Reading #5 – Forbidden Planet

The article Strange Voices: Subjectivity and Gender in Forbidden Planet’s Soundscape of Tomorrow, written by Stephen Prock and published in Journal of the Society for American Music, (Prock, Bick (ed) & Katz (ed) 2014) makes a few points that I found interesting:

  • That, originating from a kind of ‘semiotic limbo’ by using a kind of music that lacked the traditional heritage of orchestral film scoring, Louis and Bebe Barron’s electronic score reflected a certain ideological ambivalence in musical modernist thought at the time.  There was a will among leading thinkers in the movement towards pure sonic autonomy; however there were tensions in such a music existing in a society based on commerce.  So these electronic sounds were a fresh start in film scoring, losing certain historical baggage, but also brought these new sound-worlds into a more functional role than previously they had been used.
  • That the film is ‘obsessed with the body’ and that bodies male and newly vulnerable, female and sexualised, mechanical, alien, detached from consciousness and invisible, pervade it.  It is argued that the Barrons’ sounds ‘tie their sonic representations more clearly and insistently to bodily representation, determining who or what is capable of being musically represented’.  I was interested in the idea of electronic music signifying disembodiment and unseen beings.
  • That the Barron’s themselves, Louis in particular, seemed to compare their sound-emitting circuits to sentient beings: “When our circuits reached the end of their existence (an overload point), they would climax in an orgasm of power and die. In the film, many of the sounds seem like the last paroxysm of a living creature.” (Louis Barron).   The author then compared their process in time of the circuits to the narrative arc of the film itself.
  • That sound itself seems to consume men at one point in the film – there is a moment of invisible energy represented by high-energy sound, during which the men’s bodies are simultaneously consumed.  The author speaks of the possibility of male rape in the subtext of the film.
  • Voice is explored a little.  Contemporary critics seemed to express their (strong) reactions to the sound-world of the score in terms of human affective or animal vocalisations.
  • That the only character with any kind of lyrical character music is the woman, Alta.  Her own ‘quasi-leitmotif‘ becomes the love music and concludes the film.  The suggestion here is that her personality is subsumed by the eventual entering into a traditional heterosexual union.

PROCK, S., BICK, S., KATZ, M. (2014) Strange Voices: Subjectivity and Gender in Forbidden Planet’s Soundscape of Tomorrow. Journal of the Society for American Music; Cambridge 8, 371–400. doi:

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