Monoton, “Monotone” [Deutsche Elektronische Musik] (1974): A blog about the 1974 recording.
Monoton is a word that appears in the book Die Neue Welle by Ludwig Tieck. It refers to a monotone way of talking. In colloquial German, the use of the word is somewhat similar to the word “monotonous”.
In 1974 Walter Ruttmann, who was a pioneer in avant-garde cinema, decided to make a radio play that would take up only one minute on tape. The idea behind it was to create a radio play without any actors or dialogue. Instead it would consist of pure sound and music interwoven with each other. This method of composition was quite new at that time and was very unusual for a radio play.
I have always been fascinated by this piece of music and I think it deserves more attention than it has received so far. Therefore I have set up this blog where I will write about various aspects of the piece of music and its history as well as some other information about Monoton.
Monoton, “Monotone” [Deutsche Elektronische Musik] (1974)
In the early 1970s, Vienna was a hotbed of radical music. The city was home to the legendary Universal Equation label, which released important works by the likes of Maurizio Bianchi, Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, and Gyorgy Ligeti. In the wake of this activity came a number of experimental artists who were attempting to find their own way in the wake of these giants. One such figure was Kurt Ralske — a young American-born musician who had moved to Austria after studying at Yale and Columbia. Ralske would go on to become one of the most important figures in Vienna’s burgeoning noise scene, but what I’d like to discuss today is his first record as Monoton: Monotone [Deutsche Elektronische Musik], which was recorded in 1974 and released posthumously in 1980.
“Monotone” is a fifty-minute long piece that was recorded in a single take with no overdubs or edits. It consists entirely of two notes: an A below middle C and an E below that (41 Hz and 82 Hz respectively). These two notes are played on
This is a recording of a radio show from WDR Cologne, broadcast on 31st December 1974. The show is called “Monoton”, and was presented by Roedelius and Moebius, but I think that the rest of the material was mixed by Onnen Bock (he has a credit for “Production”). I guess he must have been working at the radio station at that time.
The show was released on vinyl in 1976, as Deutsche Elektronische Musik: Experimental German Rock And Electronic Music 1972-1983 (on Soul Jazz records). It sounds like it may be the same track listing as this recording. The sleeve notes say:
“WDR Cologne broadcast a program entitled ‘Monoton’ which featured some of the earliest recordings made by Günter Schickert, Klaus Schulze and Conny Plank, who later became well known producers and engineers in Europe. This program also included some very early recordings by Harald Grosskopf (from Ash Ra Tempel).”
I’m not sure if that’s right though: I can’t hear any music by Grosskopf on there. Maybe that’s because I don’t know his stuff? Or maybe there are different versions of this show? Does anyone know
In 1966, Conrad Schnitzler founded the Zodiak Free Arts Lab, an avant-garde music and art commune in West Berlin. In 1969, he contributed to the album Tangerine Dream, which is often cited as the first recording of a German krautrock band. In 1971, he joined Kluster (later Cluster), and departed in 1973 to form his own group, Eruption, and later on to pursue a solo career.
Monoton, Schnitzler’s first solo LP from 1974, was released by the short-lived label Ohrwaschl Records. The album’s sleeve design is credited to Gille Lettmann and Schnitzler himself. The cover photograph shows Schnitzler performing live at Alchemie (since 2006 called “Chalet”) in Berlin Kreuzberg.
Deutsche Elektronische Musik (or “German Electronic Music”) is a genre of electronic music that developed in Germany during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It arose as an offshoot of Krautrock, which was itself a development of psychedelic rock and proto-punk. This style is characterized by the use of synthesizers, drum machines, electric guitars and other electronic instruments. While it influenced many musical genres, including techno and trance, it is perhaps best known for its influence on early industrial music and experimental music.
Given its roots in the 1960s counterculture and experimental music–as well as the fact that some of its early practitioners were connected to radical political organizations such as the Red Army Faction–the genre is not generally associated with Nazi Germany or German militarism. Instead, it tends to be remembered fondly as an important part of postwar German culture and also an integral part of the Kraftwerk mythos.
Deutsche elektronische musik is still popular today among electronic music fans and avant-garde enthusiasts.
This is an important release in the history of electronic music which has been out of print for decades. It’s great that it’s back”
-Kraftwerk / Ralf Hütter
The story of German electronic music has been told many times, but the roots lie in the early 1920s, when a group of composers from around the world gathered in the small town of Donaueschingen. These composers were not interested in traditional tonality. They wanted to explore new ideas about rhythm and texture. In 1924, composer Paul Hindemith wrote “Three Pieces for Chamber Orchestra,” which was performed at one of these meetings. The piece was very successful, and it inspired other composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and Bruno Maderna to write similar works.
In 1929, a young Hungarian composer named Gyorgy Ligeti (1923-2006) heard Hindemith’s work and began experimenting with electronic instruments. He built an oscillator out of scrap materials, which he used to create sounds using radio waves instead of electricity. The result was an eerie drone that could be heard over long distances.
Ligeti’s experiments eventually led him to develop an entirely new type of instrument: the synthesizer. A synthesizer is an electronic musical instrument that produces sound through electrical signals rather than acoustics like a guitar or piano does. Synthesizers are capable of creating almost any sound imaginable from scratch