The History of Electronic Music – A Timeline


TheHistory of Electronic Music – A Timeline: a blog outlining the history of electronic music as well as covering current trends in the field.

Early Electronic Instruments: a page that provides pictures and descriptions of some early electronic instruments.

Electronic Music Timeline: an interactive timeline covering many aspects of the history of electronic music.

Music Technology Timeline: a timeline produced by the BBC, covering many aspects of music technology.

Electronic Music History: a timeline that focuses on digital technology and its influence on computer music. Part of an online class produced by Northwestern University.

Electronic music is a genre that has been around since the invention of cathode ray tube oscillators. These devices were used to create sounds similar to those of traditional instruments. This is the beginning of electronic music, where musical frequencies are represented as sine waves.

Electronic music can be described as any music that has been created and/or modified by electronic means. Today, electronic music is often created with the use of digital audio workstations (DAWs), which are computer programs that allow for the creation of sounds through manipulation of the waveform.

The history of electronic music can be traced back over a century, from early experiments with electricity to modern day synthesizers and pop starlets.

In this article we will cover various historical steps in the evolution of electronic music and highlight some key events along the way.

The history of electronic music as we know it began in the late 19th century, when inventors started toying with the idea of sound recording and reproduction using purely mechanical means. In 1877, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph and revolutionized the way people listened to music. His invention was able to capture sound on a tinfoil-covered cylinder and reproduce it by the use of a needle that transmitted vibrations to a diaphragm connected to a horn. The system was electromechanical, however, and not truly electronic in nature.

It wasn’t until 1897 that true electronic instruments were created. In this year, an American named Thaddeus Cahill took out several patents for his Telharmonium, which used rotating electric dynamos to produce musical tones. The instrument was extremely large and heavy; one version weighed 200 tons! It was also extremely expensive to build, with estimates ranging from $200,000 to $400,000.

In 1906 Cahill started up a company called the Telharmonic Corporation to produce his instrument commercially, but he ran into several problems. First of all, it took hours of time and effort just to make a single Telharmonium sound right. Also, there were no amplifiers available at that time powerful

Culture and technology are inextricably linked. We are surrounded by music at all times. It is played in most shops, restaurants, bars, and cafés; it is used in commercials to advertise products; it accompanies us on the bus or train to work. Music has become a fundamental part of our lives, and yet the majority of people rarely give any thought to the technologies that make this phenomenon possible.

Even if we don’t think about it very much, music technology is always with us. You may be listening to music as a soundtrack to your reading of this article. It is possible that you are reading this while in transit on a vehicle equipped with hundreds of hours of recorded music (not to mention thousands more hours of entertainment material in the form of films, television programs, etc.). If you are reading this at home, you are likely within arm’s reach of one or more devices capable of playing music (perhaps even including your computer). Music technology has become an integral part of our everyday lives, and yet few people ever stop to consider its history or influence on modern culture.

Electronic music is music that employs electronic musical instruments and electronic music technology in its production, an electronic musician being a musician who composes and/or performs such music. In general a distinction can be made between sound produced using electromechanical means (electroacoustic music) 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.

The first electronic devices for performing music were developed at the end of the 19th century: the Telharmonium accurately reproduced the sound of orchestral instruments; it was intended primarily for live performance use but was also used to compose melodies on paper roll in a manner similar to a player piano; the Ondes Martenot generated electronic timbres and was

Electronic music is our current era’s art music. It has the potential to be as important as any other form of art music, when we fully understand its language and culture. – Brian Eno

Electronic music is generally understood to have begun in the mid-20th century with the development of new technologies for synthesizing, manipulating, recording and broadcasting sound. Early electronic instruments were developed by a number of inventors and composers, some of whom had made significant contributions to the use of electricity in music (e.g. Luigi Russolo, Edgard Varèse, Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry).

In general terms it can be said that the term “electronic music” refers to all “music made using electrical or electronic means”. But more specifically it refers to:

* Music made using sound generating electronic devices (e.g. early electronic instruments such as the Theremin, Ondes Martenot, Trautonium, RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer)

* Music created by electronically manipulating pre-recorded sounds (i.e., musique concrète)

* Computer generated music (i.e., computer music)

As an umbrella term it encompasses a range of musical styles from electroacoustic and

Electronic music is music that employs electronic musical instruments, digital instruments and circuitry-based music technology. In general, a distinction can be made between sound produced using electromechanical means (electroacoustic music), 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.

The first electronic devices for performing music were developed at the end of the 19th century, and shortly afterward Italian futurists explored sounds that had not been considered musical. During the 1920s and 1930s, electronic instruments were introduced and the first compositions for electronic instruments were made. By the 1940s, magnetic audio tape allowed musicians to tape sounds and then modify them by changing the tape speed or direction, leading to the development of electroacoustic


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