Electronic music

"Electronic musician" redirects here. For the magazine, see Electronic Musician.

Electronic music is music that employs electronic musical instruments and electronic music technology in its production, an electronic musician being a musician who composes and/or performs such music. In general, a distinction can be made between sound produced using electromechanical means and that produced using electronic technology. [1] Examples of electromechanical sound producing devices include the telharmonium, Hammond organ, and the electric guitar. Purely electronic sound production can be achieved using devices such as the theremin, sound synthesizer, and computer. [2]

The first electronic devices for performing music were developed at the end of the 19th century, and shortly afterward Italian Futurists explored sounds that had previously not been considered musical. During the 1920s and 1930s, electronic instruments were introduced and the first compositions for electronic instruments were composed. By the 1940s, magnetic audio tape allowed musicians to tape sounds and then modify them by changing the tape speed or direction, leading to the development of electroacoustic tape music in the 1940s, in Egypt and France. Musique concrète, created in Paris in 1948, was based on editing together recorded fragments of natural and industrial sounds. Music produced solely from electronic generators was first produced in Germany in 1953. Electronic music was also created in Japan and the United States beginning in the 1950s. An important new development was the advent of computers for the purpose of composing music. Algorithmic composition was first demonstrated in Australia in 1951.

In America and Europe, live electronics were pioneered in the early 1960s. During the 1970s to early 1980s, the monophonic Minimoog became once the most widely used synthesizer at that time in both popular and electronic art music.

In the 1970s, electronic music began having a significant influence on popular music, with the adoption of polyphonic synthesizers, electronic drums, and drum machines, through the emergence of genres such as krautrock, disco, new wave and synthpop. In the 1980s, electronic music became more dominant in popular music, with a greater reliance on synthesizers, and the adoption of programmable drum machines, and bass synthesizers. In the early 1980s, digital technologies for synthesizers including digital synthesizers have been popularized, and a group of musicians and music merchants developed the Musical Instrument Digital Interface ( MIDI).

Electronically produced music became prevalent in the popular domain by the 1990s, because of the advent of affordable music technology. [3] Contemporary electronic music includes many varieties and ranges from experimental art music to popular forms such as electronic dance music. Today, pop electronic music is most recognizable in its 4/4 form and vastly more connected with the mainstream culture as opposed to its preceding forms which were specialized to niche markets. [4]

Origins: late 19th century to early 20th century

The front page of Scientific American in 1907, demonstrating the size, operation, and popularity of the Telharmonium.

At the turn of the 20th century, experimentation with emerging electronics led to the first electronic musical instruments. [5] These initial inventions were not sold, but were instead used in demonstrations and public performances. The audiences were presented with reproductions of existing music instead of new compositions for the instruments. [6] [7] While some were considered novelties and produced simple tones, the Telharmonium accurately synthesized the sound of orchestral instruments. It achieved viable public interest and made commercial progress into streaming music through telephone networks. [8]

Critics of musical conventions at the time saw promise in these developments. Ferruccio Busoni encouraged the composition of microtonal music allowed for by electronic instruments. He predicted the use of machines in future music, writing the influential Sketch of a New Esthetic of Music. [9] [10] Futurists such as Francesco Balilla Pratella and Luigi Russolo began composing music with acoustic noise to evoke the sound of machinery. They predicted expansions in timbre allowed for by electronics in the influential manifesto The Art of Noises. [11] [12]

Early compositions

Léon Theremin demonstrating the theremin in 1927

Developments of the vacuum tube led to electronic instruments that were smaller, amplified, and more practical for performance. [13] In particular, the theremin, ondes Martenot and trautonium were commercially produced by the early 1930s. [14] [15] [16]

From the late 1920s, the increased practicality of electronic instruments influenced composers such as Joseph Schillinger to adopt them. They were typically used within orchestras, and most composers wrote parts for the theremin that could otherwise be performed with string instruments. [14]

Avant-garde composers criticized the predominant use of electronic instruments for conventional purposes. [14] The instruments offered expansions in pitch resources [17] that were exploited by advocates of microtonal music such as Charles Ives, Dimitrios Levidis, Olivier Messiaen and Edgard Varese. [18] [19] [20] Further, Percy Grainger used the theremin to abandon fixed tonation entirely, [21] while Russian composers such as Gavriil Popov treated it as a source of noise in otherwise-acoustic noise music. [22]

Recording experiments

Developments in early recording technology paralleled that of electronic instruments. The first means of recording and reproducing audio was invented in the late 19th century with the mechanical phonograph. [23] Record players became a common household item, and by the 1920s composers were using them to play short recordings in performances. [24]

The introduction of electronic recording in 1925 was followed by increased experimentation with record players. Paul Hindemith and Ernst Toch composed several pieces in 1930 by layering recordings of instruments and vocals at adjusted speeds. Influenced by these techniques, John Cage composed " Imaginary Landscape No. 1" in 1939 by adjusting the speeds of recorded tones. [25]

Concurrently, composers began to experiment with newly developed sound-on-film technology. Recordings could be spliced together to create sound collages, such as those by Tristan Tzara, Kurt Schwitters, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Walter Ruttmann and Dziga Vertov. Further, the technology allowed sound to be graphically created and modified. These techniques were used to compose soundtracks for several films in Germany and Russia, in addition to the popular Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the United States. Experiments with graphical sound were continued by Norman McLaren from the late 1930s.