Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Sounds of Outer Space: Sci-Fi Spoken Word Performance Circa 1968

by G. Jack Urso
 

Fig 1: Author’s collection
The Sounds of Outer Space is a spoken word performance printed on a flexible disc that accompanied the AMT Leif Ericson Galactic Cruiser model kit released circa 1968. I obtained a copy (fig. 1, left) with an original Leif Ericson model kit I bought in 2004 (fig. 2, below). The original recording is provided below on the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel. This unusual recording is a psychedelic spoken word performance that somehow manages to be both incredibly campy and positively surreal at the same time. It uniquely captures the enthusiasm of the space age and the more stereotypical elements of the 1960's counterculture. The original recording is available below from the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel. 

In researching this piece, I was unable to identify the composers — not entirely surprising given its association with what was at the time regarded as a toy. Some reports suggest the lyrics originate from the 1967 psychedelic album, The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds; however, that assertion is in error. Both the album and the lyric sheet is widely available online and there are no lyrics or musical content used in The Sounds of Outer Space.
Fig. 2: S.S.C. Leif Ericson — Author's collection.
The ambient background sound effects to The Sounds of Outer Space, however, can in part be sourced to the original Twilight Zone TV series.  The recording was produced by Auravision, a division of CBS Records, and CBS, of course, produced The Twilight Zone in conjunction with Rod Serling’s Cayuga Productions. Segments of the background sound effects turn up in several episodes, including "King Nine Will Not Return," where elements of The Sounds of Outer Space from 1:32-1:41 can be heard at around the 18 minute mark (see recording at end of article); "Back There," where the same elements can be heard beginning around the 15 minute mark; and "The Fugitive," where the swirling sound effects from the beginning of The Sounds of Outer Space can be heard at the 16:07 mark. To my surprise, I also found the same aforementioned sound elements from The Sounds of Outer Space in the first two previously mentioned Twilight Zone episodes also in the CBS Radio Mystery Theater episode "Sleepy Village" (1975) at the 18:50 mark. It seems that particular sound clip has gotten around a bit.

Fig 3: Author’s collection
Interestingly, there appears to be a further connection between the Leif Ericson and The Twilight Zone. The cover of Rod Serling's Other Worlds, a sci-fi anthology released by Bantam Books in March 1978 (fig. 3), features the Leif Ericson with some design changes. Such alterations may have been made to avoid copyright violations, but oddly they include design elements from a Space: 1999 Eagle Transporter and a Stars Wars X-Wing fighter. I leave it to my fellow sci-fi aficionados to spot those changes themselves (see fig. 4, below).
 
The lyrics to Sounds of Outer Space are more like the acid-laced musings of college students, and considering LSD was legal until 1966 the trippy quality of the piece exemplifies the era.  It’s an ambitious attempt that seems awkward by modern tastes, but the model kit was designed for teenagers and young adults so I have to give AMT credit for trying something new and off-beat that still captures the psychedelic spirit of the 1960s. 
 
Fig. 4: Close up of the Leif Ericson from the cover of Rod Serling's Other Worlds.

The Sounds of Outer Space Lyrics:

On my mark it will be T minus 10 and counting. MARK. 10 . . . 9 . . . 8 . . . 7 . . . 6 . . . 5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . Zero.

The stars, brilliant as diamonds. Space, cold as the winter wind.

Timeless, inky blackness . . . deep and silent. Or is it?

Mortal men venture into the great unknown like explores of the dawn, and looking down, find themselves looking up.

To be afraid and not care that you are afraid is the courage of which astronauts are made.

The alien opal light of Uranus filters through indigo dust.

A spaceship sailing across cosmic oceans of yellow and red turquoise, drifting down green and purple galactic seas.

Listen to Saturn’s mystery of music telling fortunes to the universe.

The Sun is one, claiming the solar system as its own, bursting with yellow splendor.

Is man really exploring an atom with room to spare? 


Tune-in, Turn-on, and Drop-Out while you listen to The Sounds of Outer Space — a psychedelic spoken word performance that accompanied AMT's Leif Ericson Galactic Cruiser model kit, released circa 1968 and available on the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel: 
Video created by G. Jack Urso
 
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4 comments:

  1. I remember this from my childhood circa 1968 as well. However it was attached to the back of a cereal box. The dialogue was identical but the he sound effects were slightly different. Thanks for taking the time to upload this!

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    1. I never heard of that version - now I've got to see if it still exists! Thanks!

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  2. Do this fall under fair use? i'm considering using it in a song

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    1. I don't know for sure, but as some of the sound bed is from CBS and can be heard in at least a couple Twilight Zone episodes it might be problematic. Fair use applies just to non-profit educational use as far as I am aware, so in that case you might get away with a short sample as long as the work was not being distributed for a fee, but I'm no lawyer. Since this is something in the gray area a copyright lawyer would have to be consulted. It will probably be another 15 years or more before it falls solidly into the public domain. The record has not been included on subsequent re-releases of the Leif Ericson model kit as far as I am aware, but I don't know if that means that the kit makers did not want to license it, it was too expensive to license, or if the original master even still exists, or that the copyright is not being enforced and the kit makers just weren't interested, etc.

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