Evolution of Electronic Music in the 20th Century
By Thomas Barrett
Over the last 100 years, technology has shaped the development of music. From the phonograph to the electric guitar to the analog synthesizer, each invention has contributed to the overall advancement of music as an art form. This blog is meant to teach and inform readers about some of the most important musical developments of the 20th century.
The first musical technology was invented in 1877 by Thomas Edison when he patented his phonograph. Although it was never intended for musical use, this invention allowed people to record sound and then play it back later on. Later that year, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville invented a device that could record sounds on a sheet of paper as wavy lines. This was called a phonautograph. In 1888, Emile Berliner improved upon these two devices by inventing a machine that used flat discs instead of cylinders or paper. He also made them reproducible so that they could be sold and distributed among people. These machines were originally referred to as gramophones but were later called phonographs once Edison’s brand name came into effect. The gramophone became incredibly popular in the early 20th century after Victor Talking Machine Co. began mass producing
Welcome to Electronic Music in the 20th Century! This blog will be exploring the evolution of electronic musical instruments as technology advanced. We’ll be covering the earliest instruments such as Theremins and Ondes Martenots, as well as some of the more obscure instruments like Optigans and Mellotrons, all the way up to modern day digital synthesisers.
I’m hoping this blog will be an educational resource for musicians and producers who are interested in learning about the history of electronic music and its origins, with plenty of sound examples from vintage recordings, documentaries, and interviews with some of the most influential artists in electronic music.
I’ll also be covering some really interesting vintag
Electronic music as we know it today had its beginnings in the early 1900s with Italian futurist Luigi Russolo’s “Art of Noises” manifesto and his constructed noise intstruments called intonarumori. Among the first to experiment with electronic instruments in the 20th century was Russian inventor and scientist Leon Theremin, who created what was later called the Theremin in 1919. In 1937, Austrian composer Paul Lansky created “Mild Und Leise” using a vacuum tube based synthesizer from a Bell Labs engineer named Harry Olson. The same year, American composer John Cage used phonograph recordings in his work “Imaginary Landscape 1.”
The 1950s saw the rise of more serious electronic music composition as composers like Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen began to use magnetic tape in their compositions. Stockhausen also worked extensively with an early tape-delay system he called the Klangfolge or sound sequence. During this time, several electronic music studios were founded in Paris, Milan, Cologne, and Utrecht. Composers such as Luciano Berio and Gyorgy Ligeti also began writing for live electronics during this decade.
In the 60s, analog modular synthesizers began
Electronic music is a unique genre of art, blended with technicality and emotion. The development of electronic music in the 20th century was a crucial step into the future of artistic expression, which began to form in the late 1800s. The technological developments that came along with this musical movement were accelerated by the rise of nation states and their contribution to the economy.
Electronic music exists within many genres and forms. It can be used to create ambient soundscapes or it can be used as an instrument or a tool to create noise. Electronic music is often created through the use of electronic devices such as audio synthesizers, digital instruments, computers, drum machines and live electronics.
Electronic music has been evolving for over 100 years, which has caused an extremely wide range of uses for it. This genre of music has become so widespread that it is difficult to define what qualifies as electronic music anymore. Electronic music is anything from classical pieces that use electric instruments like guitar or bass to experimental noise groups who use electrical devices such as oscillators to create strange sounds that are not possible with traditional acoustic instruments.
Electronic music is a form of music that utilizes electronic musical instruments, digital instruments and circuitry-based music technology. In general a distinction can be made between sound produced using electromechanical means and that produced using electronics only. Electromechanical instruments include mechanical elements, such as strings, hammers, and so on, and electric elements, such as magnetic pickups, power amplifiers and loudspeakers. Examples of electromechanical sound producing devices include the Telharmonium, Hammond organ, and the electric guitar, which are typically made loud enough for performers and audiences to hear with an instrument amplifier and speaker cabinet. Pure electronic instruments do not have vibrating strings, hammers, or other sound-producing mechanisms. Devices such as the theremin, synthesizer, and computer can produce electronic sounds.
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.
Electronic music is a genre of music that was created by the use of electronic devices. Electronic instruments such as the Theremin, Ondes Martenot, Trautonium and Hammond organ have been used to create electronic music for some time. The first commercial electronic musical instrument was invented in 1932 by Laurens Hammond who later went on to make the Hammond Organ. In 1938, RCA engineers introduced the world to magnetic tape recording. This invention lead to a new wave of experimentation with sound by composers such as Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen. The onset of World War II lead to a great demand for technology from military forces which allowed the development of the first computer in 1941. In 1951, Canadian Hugh Le Caine invented an early synthesizer called the Electronic Sackbut which he demonstrated at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE). Le Caine also developed what he called a “touch-controlled keyboard” which would be important in creating electronic instruments in later years.
“Electronic Music” is a term used to describe music produced by electronically manipulating sounds rather than wholly or partly with musical instruments. The “electronic musical instrument” was not invented until the early part of the 20th century. However, experiments with electricity and sound began as early as 1877.
It was in the early 1930s that the first truly technological breakthroughs were made in the field of electronic music. Theodor Adorno, a German philosopher and musicologist, used synthesized sounds with traditional instruments in his composition “Philosophie der Neuen Musik” (Philosophy of New Music), written for radio broadcast in 1930.
Adorno’s work with synthesized sound greatly influenced the German composer Paul Hindemith who incorporated similar techniques into his opera “Mathis der Maler” (Matthias the Painter) in 1934. In 1936, Hindemith commissioned Hermann Scherchen, a Swiss conductor and composer, to write a series of compositions using a set of artificial timbres on tape. This commission led to Scherchen’s use of synthesized sound in “Thema und Variationen” (Theme and Variations). In addition to these pioneering works, the German composer Werner Meyer-Eppler created compositions using