LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Jean-Jacques Perrey, the French composer and pioneer of electronic pop music who was best known for co-writing “Baroque Hoedown” used as the music for the Main Street Electrical Parade at Disney theme parks, has died at age 87.
Perrey died in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Friday “from a very quick and violent lung cancer,” his daughter, Patricia Leroy, said.
Electronic music composer Dana Countryman, in a tribute to his frequent collaborator posted on Facebook, noted that Perrey began recording electronic music in 1952, long before the Moog synthesizer was first offered for sale in 1967, calling him “truly the pioneer of popular electronic music.”
“His crazy, happy music has been heard everywhere, from commercials to ‘Sesame Street’ — in hip-hopsongs, in dance remixes and most famously, for decades in the delightful featured music in Disneyland’s ‘Main Street Electrical Parade.’ In recent years, his music has even made appearances on ‘The Simpsons,’ and on Comedy Central’s ‘South Park,'” Countryman wrote.
In the mid-1960s, Perrey teamed with the American composer Gershon Kingsley to record two groundbreaking electronic pop music albums, “The In Sound From the Way Out” and “Kaleidoscopic Vibrations: Electronic Pop Music From Way Out!” The latter included “Baroque Hoedown,” which became known to millions of people worldwide when it was used as the music for the Main Street Electrical Parade at Disneyland and other Disney theme parks.
Perrey was born Jan. 20, 1929, in a small village in the north of France, and as a child began playing an accordion he received as a Christmas present. While attending medical school in Paris, he met the inventor Georges Jenny, who had created the Ondioline, an electronic keyboard that was a forerunner of the synthesizer. It was able to produce new and original sounds as well as sounds from instruments such as the violin and flute.
Perrey quit medical school, taught himself to play the piano by ear, and was hired by Jenny to be a sales representative and demonstrate the Ondioline. He developed a cabaret act using the Ondioline that he called “Around the World in 80 Ways” and performed throughout Europe.
In Paris, Perrey used the Ondioline on recordings with the singer-composer Charles Trenet, including a song, “The Soul of the Poets” (“L’ame Des Poetes”) that became an international hit. He also performed at Paris’ Olympia Theater with chanteuse Edith Piaf, who encouraged him to send a tape to a contact in New York.
Perrey arrived in New York in 1960 and was sponsored by Carroll Bratman, whose company rented out musical instruments. Bratman set up an experimental recording studio equipped with tape recorders, electronic keyboards and various other instruments. Perrey also began appearing regularly with the Ondioline on TV programs, starting with “The Jack Paar Show.” He also composed radio and TV jingles.
In his studio, Perrey began to create a “library” of sounds, creating a style of rhythmic sequences that he described as “humorous and unusual.”
“I invented a new process for generating rhythms utilizing … sounds such as noises of machines, animal cries, insects buzzing, etc. Once the sounds were recorded I would knead them, chop them, run them through filters backward at twice the speed (or half the speed), and in this way they would become practically unidentifiable,” he wrote in an autobiography on his website.
He applied this process when he collaborated with Kingsley on their two LPs for the Vanguard Record Co. On the second, “Kaleidoscopic Vibrations,” Perrey used both the Ondioline and the Moog synthesizer.
Perrey became one of the first Moog synthesizer musicians, recording such albums as “Moog Indigo” and “Moog Sensations” in the early 1970s for Vanguard.
Jenney returned to France in 1970 where he created radio and TV commercials, worked as musical director for a ballet company, recorded movie soundtracks, and composed jingles and cartoon music for French TV. He also conducted research into therapeutic music for insomniacs.
The hip-hop group Beastie Boys honored the Perrey and Kingsley duo on a 1996 instrumental album, which borrowed the title “The In Sound from Way Out!”
After a nearly 20-year hiatus, Perrey resumed his recording career in the late 1990s. He recorded several albums with Countryman, including “The Happy Electropop Music Machine” in 2006.
“If he were here today, there is nothing that Jean-Jacques would like more than to think that his fans were playing his crazy, funny, catchy Moog music right now — and smiling, instead of being sad. His motto and creed in almost every interview that he gave, was ‘Keep smiling, and be happy!’ He was the master of happiness,” Countryman wrote in his Facebook tribute.
Associated Press writer Charles J. Gans in New York contributed to this report.
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