Electronic music is music that employs electronic musical instruments and electronic music technology in its production. In general a distinction can be made between sound produced using electromechanical means and that produced using electronic technology. 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.
Electronic music was once associated almost exclusively with Western art music but from the late 1960s on the availability of affordable music technology meant that music produced using electronic means became increasingly common in the popular domain. Today electronic music includes many varieties and ranges from experimental art music to popular forms such as electronic dance music.
The ability to record sounds is often connected to the production of electronic music, but not absolutely necessary for it. The earliest known sound recording device was the phonautograph, patented in 1857 by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville. It could record sounds visually, but was not meant to play them back.
In 1878, Thomas A. Edison patented the phonograph, which used cylinders similar to Scott's device. Although cylinders continued in use for some time, Emile Berliner developed the disc phonograph in 1887. A significant invention, which was later to have a profound effect on electronic music, was Lee DeForest's triode audion. This was the first thermionic valve, or vacuum tube, invented in 1906, which led to the generation and amplification of electrical signals, radio broadcasting, and electronic computation, amongst other things.
Before electronic music, there was a growing desire for composers to use emerging technologies for musical purposes. Several instruments were created that employed electromechanical designs and they paved the way for the later emergence of electronic instruments. An electromechanical instrument called the Telharmonium (sometimes Teleharmonium or Dynamophone) was developed by Thaddeus Cahill in the years 1898-1912. However, simple inconvenience hindered the adoption of the Telharmonium, due to its immense size. The first electronic instrument is often viewed to be the Theremin, invented by Professor Léon Theremin circa 1919–1920. Another early electronic instrument was the Ondes Martenot, which was most famously used in the Turangalîla-Symphonie by Olivier Messiaen as well as other works by him. It was also used by other, primarily French, composers such as Andre Jolivet.
In 1907, just a year later after the invention of the triode audion, Ferruccio Busoni published Sketch of a New Esthetic of Music, which discussed the use of electrical and other new sound sources in future music. He wrote of the future of microtonal scales in music, made possible by Cahill's Dynamophone: "Only a long and careful series of experiments, and a continued training of the ear, can render this unfamiliar material approachable and plastic for the coming generation, and for Art."
Also in the Sketch of a New Esthetic of Music, Busoni states:
Music as an art, our so-called occidental music, is hardly four hundred years old; its state is one of development, perhaps the very first stage of a development beyond present conception, and we—we talk of "classics" and "hallowed traditions"! And we have talked of them for a long time! We have formulated rules, stated principles, laid down laws;—we apply laws made for maturity to a child that knows nothing of responsibility! Young as it is, this child, we already recognize that it possesses one radiant attribute which signalizes it beyond all its elder sisters. And the lawgivers will not see this marvelous attribute, lest their laws should be thrown to the winds. This child—it floats on air! It touches not the earth with its feet. It knows no law of gravitation. It is well nigh incorporeal. Its material is transparent. It is sonorous air. It is almost Nature herself. It is—free! But freedom is something that mankind have never wholly comprehended, never realized to the full. They can neither recognize or acknowledge it. They disavow the mission of this child; they hang weights upon it. This buoyant creature must walk decently, like anybody else. It may scarcely be allowed to leap—when it were its joy to follow the line of the rainbow, and to break sunbeams with the clouds.
Through this writing, as well as personal contact, Busoni had a profound effect on many musicians and composers, perhaps most notably on his pupil, Edgard Varèse, who said:
Together we used to discuss what direction the music of the future would, or rather, should take and could not take as long as the straitjacket of the tempered system. He deplored that his own keyboard instrument had conditioned our ears to accept only an infinitesimal part of the infinite gradations of sounds in nature. He was very much interested in the electrical instruments we began to hear about, and I remember particularly one he had read of called the Dynamophone. All through his writings one finds over and over again predictions about the music of the future which have since come true. In fact, there is hardly a development that he did not foresee, as for instance in this extraordinary prophecy: 'I almost think that in the new great music, machines will also be necessary and will be assigned a share in it. Perhaps industry, too, will bring forth her share in the artistic ascent.
In Italy, the Futurists approached the changing musical aesthetic from a different angle. A major thrust of the Futurist philosophy was to value "noise," and to place artistic and expressive value on sounds that had previously not been considered even remotely musical. Balilla Pratella's "Technical Manifesto of Futurist Music" (1911) states that their credo is: "To present the musical soul of the masses, of the great factories, of the railways, of the transatlantic liners, of the battleships, of the automobiles and airplanes. To add to the great central themes of the musical poem the domain of the machine and the victorious kingdom of Electricity."
On 11 March 1913, futurist Luigi Russolo published his manifesto "The Art of Noises". In 1914, he held the first "art-of-noises" concert in Milan on April 21. This used his Intonarumori, described by Russolo as "acoustical noise-instruments, whose sounds (howls, roars, shuffles, gurgles, etc.) were hand-activated and projected by horns and megaphones." In June, similar concerts were held in Paris.
This decade brought a wealth of early electronic instruments and the first compositions for electronic instruments. The first instrument, the Etherophone, was created by Léon Theremin (born Lev Termen) between 1919 and 1920 in Leningrad, though it was eventually renamed the Theremin. This led to the first compositions for electronic instruments, as opposed to noisemakers and re-purposed machines. In 1929, Joseph Schillinger composed First Airphonic Suite for Theremin and Orchestra, premièred with the Cleveland Orchestra with Leon Theremin as soloist.
The following year, Antheil first composed for mechanical devices, electrical noisemakers, motors and amplifiers in his unfinished opera, Mr. Bloom.
Recording of sounds made a leap in 1927, when American inventor J. A. O'Neill developed a recording device that used magnetically coated ribbon. However, this was a commercial failure. Two years later, Laurens Hammond established his company for the manufacture of electronic instruments. He went on to produce the Hammond organ, which was based on the principles of the Telharmonium, along with other developments including early reverberation units.
The method of photo-optic sound recording used in cinematography made it possible to obtain a visible image of a sound wave, as well as to realize the opposite goal—synthesizing a sound from an artificially drawn sound wave.
Low-fidelity magnetic wire recorders had been in use since around 1900 and in the early 1930s the movie industry began to convert to the new optical sound-on-film recording systems based on the photoelectric cell. It was around this time that the German electronics company AEG developed the first practical audio tape recorder, the "Magnetophon" K-1, which was unveiled at the Berlin Radio Show in August 1935 During World War II Walter Weber rediscovered and applied the AC biasing technique, which dramatically improved the fidelity of magnetic recording by adding an inaudible high-frequency tone, giving the 1941 'K4' Magnetophones a bandwidth of 10 Hz and improving the signal-to-noise ratio up to 60 dB, surpassing all known recording systems at that time, and as early as 1942 AEG was making test recordings in stereo. However these devices and techniques remained a secret outside Germany until the end of WWII, when captured Magnetophon recorders and reels of Farben ferric-oxide recording tape were brought back to the United States by Jack Mullin and others. These captured recorders and tapes were the basis for the development of America's first commercially-made professional tape recorder, the Model 200, manufactured by the American Ampex company with support from entertainer Bing Crosby, who became one of the first performers to record radio broadcasts and studio master recordings on tape.
Magnetic audio tape opened up a vast new range of sonic possibilities to musicians, composers, producers and engineers. Audio tape was relatively cheap and very reliable, and its fidelity of reproduction was better than any audio medium to date. Most importantly, unlike discs, it offered the same plasticity of use as film. Tape can be slowed down, sped up or even run backwards during recording or playback, with often startling effect. It can be physically edited in much the same way as film, allowing for unwanted sections of a recording to be seamlessly removed or replaced; likewise, segments of tape from other sources can be edited in. Tape can also be joined to form endless loops that continually play repeated patterns of pre-recorded material. Audio amplification and mixing equipment further expanded tape's capabilities as a production medium, allowing multiple pre-taped recordings (and/or live sounds, speech or music) to be mixed together and simultaneously recorded onto another tape with relatively little loss of fidelity. Another unforeseen windfall was that tape recorders can be relatively easily modified to become echo machines that produce complex, controllable, high-quality echo and reverberation effects (most of which would be practically impossible to achieve by mechanical means).
It wasn't long before composers began using the tape recorder to develop a new technique for composition called Musique concrète. This technique involved editing together recorded fragments of natural and industrial sounds. The first pieces of musique concrète were assembled by Pierre Schaeffer, who went on to collaborate with Pierre Henry.
On 5 October 1948, Radiodiffusion Française (RDF) broadcast composer Pierre Schaeffer's Etude aux chemins de fer. This was the first "movement" of Cinq études de bruits, and marked the beginning of studio realizations and musique concrète (or acousmatic music). Schaeffer employed a disk-cutting lathe, four turntables, a four-channel mixer, filters, an echo chamber, and a mobile recording unit.
Not long after this, Henry began collaborating with Schaeffer, a partnership that would have profound and lasting effects on the direction of electronic music. Another associate of Schaeffer, Edgard Varèse, began work on Déserts, a work for chamber orchestra and tape. The tape parts were created at Pierre Schaeffer's studio, and were later revised at Columbia University.
In 1950, Schaeffer gave the first public (non-broadcast) concert of musique concrète at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris. "Schaeffer used a PA system, several turntables, and mixers. The performance did not go well, as creating live montages with turntables had never been done before." Later that same year, Pierre Henry collaborated with Schaeffer on Symphonie pour un homme seul (1950) the first major work of musique concrete. In Paris in 1951, in what was to become an important worldwide trend, RTF established the first studio for the production of electronic music. Also in 1951, Schaeffer and Henry produced an opera, Orpheus, for concrete sounds and voices.
In Cologne, what would become the most famous electronic music studio in the world was officially opened at the radio studios of the NWDR in 1953, though it had been in the planning stages as early as 1950 and early compositions were made and broadcast in 1951. The brain child of Werner Meyer-Eppler, Robert Beyer, and Herbert Eimert (who became its first director), the studio was soon joined by Karlheinz Stockhausen and Gottfried Michael Koenig. In his 1949 thesis Elektronische Klangerzeugung: Elektronische Musik und Synthetische Sprache, Meyer-Eppler conceived the idea to synthesize music entirely from electronically produced signals; in this way, elektronische Musik was sharply differentiated from French musique concrète, which used sounds recorded from acoustical sources.
With Stockhausen and Mauricio Kagel in residence, it became a year-round hive of charismatic avante-gardism [sic]" on two occasions combining electronically generated sounds with relatively conventional orchestras—in Mixtur (1964) and Hymnen, dritte Region mit Orchester (1967). Stockhausen stated that his listeners had told him his electronic music gave them an experience of "outer space," sensations of flying, or being in a "fantastic dream world" More recently, Stockhausen turned to producing electronic music in his own studio in Kürten, his last work in the genre being Cosmic Pulses (2007).
In the United States, sounds were being created electronically and used in composition, as exemplified in a piece by Morton Feldman called Marginal Intersection. This piece is scored for winds, brass, percussion, strings, 2 oscillators, and sound effects of riveting, and the score uses Feldman's graph notation.
The Music for Magnetic Tape Project was formed by members of the New York School (John Cage, Earle Brown, Christian Wolff, David Tudor, and Morton Feldman), and lasted three years until 1954. Cage wrote of this collaboration: "In this social darkness, therefore, the work of Earle Brown, Morton Feldman, and Christian Wolff continues to present a brilliant light, for the reason that at the several points of notation, performance, and audition, action is provocative.
Cage completed Williams Mix in 1953 while working with the Music for Magnetic Tape Project. The group had no permanent facility, and had to rely on borrowed time in commercial sound studios, including the studio of Louis and Bebe Barron.
Vladimir Ussachevsky, who was on the music faculty of Columbia University, was placed in charge of the device, and almost immediately began experimenting with it.
Herbert Russcol writes: "Soon he was intrigued with the new sonorities he could achieve by recording musical instruments and then superimposing them on one another."
Ussachevsky said later: "I suddenly realized that the tape recorder could be treated as an instrument of sound transformation."
On Thursday, May 8, 1952, Ussachevsky presented several demonstrations of tape music/effects that he created at his Composers Forum, in the McMillin Theatre at Columbia University. These included Transposition, Reverberation, Experiment, Composition, and Underwater Valse. In an interview, he stated: "I presented a few examples of my discovery in a public concert in New York together with other compositions I had written for conventional instruments." Otto Luening, who had attended this concert, remarked: "The equipment at his disposal consisted of an Ampex tape recorder . . . and a simple box-like device designed by the brilliant young engineer, Peter Mauzey, to create feedback, a form of mechanical reverberation. Other equipment was borrowed or purchased with personal funds."
Just three months later, in August 1952, Ussachevsky traveled to Bennington, Vermont at Luening's invitation to present his experiments. There, the two collaborated on various pieces. Luening described the event: "Equipped with earphones and a flute, I began developing my first tape-recorder composition. Both of us were fluent improvisors and the medium fired our imaginations." They played some early pieces informally at a party, where "a number of composers almost solemnly congratulated us saying, 'This is it' ('it' meaning the music of the future)."
Word quickly reached New York City. Oliver Daniel telephoned and invited the pair to "produce a group of short compositions for the October concert sponsored by the American Composers Alliance and Broadcast Music, Inc., under the direction of Leopold Stokowski at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. After some hesitation, we agreed. . . . Henry Cowell placed his home and studio in Woodstock, New York, at our disposal. With the borrowed equipment in the back of Ussachevsky's car, we left Bennington for Woodstock and stayed two weeks. . . . In late September, 1952, the travelling laboratory reached Ussachevsky's living room in New York, where we eventually completed the compositions."
Two months later, on October 28, Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luening presented the first Tape Music concert in the United States. The concert included Luening's Fantasy in Space (1952)—"an impressionistic virtuoso piece" using manipulated recordings of flute—and Low Speed (1952), an "exotic composition that took the flute far below its natural range." Both pieces were created at the home of Henry Cowell in Woodstock, NY. After several concerts caused a sensation in New York City, Ussachevsky and Luening were invited onto a live broadcast of NBC's Today Show to do an interview demonstration—the first televised electroacoustic performance. Luening described the event: "I improvised some [flute] sequences for the tape recorder. Ussachevsky then and there put them through electronic transformations."
1954 saw the advent of what would now be considered authentic electric plus acoustic compositions—acoustic instrumentation augmented/accompanied by recordings of manipulated and/or electronically generated sound. Three major works were premiered that year: Varèse's Déserts, for chamber ensemble and tape sounds, and two works by Luening and Ussachevsky: Rhapsodic Variations for the Louisville Symphony and A Poem in Cycles and Bells, both for orchestra and tape. Because he had been working at Schaeffer's studio, the tape part for Varèse's work contains much more concrete sounds than electronic. "A group made up of wind instruments, percussion and piano alternates with mutated sounds of factory noises and ship sirens and motors, coming from two loudspeakers."
Déserts was premiered in Paris in the first stereo broadcast on French Radio. At the German premiere in Hamburg, which was conducted by Bruno Maderna, the tape controls were operated by Karlheinz Stockhausen. The title Déserts, suggested to Varèse not only, "all physical deserts (of sand, sea, snow, of outer space, of empty streets), but also the deserts in the mind of man; not only those stripped aspects of nature that suggest bareness, aloofness, timelessness, but also that remote inner space no telescope can reach, where man is alone, a world of mystery and essential loneliness."
An important new development was the advent of computers for the purpose of composing music, as opposed to manipulating or creating sounds. Iannis Xenakis began what is called "musique stochastique," or "stochastic music," which is a method of composing that employs mathematical probability systems. Different probability algorithms were used to create a piece under a set of parameters. Xenakis used graph paper and a ruler to aid in calculating the velocity trajectories of glissandi for his orchestral composition Metastasis (1953–54), but later turned to the use of computers to compose pieces like ST/4 for string quartet and ST/48 for orchestra (both 1962).
In 1954, Stockhausen composed his Elektronische Studie II—the first electronic piece to be published as a score.
In 1955, more experimental and electronic studios began to appear. Notable were the creation of the Studio de Fonologia (already mentioned), a studio at the NHK in Tokyo founded by Toshiro Mayuzumi, and the Phillips studio at Eindhoven, the Netherlands, which moved to the University of Utrecht as the Institute of Sonology in 1960.
The world's first computer to play music was CSIRAC which was designed and built by Trevor Pearcey and Maston Beard. Mathematician Geoff Hill programmed the CSIRAC to play popular musical melodies from the very early 1950s. In 1951 it publicly played the Colonel Bogey March of which no known recordings exist. However, CSIRAC played standard repertoire and was not used to extend musical thinking or composition practice which is current computer music practice. CSIRAC was never recorded, but the music played was accurately reconstructed (reference 12). The oldest known recordings of computer generated music were played by the Ferranti Mark 1 computer, a commercial version of the Baby Machine from the University of Manchester in the autumn of 1951. The music program was written by Christopher Strachey.
The impact of computers continued in 1956. Lejaren Hiller and Leonard Isaacson composed Iliac Suite for string quartet, the first complete work of computer-assisted composition using algorithmic composition. "... Hiller postulated that a computer could be taught the rules of a particular style and then called on to compose accordingly." Later developments included the work of Max Mathews at Bell Laboratories, who developed the influential MUSIC I program. Vocoder technology was also a major development in this early era.
In 1956, Stockhausen composed Gesang der Jünglinge, the first major work of the Cologne studio, based on a text from the Book of Daniel. An important technological development of that year was the invention of the Clavivox synthesizer by Raymond Scott with subassembly by Robert Moog.
The RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer made its debut in 1957. Unlike the earlier Theremin and Ondes Martenot, it was difficult to use, required extensive programming, and could not be played in real time. Sometimes called the first electronic synthesizer, the RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer used vacuum tube oscillators and incorporated the first electronic music sequencer driven by two punched-paper tapes. It was designed by RCA and installed at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center where it remains to this day.
Later, Milton Babbitt, influenced in his student years by Schoenberg's "revolution in musical thought" began applying serial techniques to electronic music.:
From 1950 to 1960 the vocabulary of tape music shifted from the fairly pure experimental works which characterized the classic Paris and Cologne schools to more complex and expressive works which explored a wide range of compositional styles. More and more works began to appear by the mid-1950s which addressed the concept of combining taped sounds with live instruments and voices. There was also a tentative interest, and a few attempts, at incorporating taped electronic sounds into theatrical works.
The public remained interested in the new sounds being created around the world, as can be deduced by the inclusion of Varèse's Poeme Electronique, which was played over four hundred loudspeakers at the Phillips Pavilion of the 1958 Brussels World Fair. That same year, Mauricio Kagel, an Argentine composer, composed Transición II. The work was realized at the WDR studio in Cologne. Two musicians perform on a piano, one in the traditional manner, the other playing on the strings, frame, and case. Two other performers use tape to unite the presentation of live sounds with the future of prerecorded materials from later on and its past of recordings made earlier in the performance.
These were fertile years for electronic music—not just for academia, but for independent artists as synthesizer technology became more accessible. By this time, a strong community of composers and musicians working with new sounds and instruments was established and growing. 1960 witnessed the composition of Luening's Gargoyles for violin and tape as well as the premiere of Stockhausen's Kontakte for electronic sounds, piano, and percussion. This piece existed in two versions—one for 4-channel tape, and the other for tape with human performers. "In Kontakte, Stockhausen abandoned traditional musical form based on linear development and dramatic climax. This new approach, which he termed 'moment form,' resembles the 'cinematic splice' techniques in early twentieth century film."
The theremin had been in use since the 1920s but it attained a degree of popular recognition through its use in science-fiction film soundtrack music in the 1950s (e.g., Bernard Herrmann's classic score for The Day the Earth Stood Still). During the 1960s the theremin made occasional appearances in popular music.
In the UK in this period, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (established in 1958) emerged one of the most productive and widely known electronic music studios in the world, thanks in large measure to their work on the BBC science-fiction series Doctor Who. One of the most influential British electronic artists in this period was Workshop staffer Delia Derbyshire, who added a keen musical ear to her great technical prowess—she is famous for her landmark 1963 electronic realisation of the iconic Doctor Who theme, composed by Ron Grainer, arguably the most widely known piece of electronic music in the world. Derbyshire and her colleagues—including Dick Mills, Brian Hodgson (creator of the TARDIS sound effect), David Cain, John Baker, Paddy Kingsland and Peter Howell—collectively created a large and very varied body of work that includes station ID stings, program jingles, soundtracks, atmospheres and sound effects for BBC TV and radio stations and programs.
In 1961 Josef Tal established the Centre for Electronic Music in Israel at The Hebrew University, and in 1962 Hugh Le Caine arrived in Jerusalem to install his Creative Tape Recorder in the centre. In the 1990s Tal conducted, together with Dr Shlomo Markel, in cooperation with the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, and VolkswagenStiftung a research project (Talmark) aimed at the development of a novel musical notation system for electronic music.
Milton Babbitt composed his first electronic work using the synthesizer—his Composition for Synthesizer—which he created using the RCA synthesizer at CPEMC.
For Babbitt, the RCA synthesizer was a dream come true for three reasons. First, the ability to pinpoint and control every musical element precisely. Second, the time needed to realize his elaborate serial structures were brought within practical reach. Third, the question was no longer "What are the limits of the human performer?" but rather "What are the limits of human hearing?
The collaborations also occurred across oceans and continents. In 1961, Ussachevsky invited Varèse to the Columbia-Princeton Studio (CPEMC). Upon arrival, Varese embarked upon a revision of Déserts. He was assisted by Mario Davidovsky and Bülent Arel.
The intense activity occurring at CPEMC and elsewhere inspired the establishment of the San Francisco Tape Music Center in 1963 by Morton Subotnick, with additional members Pauline Oliveros, Ramon Sender, Terry Riley, and Anthony Martin. The center soon incorporated a voltage-controlled synthesizer based around automated sequencing by Don Buchla, and used in album-length Subotnick pieces such as Silver Apples of the Moon (1967) and The Wild Bull (1968).
Back across the Atlantic, in Czechoslovakia, 1964, the First Seminar of Electronic Music was held at the Radio Broadcast Station in Plzen. Four government-sanctioned electroacoustic music studios were later established in the 1960s under the auspices of extant radio and television stations.
New instruments continued to develop. One of the most significant breakthroughs came in 1964, when Robert Moog introduced the Moog synthesizer, the first integrated modular voltage controlled analog synthesiser system. Moog Music later introduced a smaller synthesizer with a built-in keyboard and hardwired signal path called The Minimoog, which was introduced to many composers and universities and beacme widely used by popular musicians.
Pietro Grossi was an italian pioneer of computer composition and tape music, who first experimented with electronic techniques in the early sixties. Grossi was a cellist and composer, born in Venice in 1917. He founded the S 2F M (Studio de Fonologia Musicale di Firenze) in 1963 in order to experiment with electronic sound and composition.
CSIRAC, the first computer to play music, did so publicly in August 1951 (reference 12). One of the first large-scale public demonstrations of computer music was a pre-recorded national radio broadcast on the NBC radio network program Monitor on February 10, 1962. In 1961, LaFarr Stuart programmed Iowa State University's CYCLONE computer (a derivative of the Illiac) to play simple, recognizable tunes through an amplified speaker that had been attached to the system originally for administrative and diagnostic purposes. An interview with Mr. Stuart accompanied his computer music.
The late 1950s, 1960s and 1970s also saw the development of large mainframe computer synthesis. Starting in 1957, Max Mathews of Bell Labs developed the MUSIC programs, culminating in MUSIC V, a direct digital synthesis language (Mattis 2001).
In America, live electronics were pioneered in the early 1960s by members of Milton Cohen's Space Theater in Ann Arbor, Michigan, including Gordon Mumma and Robert Ashley, by individuals such as David Tudor around 1965, and The Sonic Arts Union, founded in 1966 by Gordon Mumma, Robert Ashley, Alvin Lucier, and David Behrman. ONCE Festivals, featuring multimedia theater music, were organized by Robert Ashley and Gordon Mumma in Ann Arbor between 1958 and 1969. In 1960, John Cage composed Cartridge Music, one of the earliest live-electronic works.
The Jazz composers and musicians Paul Bley and Annette Peacock performed some of the first live concerts in the late 60's using Moog synthesisers. Peacock made regular use of a customised Moog synthesiser to process her voice on stage and in studio recordings.
In Europe in 1964, Karlheinz Stockhausen composed Mikrophonie I for tam-tam, hand-held microphones, filters, and potentiometers, and Mixtur for orchestra, four sine-wave generators, and four ring modulators. In 1965 he composed Mikrophonie II for choir, Hammond organ, and ring modulators.
In 1966-67, Reed Ghazala discovered and began to teach "circuit bending"—the application of the creative short circuit, a process of chance short-circuiting, creating experimental electronic instruments, exploring sonic elements mainly of timbre and with less regard to pitch or rhythm, and influenced by John Cage’s aleatoric music concept.
In 1970, Charles Wuorinen composed Time's Encomium, the first Pulitzer Prize winner for an entirely electronic composition. The 1970s also saw the use of synthesisers in mainstream rock music with examples including Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
Released in 1970 by Moog Music the Mini-Moog was among the first widely available, portable and relatively affordable synthesizers. It became the most widely used synthesizer in both popular and electronic art music. In 1974 the WDR studio in Cologne acquired an EMS Synthi 100 synthesizer which was used by a number of composers in the production of notable electronic works—amongst others, Rolf Gehlhaar's Fünf deutsche Tänze (1975), Karlheinz Stockhausen's Sirius (1975–76), and John McGuire's Pulse Music III (1978).
IRCAM in Paris became a major center for computer music research and realization and development of the Sogitec 4X computer system, featuring then revolutionary real-time digital signal processing. Pierre Boulez's Répons (1981) for 24 musicians and 6 soloists used the 4X to transform and route soloists to a loudspeaker system.
Throughout the seventies bands such as The Residents and Can spearheaded an experimental music movement that incorporated electronic sounds. Can were one of the first bands to use tape loops for rhythm sections and The Residents created their own custom built drum machine. The German band Kraftwerk took a more purely electronic approach on records such as 1974's Autobahn. Other artists in the 1970s who composed primarily electronic instrumental music and managed to reach beyond the academic sphere and into the popular realm, were Jean Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, and Vangelis. Also in the 1970s, rock bands from Genesis to The Cars began incorporating synthesizers into traditional rock arrangements. Notably, British synthesist Brian Eno collaborated with rock performers such as David Bowie and Roxy Music.
In 1979, UK recording artist Gary Numan helped to bring electronic music into the wider marketplace of pop music with his hit "Cars" from the album The Pleasure Principle. Other successful hit electronic singles in the early 1980s included "Just Can't Get Enough" by Depeche Mode, "Don't You Want Me" by The Human League, "Whip It!" by Devo, and finally 1983's "Blue Monday" by New Order, which became the best-selling 12-inch single of all time. The Swiss duo Yello, Trevor Horn's Art of Noise, Naked Eyes, Prince, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, and Depeche Mode further incorporated early samplers like the Synclavier, Fairlight CMI, and E-mu Emulator into their hit records. By 1984, synthesizers and samplers were prominently featured in much popular music.
In 1980, a group of musicians and music merchants met to standardize an interface by which new instruments could communicate control instructions with other instruments and the prevalent microcomputer. This standard was dubbed MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). A paper was authored by Dave Smith of Sequential Circuits and proposed to the Audio Engineering Society in 1981. Then, in August 1983, the MIDI Specification 1.0 was finalized.
The advent of MIDI technology allows a single keystroke, control wheel motion, pedal movement, or command from a microcomputer to activate every device in the studio remotely and in synchrony, with each device responding according to conditions predetermined by the composer.
MIDI instruments and software made powerful control of sophisticated instruments easily affordable by many studios and individuals. Acoustic sounds became reintegrated into studios via sampling and sampled-ROM-based instruments.
Miller Puckette developed graphic signal-processing software for 4X called Max (after Max Mathews) and later ported it to Macintosh (with Dave Zicarelli extending it for Opcode) for real-time MIDI control, bringing algorithmic composition availability to most composers with modest computer programming background.
In 1979 the Australian Fairlight company released the Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument) the first practical polyphonic digital synthesiser/sampler system. In 1983, Yamaha introduced the first stand-alone digital synthesizer, the DX-7. It used frequency modulation synthesis (FM synthesis), first experimented with by John Chowning at Stanford during the late sixties.
Barry Vercoe describes one of his experiences with early computer sounds:
At IRCAM in Paris in 1982, flutist Larry Beauregard had connected his flute to DiGiugno's 4X audio processor, enabling real-time pitch-following. On a Guggenheim at the time, I extended this concept to real-time score-following with automatic synchronized accompaniment, and over the next two years Larry and I gave numerous demonstrations of the computer as a chamber musician, playing Handel flute sonatas, Boulez's Sonatine for flute and piano and by 1984 my own Synapse II for flute and computer—the first piece ever composed expressly for such a setup. A major challenge was finding the right software constructs to support highly sensitive and responsive accompaniment. All of this was pre-MIDI, but the results were impressive even though heavy doses of tempo rubato would continually surprise my Synthetic Performer. In 1985 we solved the tempo rubato problem by incorporating learning from rehearsals (each time you played this way the machine would get better). We were also now tracking violin, since our brilliant, young flautist had contracted a fatal cancer. Moreover, this version used a new standard called MIDI, and here I was ably assisted by former student Miller Puckette, whose initial concepts for this task he later expanded into a program called MAX.
In the late 1980s, dance music records made using only electronic instruments became increasingly popular. The trend has continued to the present day with modern nightclubs worldwide regularly playing electronic dance music. Nowadays, electronic/dance music is so popular, that dedicated genre radio stations (e.g., RADIO 538, Q Radio) or TV Channels (e.g., NRJ Dance, MUSIC FORCE EUROPE) exist.
In the 1990s, interactive computer-assisted performance started to become possible, with one example described as follows:
Automated Harmonization of Melody in Real Time: An interactive computer system, developed in collaboration with flutist/composer Pedro Eustache, for realtime melodic analysis and harmonic accompaniment. Based on a novel scheme of harmonization devised by Eustache, the software analyzes the tonal melodic function of incoming notes, and instantaneously performs an orchestrated harmonization of the melody. The software was originally designed for performance by Eustache on Yamaha WX7 wind controller, and was used in his composition Tetelestai, premiered in Irvine, California in March 1999.
Other recent developments included the Tod Machover (MIT and IRCAM) composition Begin Again Again for "hypercello", an interactive system of sensors measuring physical movements of the cellist. Max Mathews developed the "Conductor" program for real-time tempo, dynamic and timbre control of a pre-input electronic score. Morton Subotnick released a multimedia CD-ROM All My Hummingbirds Have Alibis.
In recent years, as computer technology has become more accessible and music software has advanced, interacting with music production technology is now possible using means that bear no relationship to traditional musical performance practices: for instance, laptop performance (laptronica) and live coding.
In the last decade, a number of software-based virtual studio environments have emerged, with products such as Propellerhead's Reason and Ableton Live finding popular appeal. Such tools provide viable and cost-effective alternatives to typical hardware-based production studios, and thanks to advances in microprocessor technology, it is now possible to create high quality music using little more than a single laptop computer. Such advances have democratized music creation, leading to a massive increase in the amount of home-produced electronic music available to the general public via the internet.
Artists can now also individuate their production practice by creating personalized software synthesizers, effects modules, and various composition environments. Devices that once existed exclusively in the hardware domain can easily have virtual counterparts. Some of the more popular software tools for achieving such ends are commercial releases such as Max/Msp and Reaktor and open source packages such as Pure Data, SuperCollider, and ChucK.
A practice originally pioneered by Reed Ghazala in the 1960s; it has recently found significant popular appeal. Circuit bending is the creative short-circuiting of low voltage, battery-powered electronic audio devices such as guitar effects, children's toys and small synthesizers to create new musical instruments and sound generators. Emphasizing spontaneity and randomness, the techniques of circuit bending have been commonly associated with noise music, though many more conventional contemporary musicians and musical groups have been known to experiment with "bent" instruments.
After World War II, when tape recorders had been invented and were becoming popular, composers started to use them to make music. The tape recorder was needed for the performance. Composers used them to combine lots of different sounds. Sometimes it was music played on ordinary (acoustic) instruments which was then changed in some way by the tape recorder. Sometimes they took sounds from everyday life such as the sound of water, traffic noise or bird song. All these noises were put together in the way the composer wanted by using the tape recorder. Tapes of sounds were often cut into pieces, then the pieces were 'spliced' — put back together in a different order. The results were often very interesting, but there were problems. Some people asked: “Is it music?” Others thought it was boring to just look at a tape recorder during a concert instead of being able to watch live musicians play.
Composers in Paris were experimenting with electronic music in the 1940s. They called it “Musique concrète” because they used natural, concrete sounds. (“Concrete” in this sense meant the opposite of “abstract” music which was written down for performance). The sounds were played back at different speeds, combined in lots of ways, played backwards or played continuously (repeated in a 'loop'), or played into a mixer and re-recorded onto another tape recorder. The sounds could be filtered. Effects such as vibrato or echo could be added. Sometimes composers used synthesizers which were machines that could make electronic music in real time. They sounded more like normal instruments than the sound effects on a tape recorder.
Computers have often been used for composing electronic music.
Composers who have used these ways of making music include John Cage (1912-1992), Bruno Maderna (1920-1973) and Karlheinz Stockhausen (b.1928). Very often composers combined electronic music with ordinary instruments being played.
In popular music, the use of electronics to create new sounds began in the 1960s. Producer Joe Meek and inventor Bob Moog both expanded the range of sounds that could be used in pop music, and by the end of that decade electronics had become accepted in the industry. In the next few years the work of people like Giorgio Moroder, Jean-Michel Jarre, Brian Eno and Kraftwerk made electronic music famous.
In the early 1980s electronic music became fashionable, and bands like New Order, The Human League, Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode became famous. Sometimes these bands would mix electronic music with rock music.
In the 21st Century electronics are so much a part of popular music that using it is no longer strange - in fact, many artists use nothing else.
New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians 1980; ISBN1-56150-174-2