Don Preston: An Electronic Music Pioneer

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Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Don Preston is a true pioneer of electronic music. He was one of the first musicians to experiment with using electronic instruments to create new and innovative sounds. His work has influenced generations of electronic musicians and his legacy continues to inspire new artists today.

Who is Don Preston?

Don Preston is a keyboardist, composer, and conductor who has worked with some of the most respected names in the music industry. He has played with the likes of Frank Zappa, the Mothers of Invention, and Jeff Beck. He was also a member of the Magic Band, which was led by Captain Beefheart.

His musical beginnings

Don Preston began his musical journey at a young age. He started playing the piano when he was just four years old. When he was eight, he started to learn the trumpet. He continued to play both instruments throughout his childhood and into his teenage years.

Preston’s first professional gig came when he was just 17 years old. He played in a band called The Fireballs, which toured with artists such as Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper, and Buddy Holly. The Fireballs were the opening act for these artists on their famous “Winter Dance Party” tour in 1959.

After the tour, Preston decided to pursue a career in music full-time. He moved to Los Angeles and studied music at Los Angeles City College. While in college, he played in various bands and orchestras. He also began experimenting with electronic music during this time.

His work with Frank Zappa

Preston was born in California in 1942. He studied classical piano as a child and was playing in bands by the time he was a teenager. In the early 1960s, he became involved in the emerging field of electronic music and began working with composer Terry Riley. Preston appeared on Riley’s influential 1964 album “In C,” which is credited with helping to launch the minimalist music movement.

In 1966, Preston met Frank Zappa, who recruited him to join his band, The Mothers of Invention. Preston can be heard on some of The Mothers’ most popular albums, including 1968’s “We’re Only in It for the Money” and 1969’s “Uncle Meat.” He also appeared on several of Zappa’s solo albums, including 1974’s “Apostrophe (‘)” and 1978’s “Studio Tan.”

Preston continued to work with Zappa after The Mothers disbanded in 1969. He remained a member of Zappa’s band until the composer’s death in 1993. Preston can be seen playing keyboard with Zappa in the 1980 concert film “Baby Snakes.”

In addition to his work with Zappa, Preston has released several solo albums and has collaborated with a number of other artists, including Mike Keneally, Johnathan Richman and Lily Tomlin.

What is electronic music?

Electronic music is music that is produced with the use of electronic devices and instruments. It is a type of music that emerged in the mid-20th century and has grown in popularity ever since. Don Preston is considered to be a pioneer of electronic music and has been making music with electronic instruments for over 50 years.

Its origins

Electronic music is a genre of music that is produced using electronic devices or instruments. It covers a wide range of styles and genres, including dance music, ambient music, rock music, pop music, and even classical music.

The first electronic musical instrument was the Theremin, which was invented by Russian scientist Leon Theremin in the 1920s. The Theremin was later used by composers such as Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich in their works. In the 1950s, electronic music pioneers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez began to experiment with new ways of creating and manipulating sounds using electronic devices. These composers were later joined by other innovators such as Frank Zappa, who incorporated electronics into his unique brand of rock music.

Today, electronic music is more popular than ever before thanks to the rise of digital technology. This has made it easier for musicians to create and manipulate sounds using computers and other electronic devices. The result is that electronic music now encompasses a huge range of styles and genres, from dance music and hip hop to ambient and experimental soundscapes.

Its development

The earliest electronic musical instruments were developed in the early 20th century, and the term electronic music was coined to describe compositions created for them. These include the theremin, an early electronic musical instrument used in the 1920s, as well as later electronic instruments like the synthesizer, which was invented in the 1930s.

The first electronic music was created for film and theater scores. In 1924, German composer Paul Hindemith wrote the score for the film “Input,” which featured theremin performances. In 1929, American composer George Antheil wrote the score for “Ballet Méchanique,” which featured player piano and percussion performances.

After World War II, composers began experimenting with new ways to create sound using electronics. In 1955, French composer Pierre Schaeffer pioneered musique concrète, a form of electronic music that uses recorded sounds as its source material. In 1957, Japanese composer Toshiro Mayuzumi wrote “Mandara,” one of the first pieces of electronic music specifically composed for concert performance.

Since then, electronic music has evolved rapidly, with new styles and genres emerging constantly. Today, electronic music is produced using a wide range of instruments and technologies, and it is enjoyed by listeners all over the world.

Don Preston and electronic music

Don Preston is an American composer and keyboardist who has been described as a “pioneer” of electronic music. He is best known for his work with the band The Mothers of Invention and his solo career. Preston was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and began playing the piano at the age of four. He studied classical music and composition at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and later jazz at the Berklee College of Music.

His early experiments

In the 1950s, Don Preston became interested in electronic music and started experimenting with making his own sounds using tape recorders and other electronics. He helped to create the first electronic music studio at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he worked with composers such as Leonard Rosenman and Ingolf Dahl.

Preston’s early experiments in electronic music led to him creating some of the first commercially available electronic music, which he released on the LP “Electronic Music” in 1963. This album featured some of the first ever use of a synthesizer, which Preston built himself, as well as other early electronic instruments such as oscillators and Theremins.

Preston continued to release experimental electronic music throughout the 1960s and 1970s on labels such as Vanguard and Verve. He also composed music for film and television, including scoring the film “The pump house gang” (1968) and working on the soundtracks for “The Twilight Zone” (1985) and “Beauty and the Beast” (1987).

In recent years, Preston has been awarded a number of honors for his pioneering work in electronic music. He was inducted into the Electronic Music Hall of Fame in 2006, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Moogfest in 2016.

His work with the Mother’s of Invention

In 1968, he wrote the score for the Unit Moebius film “Bambi vs. Godzilla”, which was later cited as an early work of video art. He also wrote the score for the 1969 film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”, which was one of the first feature-length films to use electronic music throughout. Preston’s work with the Mothers of Invention on their album “Freak Out!” is some of his most well-known. He co-wrote the songs “Who Are the Brain Police?” and “Drop Out!,” and played keyboards and synthesizer on several tracks.

His solo work

Don Preston has released numerous solo albums of electronic music, as well as recordings with various collaborators. He is perhaps best known for his work with the band The Mothers of Invention, with whom he recorded and toured from 1966 to 1974.

Preston’s first solo album, NEW ELECTRONIC HARMONIES, was released in 1972 on Frank Zappa’s record label, Discreet Records. The album featured Preston on a variety of electronic keyboards and synthesizers, including the Moog 3P modular synthesizer, the ARP 2600, and the Buchla 100 series.

NEW ELECTRONIC HARMONIES was followed by another solo album, COSMIC Baseball Association, in 1974. This album featured Preston on the Buchla 100 synthesizer and the ARP 2600.

In 1975, Preston collaborated with keyboardist/composer Michael Boddicker on an album titled DON PRESTON/MICHAEL BODDICKER: SYNTHESIZED MUSIC FROM LOSS OF GRAVITY. This album was released on the Columbia Records label.

Preston has continued to release solo albums of electronic music throughout his career. His most recent solo release is ELECTRIC MUSIC FOR MIND AND BODY (2017), which features Preston on a variety of electronic keyboards and synthesizers.

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