Electronic art music

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Electronic art music refers to those forms of electronic music that fall within the general category of art music. The term encompasses a range of experimental music forms, both historical and contemporary, created by means of electronic instruments and differentiated from electronic forms of popular music, such as electronic rock, technopop, electronica or electronic dance music. Due to its experimental and eclectic nature, electronic art music has remained relatively obscure and out of the awareness of the general public, receiving little financial support from sales of its creations. The development of electronic art music has mostly been supported by, and occurred within, academic institutions. It has also been assisted by participation of corporate sponsors through their contributions of experimental equipment as part of their commercial development process. Although electronic art music has not penetrated the popular music marketplace directly, it has influenced the course of popular music, from the early days of electronic rock, space rock, and progressive rock, through the later developments of electronica, electronic dance music, ambient music, space music, and cinema soundtracks.


Some of the most prominent musicians and most highly acclaimed institutions have been involved in the progress of electronic art music, including celebrities such as Stokowski, Boulez, and Stockhausen, and institutions such as Columbia University, Princeton University, the University of Wisconsin, and Stanford University in the US, as well as broadcasting institutions in Canada, Europe, and Japan. At the earliest performances of true electronic music in the United States, "public and professionals alike were cordial and astonished". Time Magazine and the Today show featured the experimental composers and their works.

People involved in electronic art music today come from many different backgrounds, and not solely from conventional classical, or art-music circles. A brief look at the history of electronic classical music shows that its progress represents a natural course, a continuum of progress within classical music. Flutist Patricia Spencer believes that the exploration of electronic instruments represents "the development of a new instrument."

Proponents of electronic music today understand the importance of knowing the history, as exemplified in this statement by flutist Elizabeth McNutt, "A knowledge of the history brings greater understanding, and we are more forgiving."

Mario Davidovsky, one of the most important living figures involved in electronic music, describes the effect electronic music had on his acoustic writing:

...and then when I would return to write chamber music and orchestral music, I was incredibly influenced by all these new ideas of how sound could behave.

He also understands this music to have a large impact on all contemporary composers:

We can say that 20th Century music has been greatly influenced by electronic music, whether the composers were using electronic instruments or not.

History of electronic music[edit]

The following history includes advances in music technology in general, some significant works and composers, who have their own place in this history.

Emergence of recording and electronic technologies[edit]

The ability to record sounds is not absolutely necessary for production of electronic music, but is certainly very useful. The first precursor to the phonograph was invented in 1857 when Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville first recorded sound outlines onto cylinders coated with carbon (lampblack).

Two decades later, 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 1897.

In Copenhagen in 1898, Valdemar Poulsen patented the first magnetic recording machine, called the Telegraphone, which used wire as a recording medium. It caused a sensation in 1900 when it was exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris.

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 broadcastng, and electronic computation, amongst other things.

Telharmonium: the first music synthesizer[edit]

In 1898 Thaddeus Cahill patented an instrument called the Telharmonium (or Teleharmonium, also known as the Dynamaphone). Using tonewheels to generate musical sounds as electrical signals by additive synthesis, it was capable of producing any combination of notes and overtones, at any dynamic level. This technology was later used to design the Hammond organ. Between 1901 and 1910 Cahill had three progressively larger and more complex versions made, the first weighing seven tons, the last in excess of 200 tons. Portability was managed only by rail and with the use of thirty boxcars. By 1912, public interest had waned, and Cahill's enterprise was bankrupt.

A "New Esthetic of Music"[edit]

Just a year later, another significant contribution was made to the advent of experimental music. This was the 1907 publication of Ferruccio Busoni's 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:

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 wellnigh 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 nor 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.

The Futurists[edit]

In Italy, the Futurists were coming at the changing aesthetic from a different angle, but one that also affected the world of classical music. 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.

In 1914, futurist Luigi Russolo 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.

The Theremin[edit]

Another development, which aroused the interest of many composers, occurred in 1919-1920. In Leningrad, Leon Theremin (actually Lev Termen) built and demonstrated his Etherophone, which was later renamed the Theremin. This led to the first compositions for electronic instruments, as opposed to noisemakers and re-purposed machines.

Composers who ultimately utilized the Theremin included Varèse—in his piece Ecuatorial (1934)—while conductor Leopold Stokowski experimented with its use in arrangements from the classical repertory. In 1929, Joseph Schillinger composed First Airphonic Suite for Theremin and Orchestra, premiered with the Cleveland Orchestra with Leon Theremin as soloist.

The Ondes Martenot[edit]

The 1920s have been called the apex of the Mechanical Age and the dawning of the Electrical Age. In 1922, in Paris, Darius Milhaud began experiments with "vocal transformation by phonograph speed change." These continued until 1927.

This decade brought a wealth of early electronic instruments—along with the Theremin—, there is the presentation of the Ondes Martenot, which was designed to reproduce the microtonal sounds found in Hindu music, and the Trautonium. Maurice Martenot invented the Ondes Martenot in 1928, and soon demonstrated it in Paris. Composers using the instrument ultimately include Boulez, Honneger, Jolivet, Koechlin, Messiaen, Milhaud, Tremblay, and Varèse. In 1937, Messiaen wrote Fête des belles eaux for 6 ondes Martenot, and wrote solo parts for it in Trois petites liturgies de la Présence Divine (1943–44) and the Turangalîla Symphonie (1946–48/90).

The Trautonium[edit]

The Trautonium was also invented in 1928, and in 1940, Richard Strauss used Trautonium in his Japanese Festival Music. This new class of instruments, microtonal by nature, was only adopted slowly by composers at first, but by the early 1930s there is clearly a burst of new works incorporating these and other electronic instruments.

The 1920s[edit]

In 1924, Ottorino Respighi composed The Pines of Rome, which calls for the use of a phonograph recording of nightingales though, at the time of composition, phonograph players were acoustical, not electric, and this is actually more along the lines of using of a sound effect, and therefore cannot be considered an electroacoustic element in the composition.

The following year, Antheil first composed for mechanical devices, electrical noisemakers, motors and amplifiers in his unfinished opera, Mr. Bloom, as a response to the "art of noises" of Luigi Russolo, Marinetti and the other Futurists. And just one year later in 1926, was the premiere of Antheil's Ballet Mécanique, using car horns, airplane propellers, saws, and anvils (but no electronics).

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 principals of the Telharmonium, along with other developments including early reverberation units.

The first electronic sound synthesizer?[edit]

At the Paris Exposition in 1929, Edouard Coupleux and Armand Givelet presented an instrument utilizing oscillators controlled by punched paper rolls. This is arguably the first real "synthesizer", discounting Cahill's Telharmonium, of course. Just a few years later (in 1935), another significant development was made in Germany. Allgemeine Elektrizitäts Gesellschaft (AEG) demonstrated the first commercially produced magnetic tape recorder, called the "Magnetophon". The tape itself was invented by Fritz Pfleumer, and manufactured by I.G. Farben AG. Audio tape, which had the advantage of being fairly light as well as having good audio fidelity, ultimately replaced the bulkier wire recorders.

According to Dictionary.com Unabridged, the term "electronic music" (which, as defined in 2006 includes the tape recorder as an essential element: "electronically produced sounds recorded on tape and arranged by the composer to form a musical composition") first came into use during the 1930s.

In 1939, John Cage composed Imaginary Landscape no.1 while teaching at The Cornish School in Seattle. The piece calls for muted piano, cymbal, and two variable-speed turntables playing records of test tones. This could be considered the first use of electronically produced sounds as instrumental voices. This differs from Antheil's use of mechanical gadgets, and from Respighi's use of recordings as pure sound effect (bird sounds). Cage composed two more pieces in his Imaginary Landscape series, both in 1942 while in Chicago, which expanded on this pioneering work. He composed March (Imaginary Landscape no. 2) for percussion quintet and amplified coil of wire, and then Imaginary Landscape no. 3 for percussion, tin cans, muted gong, audio frequency oscillators, variable speed turntables, frequency recordings (test tones), buzzer, amplified coil of wire, and marimba amplified with a contact microphone.

After the Second World War[edit]

In postwar Paris, Paul Boisselet experimented with electronic oscillators, as well as disc and tape procedures, at the same time that Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry were developing the techniques of musique concrète. In the United States, the focus turned more toward the generation of sounds, as well as the generation of compositions through use of computers. In 1946, the ENIAC (the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) was invented, the first true computer.

Musique concrète[edit]

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.

A year later, in 1949, Schaeffer created another musique concrète piece, Variations sur une flûte mexicaine (‘Variations on a Mexican Flute’), which was broadcast on the newly reformed French Radio on November 3 and, in late January of 1950, was played at a tape concert at the Paris Conservatory. Not long after this, Pierre Henry began collaborating with Schaeffer, a collaboration that was to have profound and lasting affects on the progression of electronic music. Also associated with Schaeffer, Edgard Varèse began work on Déserts 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.

Elektronische Musik[edit]

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. Meyer-Eppler's conception was 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.

The New York School and the Music for Magnetic Tape Project[edit]

Meanwhile, back 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.

Columbia University[edit]

Also in the U.S., in the same year, significant developments were happening in New York City. Columbia University purchased its first tape recorder—a professional Ampex machine—for the purpose of recording concerts.

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."[1] 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 of 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."

Development of the sound sequencer[edit]

These short few months were some of the most exciting in music history and technology, and the profundity of it was recognized at the time. It seems doubtful that electroacoustic music ever received such a wide audience again, unless one includes televised concerts by latter day rock and jazz fusion groups. Others were certainly active exploring new technology also. In that same year, 1951, former jazz composer Raymond Scott invented the first sequencer, which consisted of hundreds of switches controlling stepping relays, timing solenoids, tone circuits and 16 individual oscillators.

After this point, we see a spate of compositions utilizing the new technology, and a great deal included acoustic as well as electronic sounds. In 1952, Henk Badings composed the Capriccio for violin and two sound tracks, which is one of the earliest known pieces for combined electric and acoustic sounds.

Maderna and Berio[edit]

In 1952 the Italian Bruno Maderna composed Musica su due dimensioni (Music in Two Dimensions) for flute, cymbals, and electronic sounds on tape, the first piece to use flute as an acoustic instrument along with electronics. The electronic part was recorded in a single day in Bonn, Germany, with the collaboration of Werner Meyer-Eppler. Maderna was not satisfied with the tape part, which had been produced by superimposing several lines played on a Melochord (a monophonic electronic keyboard instrument, invented in 1947 by Harald Bode, and he revised this part in 1958.

The following year, Luciano Berio composed his Mimusique no. 1 and other early tape pieces at the Milan broadcasting studios of the RAI. Shortly afterward, Berio met Maderna. Together they composed another tape piece, Ritratto di città (1954), and began making plans for a proper electronic music studio, to be established at the RAI. This facility, the Studio di Fonologia, was opened in 1955, with Berio and Maderna as co-directors.

Stochastic music[edit]

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).

Varèse's Déserts[edit]

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."

Late 1950s[edit]

Also 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 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."

That same year 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.

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-1950's 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.

1957 saw an exciting new development in computer technology. The first use of a computer to generate sound was demonstrated at Bell Telephone Laboratories, New Jersey by Max Mathews, who used the MUSIC4 program running on an IBM mainframe computer, which used a primitive digital to analog converter. Mathews later left Bell Labs to work at Stanford, which became a major center for electronic and computer music.

In 1958, University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana established the Studio for Experimental Music under the initial direction of Lejaren Hiller. The studio became, and remains, one of the most important centers for electronic music research in the United States.

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 Argentinean composer, composed Transición II, the first piece to call for live tape recorder as part of performance. 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.

In 1958, one of the most important and influential studios was formed. The Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center (CPEMC) was formed by Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luening of Columbia, and Milton Babbitt and Roger Sessions in Princeton with the help of a $175,000 Rockefeller Grant. Other composers involved included Mario Davidovsky, Halim El-Dabh, Bülent Arel, Luciano Berio, Milton Babbitt, Charles Wuorinen, Pril Smiley, and Jacob Druckman. In 1960, CPEMC obtains the RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer, the first major voltage-controlled synthesizer. This is the same year that the integrated circuit was invented.

Expansion during the 1960s[edit]

By this time, a strong community of composers and musicians working with new sounds and instruments was well 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 1960s also saw the development of large mainframe computer synthesis. Max Mathews of Bell Labs perfected MUSIC V, a direct digital synthesis language. Concurrent with this was the development of smaller voltage-controlled synthesizers by Moog Music and others that made instruments available to most composers, universities and popular musicians. A well-known example of the use of these synthesizers is the Switched-On Bach album by Wendy Carlos. This decade saw construction of more than 50 electronic music studios in the USA, mostly in universities.

These were fertile years for electronic music—not only for academia, but for independent artists as well. It was within this period (1966-67) that 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.

This time is also the true beginning of live-electronic performance. The Synket, a live performance instrument—used extensively by composer John Eaton in works such as Concert Piece for Synket and Orchestra (1967)—was invented.

ONCE Festivals, featuring multimedia theater music, were organized by Robert Ashley and Gordon Mumma in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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). Later, the Center moved to Mills College, directed by Pauline Oliveros, where it is today known as the Center for Contemporary Music.

Back across the Atlantic, in Czechoslovakia, 1964, the First Seminar of Electronic Music was held at the Radio Broadcast Station in Plzeň. 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. In 1964, the first fully-developed Moog synthesizer was completed. Robert Moog began public sales the following year (1965). Another popular instrument was the Hammond organ.

In 1964, Karlheinz Stockhausen composed Mikrophonie I for tam-tam, hand-held microphones, filters, and potentiometers, and Mixtur for orchestra, for four sine-wave generators, and four ring modulators. In 1965 he composed Mikrophonie II for choir, Hammond organ, and ring modulators.

The Mini-Moog[edit]

In 1970, Charles Wuorinen composed Time's Encomium, the first Pulitzer Prize winner for an entirely electronic composition. Also in the 1970s, the Mini-Moog was created. This was a small, integrated synthesizer that made analog synthesis easily available and affordable and became the most widely used synthesizer in both popular and electronic art music. The mini-moog was quickly joined in the marketplace by ARP and Oberheim portable synthesizers.


(Paris) became a major center for computer music research and realization and development of the Sogitec 4X computer system[1], featuring then revolutionary real-time digital signal processing. Pierre Boulez's Repons (1981) for 24 musicians and 6 soloists used the 4X to transform and route soloists to a loudspeaker system.

The Synclavier[edit]

Jon Appleton (with Jones and Alonso) invented the Dartmouth Digital Synthesizer, later to become the New England Digital Copt's Synclavier. Barry Vercoe wrote Music 11, a next-generation music synthesis program (later evolving into csound, which is still widely used).

MIDI technology[edit]

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 ports 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. At the same time, Sequential Circuits introduced the Prophet 600—the first MIDI keyboard. In 1985, the final MIDI specification was published by the MIDI Manufacturers Association.

Digital recording and synthesis technology[edit]

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.[2]

In 1985, Digidesign released Sound Designer software for the Macintosh, the first hard disk recording and editing software available for personal computers. David Jaffe, Julius Smith and Perry Cook (CCRMA studios of Stanford University) created a prototype physical of physical modeling, a method of synthesis in which physical properties of existing instruments are represented as computer algorithms which can then be manipulated and extended.

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 flutist 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 1990s, interactive computer-assisted performance started to become possible, with one example describes 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. This piece was premiered by Yo-Yo Ma. 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.

See also[edit]


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  • Busoni, Ferruccio. 1962. '"Sketch of a New Esthetic of Music". Translated by Dr. Th. Baker and originally published in 1911 by G. Schirmer. Reprinted in Three Classics in the Aesthetic of Music: Monsieur Croche the Dilettante Hater, by Claude Debussy; Sketch of a New Esthetic of Music, by Ferruccio Busoni; Essays before a Sonata, by Charles E. Ives, 73–102. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
  • Chadabe Joel. 1997. Electric Sound: The Past and Promise of Electronic Music. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
  • J. Chowning (1973). "The Synthesis of Complex Audio Spectra by Means of Frequency Modulation". Journal of the Audio Engineering Society 21 (7)
  • Dobrian, Christopher. 2002. "Current Research Projects". Accessed 29 June 2007.
  • Dunn, David. 1992 "A History of Electronic Music Pioneers", in catalog accompanying the exhibition Eigenwelt der Apparatewelt: Pioneers of Electronic Art, curated by Woody and Steina Vasulka and presented as part of Ars Electronica 1992, in Linz, Austria.
  • Eimert, Herbert. 1972. "How Electronic Music Began." Musical Times 113, no. 1550 (April): 347 & 349. (First published in German in Melos 39 (Jan.-Feb. 1972): 42–44.)
  • Emmerson, Simon. 1986. The Language of Electroacoustic Music. London: Macmillan.
  • Gard, Stephen (2004). "Nasty Noises: ‘Error’ as a Compositional Element". Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Sydney eScholarship Repository.
  • Griffiths, Paul. 1995. Modern Music and After: Directions Since 1945. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Kurtz, Michael. 1992. Stockhausen: A Biography. Translated by Richard Toop. London: Faber and Faber.
  • Johnson, Steven (2002). The New York Schools of Music and Visual Arts: John Cage, Morton Feldman. Routledge. ISBN 0415936942.
  • Luening, Otto. 1964. "Some Random Remarks About Electronic Music", Journal of Music Theory 8, no. 1 (Spring): 89–98.
  • Luening, Otto. 1968. "An Unfinished History of Electronic Music". Music Educators Journal 55, no. 3 (November): 42–49, 135–42, 145.
  • Macon, Edward L. (1997). Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195098870.
  • Morawska-Büngeler, Marietta. 1988. Schwingende Elektronen: Eine Dokumentation über das Studio für Elektronische Musik des Westdeutschen Rundfunk in Köln 1951–1986. Cologne-Rodenkirchen: P. J. Tonger Musikverlag.
  • Peyser, Joan (1995). The Music of My Time. Oxford University Press. ISBN 091248399.
  • Roads Curtis. 1996. The Computer Music Tutorial. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  • Russcol, Herbert. 1972. The Liberation of Sound: An Introduction to Electronic Music. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
  • Schwartz, Elliott. 1975. Electronic Music New York: Praeger.
  • Snyder, Jeff. [n.d.]. "Pierre Schaeffer: Inventor of Musique Concrete". Accessed May 2002.
  • Ungeheuer, Elena. 1992. Wie die elektronische Musik "erfunden" wurde: Quellenstudie zu Werner Meyer-Epplers musikalischem Entwurf zwischen 1949 und 1953. Kölner Schriften zur neuen Musik 2. Mainz and New York: Schott. ISBN 3795718910
  • Vercoe, Barry. 2000. "Forward," in The Csound Book: Perspectives in Software Synthesis, Sound Design, Signal Processing, and Programming, edited by Richard Boulanger, xxvii–xxx. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  • Weidenaar, Reynold. 1995. Magic Music from the Telharmonium: The Story of the First Music Synthesizer. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, Inc.. ISBN 0-8108-2692-5


Much of the above text was originally published as part of Doctoral Dissertation titled Electroacoustic Music for the Flute by Sarah Louise Bassingthwaighte. Written permission for reposting the content was obtained by Wikipedia on April 2, 2007.

  • Bassingthwaighte, Sarah Louise (2002). "Electroacoustic Music for the Flute". A Brief History of Electroacoustic Music. Diss., University of Washington. Retrieved on 2007-04-02.


  • Russcol 1972, 92.
  • Chowning, 1973.