Freewheeling through time and space, Kris Needs continues his further adventures in audio. This month: Silver Apples
Reporting from my rigidly enforced social bubble, the Silver Apples book I’m currently writing is coming along nicely and proving to be an inspiring way to spend lockdown.
Delving deep into the evolution of Simeon Coxe from underground rocker into key, but undersung, innovator in US electronic music history traverses a much-told story. One that involves introducing a World War II oscillator (provided by his friend, the composer Harold Clayton) into a Greenwich Village covers band, driving away the guitarists until it was just him and drummer Danny Taylor left.
Clayton also had a Wilhelm Reich-inspired Orgone energy accumulator big enough to sit inside. “Reich theorised there was a life energy in the universe he could tap into with his Orgone energy accumulator, like a big battery,” recalls Simeon. “They claimed miraculous results, so I tried it. After sitting in the thing for several hours I gave up, having felt nothing. Not wanting to offend, I said I felt much better.”
What strikes you most is Simeon’s feverish punk-style forging into the DIY unknown, creating a sound that hadn’t been heard before in 1968. Simeon obsessed over harnessing the alien noises billowing from the oscillator that became the beating heart of a sound so extra-terrestrially unique, nothing has come close since. It started with him playing along with it to rock tracks. “That same ‘Grandfather Oscillator’ became the building block of what some called The Simeon, but I called The Thing, after a really bad 1950s sci-fi black-and-white film called ‘The Thing From Another World’,” he explained. “Even us teenagers thought was gawd-awful, so it seemed apt to name my ornery collection of oscillators after it.”
When Simeon was launching Silver Apples with Danny, he learned basic electronics, soldered in more old oscillators that he operated with both hands and feet through 86 telegraph keys. Silver Apples presaged Suicide getting abuse from befuddled audiences (after debuting before thousands at a show in Central Park). Driving their affronted producer out of the studio, they helmed their first album themselves.
Fearlessly audacious, Silver Apples were as electronically groundbreaking as The United States Of America or rock-rewiring Velvet Underground. They embodied the charged exploratory spirit coursing through the era (and New York itself) in Simeon’s crackling, tangled circuits, enhanced by Danny’s super-sensitive drum tattoos.