Music. In short, a mountain out of a Moog.

And if you knew what their next album’s going to be — it’ll be earthier music, off the church walls and down to the ground, to the Nez Perce Indian reservation in Idaho, where an old woman’s rap about religion serves as the pivot for the music — you might think Beaver & Krause weren’t as much a mountain of eclectic sounds as a lump of faddy tissue; astrology, electronic music, ecology, a church jam, and now, the Indians.

There’s a lot of oh-no-no-no anxiety in Bernie Krause’s voice as he speaks from his nondescript office (there being nothing to describe about its Early Dentist’s Office decor) in Fisherman’s Wharf.

“It’s not what’s being done,” he says, “but how it’s being done. It’s important to be said.” Right, but by a white, Jewish mooger? “I’m not religious in any way — I just don’t know how to explain it — it’s more a pantheist earth-consciousness.”

And, true enough, Krause has worked with the Nez Perce Indians on and off for five years, and he spent last October there to record the Indians playing their flutes in the woods, and Chief Joseph describing the oldest Indian religions, and the 70-year-old woman. “She talks about the old religion, before the missionaries came, about when the land was clean. The spirit we extracted out of her talks—she had such a sense of love and of sadness at the way things are changing.”

Which ties back in to Wild Sanctuary. Only it wasn’t an old Indian who inspired the concept. “We were talking to Van Dyke Parks at Warners about ecology, and we thought it was important to do something not screaming.” Instead, Beaver and Krause managed an album of sort of white-noiseless, synthesized soul, the more exotic percussion instruments balanced out by sounds of city buses, animals at the city zoo, and the sea beyond the city. The soul came from the songs themselves, sitaric/organic jazz, a J.S. Bach riff, a fugue once the basis of a Weavers song.

But just as Paul Beaver, a 46-year-old veteran sound-effects man and former jazz organist in Hollywood, is no dabbler with either keys or electronics, Bernie Krause is no musical dilettante. This 33-year-old white, Jewish mooger is steeped in serious music.

As a kid in Detroit, he studied violin and composition and sat around at small clubs like the Rooster Tail, and listened to the jazz vocal troupe, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, and to the likes of Yusef Lateef, Johnny Smith, and Barney Kessel. He took up jazz guitar and played in high school rock bands, and he idolized Joe Messina, who played an old Epiphone guitar on the local Soupy Sales TV show. Messina most recently worked on Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On. At the University of Michigan, Krause went acoustic; in ’56, the college music scene was the Weavers, Josh White, Pete and Peggy Seeger, Odetta, and Ewan McColl.

Krause graduated in ’60, floated over to MIT in Boston, and graduated again, into the music business, working for booking agent Manny Greenhill. “Manny was booking the Weavers, and I sang in night clubs imitating them.” Krause ended up with the Weavers — “I had the Seeger chair” — for a year, beginning in 1963, following Erik Darling and Frank Hamilton.

Krause ended up at the Mills College Tape Center, which was becoming, in the mid-Sixties, a gathering place for sound artists, children of Varese, from the University of Illinois and UC San Diego. Before the Moog, the ARP, the Buchla, and the Putney, it was music electronically processed through filters, tape-impulse distortions creating the nonesuch music.

In Los Angeles, Paul Beaver had long been employing tape-delay units and banks of extravagant audio equipment on his sound-effects work for films. He worked with Mort Garson and played Moog on the Zodiac album Garson had composed. Shortly before, Beaver and Garson had been to the Mills Tape Center, where Krause showed them a new synthesizer developed by Don Buchla. In April, 1967, Beaver and Krause became a professional team.

They quickly became the authorities on the Moog, eventually acquiring two of the $12,500 full-sized synthesizers and a pair of mini-Moogs, and put out the Nonesuch Guide; in an unfortunate episode in late ’68, Krause taught George Harrison how to Moog, and the teaching tapes, Krause said, wound up as one side of Harrison’s first and only electronic album. “I said I hoped there’d be royalties or some sort of publishing, and he said ‘No, I’ll send you a couple of quid.’ ” They argued there in George’s house in London, stoned and hungry (“He was into ecology and not eating meat”), and George, according to Bernie, ended it with a flat: “I’m a Beatle and I’m right; you don’t have the humility that Ravi Shankar has.”

Another musique concrete artist who worked with Beaver & Krause was George Martin, who contributed liner notes to their first music LP, Ragnarok. “In this album,” he wrote, “they have succeeded in displaying their virtuosity with skill, sensitivity and humor.”

“It was a garbage dump,” said Krause of the album. “We had a lot of stuff we had to get rid of — we had folk tunes in our head, old things on tapes.” It was all Moog with bits of guitar and a coarse Krause vocal here and there. Today, it’s Moog here and there and more actual musical instruments. “We were just so awe-struck by the Moog,” Krause said, “We thought it was the panacea, that it’d get rock out of its bag. It’s a very imposing instrument to have, to be able to do all the sounds of all instruments in a symphony orchestra on eight tracks. Now, to us, it’s just another instrument, although we’re somewhat falsely considered in the area of electronic music.”

Not so falsely, actually, since Beaver & Krause began to coast through Hollywood rock recording sessions with their mini-Moogs doing as many as 20 dates a week. “Jack Nitzsche was hired to play the harpsichord in just about every session in California from ’64 to ’67,” said Krause. “Well, using the Moog became the thing to do.” Now, as more artists are playing their own synthesizers, business has dropped (although Beaver & Krause just finished some work with Van Morrison for possible use in his next album).

“Electronic music,” whatever Beaver & Krause’s role, “is gonna become a standard instrument in groups and recording,” said Krause. “It is now, with electric organ, fuzz tones, wah-wah pedals, distortion and such. It’s happening now.”

As for the team, there is their Parasound Inc., which continues in the commercials and jingles business to pay for their more expensive habits, such as the Grace Cathedral, which required rental of equipment costing $10,000 for two nights even before the studio recording and mixing began. There is the back-to-tunes, back-to-rhythm next album, which they’ll call Gold Record, despite depressingly consistent sales figures of no more than 30,000 for any previous effort. And Beaver & Krause hope to hook up with video artists, but not on a soundtrack/film-scoring basis. Beaver & Krause music was part of a flowing half-hour electronic collage on videotape, The Stars Are So Big, The Earth Is So Small, by the San Francisco Sunshine Company, an innovative little TV production firm. “I want to get into a visual trip as an art rather than a story line as art,” said Krause, “and do in music what (producer) Tom Gericke is doing on videotape.”

And Beaver & Krause may yet return to Grace Cathedral for their first live performance. They never have before simply because the Moog, without studio overdubbing, is a puny, monophonic one-sound-processor machine, its sound unpredictable, depending on power sources. But with a band, and maybe a gospel choir, and perhaps Ry Cooder as a sideman, Beaver & Krause could be comfortable. Right. A white man can synthesize the blues.


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