Forgotten Futures Records was started a few years ago by Wally De Backer, aka Gotye, and so far has focused on resurrecting previously obscure or lost works by French electronic pioneer Jean-Jacques Perrey who might be most remembered in the US for his 60s records on Vanguard. While Perrey did a lot of later work with Moog and recorded several library records, Forgotten Futures has focused on his work using the Ondioline, a pre-synth, vacuum-based keyboard originally made in the 1940s that was known for its ability to create a larger range of sounds compared to earlier electronic instruments.
Forgotten Futures has spared no expense on this project—they include a booklet with liner notes by Simon Reynolds [author of the essential post-punk book, Rip It Up and Start Again] and previously unseen archival photos, recreations of an old magazine and brochure that were originally in French and translated to English for the first time, as well as a beginner handbook for Ondiolinists. The label’s meticulous attention to the material, the instrument, and composer is extraordinaire and it’s easy to tell that this is a true labor of love and that De Backer and the label have a strong passion for the project.
Perrey was born in 1929 and was enrolled in medical school when he was introduced to the Ondioline while he was listening to the radio. After getting in touch with the inventor George Jenny, Perrey became a sales person and product demonstrator for the instrument and eventually became a full-time electronic musician who started doing recording sessions as well as touring.
His self-released debut record Prélude Au Sommeil was released in 1958 and consisted of two side-long pieces apparently sent to mental health facilities to help induce sleep for insomniacs. Whether that’s true or not is a mystery, but what’s obvious is that Perrey was highly capable at creating rich and beautiful music that predated the “ambient” label and which might come as a surprise to people more familiar with his more playful material.
Perrey eventually made it to New York where he somehow ended up on the Tonight Show with Jack Parr and I’ve Got a Secret in 1966 where he showed the Ondioline’s ability to mimic other instruments. He then performed a track from The In Sound from Way Out record with collaborator and fellow electronic pioneer Gershon Kingsley that probably blew or puzzled minds.
He later met up with Robert Moog and recorded several albums showcasing the Moog synthesizer, and also recorded several library records [some with his daughter released under the alias Pat Prilly] that were intended for use in movies, television, or commercials. He then returned to Europe and continued working until his death in 2016.
The Jean-Jacques Perrey et son Ondioline record [also available on Bandcamp] is compilation of rare and previously unreleased material and is split between commercial music and instrument demonstrations. For the first half, the music shows the range and complexity of Perrey’s compositions that run from joyful [“Barnyard in Orbit”] to traditional French pop [“L’âme des Poètes”] to short downhearted pieces [“Dandelion Wine”] to the beautifully melodic [“La Vache et le Prisonnier.”]
“Visa to the Stars” is a different version than the one on The In Sound from Way Out and sounds like an homage to the Tornados/Joe Meek classic “Telstar.” “Chicken on the Rocks” shows how the Ondioline could sound as funky as the clavinet—an instrument that the Ondioline predates by around twenty years. There are also some space-age pieces, movie themes, and other styles that display the instrument’s range as well as the dedication Perrey had towards it. Also making appearances are familiar names like Dick Hymen, TV and film composer Billy Goldenberg, and David Lynch-score composer Angelo Badalamenti.
The second half of the release is comprised of examples of the instrument convincingly mimicking other instruments that range from horns to stringed instruments to percussion as well as some of the different things it can do tonally. Originally these records came from one-of-a-kind acetates and you can easily hear the joy Perrey got from the instrument.
The accompanying booklet’s liner notes by Simon Reynolds are fascinating, extremely well-researched, easy to read, and give the reader a clear understanding of Perrey’s background, musical ideas, and his love of the instrument. Reynolds also puts Perrey’s music in context with other early electronic composers such as the musique concrète or tape-editing pioneers. The record’s booklet also gives a song-by-song description with a historical breakdown and contains many rare or previously unseen photos from the Perrey archives.
The Ondioline 7” is a one-side disc on white vinyl with an etched B-side and comes with an eight-page booklet based on the brochure. Its further instrument and timbre demonstrations, originally recorded from the late 1950s, now have English narration and descriptions courtesy of actor Theodore Bouloukos. Once again, it’s astounding to hear all of the instrument’s capabilities and how all of it was designed by one person starting in the late 1930s.
Forgotten Futures also included incredible reproductions of a 1949 handbook and 1957 magazine translated in English for the first time. Georges Jenny’s, The Beginner’s Handbook for Ondiolinists, gives an in-depth description of the instrument, instructions on how to power and tune it, instrument instructions and player tips, as well as a list of timbres.
The magazine recreation goes into even further detail about the instrument’s design, construction, schematics, and other technical aspects. It was probably more intended for the more mechanically-inclined individual versus the more casual player but as a historical document of an obscure instrument, it’s engrossing and a reminder how advanced yesterday’s technology was and how something first created in 1939 can still sound modern or even futuristic.
Overall, this is an incredible release and the amount of time, love, and resources poured into it is commendable. This sets a high standard for archival releases—far more than just reissuing or repackaging old music. It’s a release that gives the listener a complete view or understanding of an artist and can successfully cause one to re-think their perceptions of the music or musician. The amount of dedication De Backer and everyone else involved in this project matches the amount of dedication Perrey had towards his instrument, which is an incredibly rare achievement. [Ed. The Ondioline website is equally beautiful and impressive.]