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100 Years of Les Baxter: Sample Exotica & Space-Age Sounds
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100 Years of Les Baxter: Sample Exotica & Space-Age Sounds

"Any good music must be an innovation," composer and musician Les Baxter once said. He pioneered the easy-listening genre of exotica, crafted space-inspired compositions with the theremin in 1947, and made 'Moog Rock' and over 150 soundtracks that would later be sampled by the likes of MF DOOM, Beastie Boys, Ghostface Killah, and Eminem.

By DannyVeekens
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Now looking back, Les Baxter’s career even started with an innovation in 1947: his record Music Out of the Moon: Music Unusual Featuring the Theremin on Capitol Records was the world’s very first vinyl record with a sleeve printed in full color. On top of that, Baxter continued the “space school” in exotica he started with that release on albums including Space Escapade.

Les Baxter's 'Space Escapade' LP (1958)
Les Baxter's 'Space Escapade' LP (1958)

"[Les Baxter] was constantly looking for new things to try within his own musicality."

Les Baxter’s groundbreaking record Ritual of the Savage is often cited as one of the most influential exotica albums of all time. The 1951 album boasts the sounds of the jungle through the use of Belgian Congo noises, symphonic strings, brass, and kazoos. The track “Quiet Village” on the album is deemed an exotica anthem, described by Les Baxter himself as a "tone poem of the sound and the struggle of the jungle." His album Que Mango! From 1970 was his last exotica record, made together with 101 Strings, a massive orchestra composed of 128 to 141 players, depending on the arrangements.

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Next to his pioneering work in exotica, his decades-spanning work scoring movies was far more anonymous. Les Baxter composed music for a wide range of films to pay the bills, including low-budget flicks and Hollywood knock-offs. Still, he never lost track of the musical innovation he was after. “His spark was never completely dulled, despite that the films he worked on were generally mediocre at best,” author Skip Heller writes in a biography of Les Baxter. “The 1972 shocker 'Frogs' featured the first all-electronic Baxter score. He was constantly looking for new things to try within his own musicality.”

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