Iara Lee’s ambitious 1998 documentary Modulations: Cinema for the Ear tries to fit the entire history of electronic music into 73 minutes. It’s a good try, and it’s worth watching for its crazy array of interview subjects, who range from Genesis P-Orridge to Karlheinz Stockhausen, and for its snapshots of 90s dance cultures around the world. From the point of view of a person who studiously avoided glowsticks and pacifiers during this historical moment, it’s interesting to look at these scenes from the remove of two decades: compared to today’s apocalypse culture, the millennium’s end-of-the-world styles seem quaint, fun, almost utopian.
Though there’s a lot of emphasis on contemporary house and techno, Modulations is a survey of the history of electronic music that takes in everything from the Futurists’ noise experiments to jungle. It keeps up a dizzying pace, and doesn’t let you look into any of these artists, movements or scenes too deeply, but what a cast: legendary producers Giorgio Moroder and Teo Macero, musique concrète pioneer Pierre Henry, Robert Moog, members of Can, and John Cage are among the dozens of figures who get screen time. (Yet no Wendy Carlos?) If you want more of this stuff, there’s a CD soundtrack and a book tie-in.