What Pioneers of Electronic Music Taught Us

What Pioneers of Electronic Music Taught Us: a blog around synthesizers and new music.

The blog is written by Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani, two pioneers of electronic synthesizer music.

Smith is a contemporary artist whose work explores the relationship between sounds, humans, and nature. She uses Buchla synthesizers and her own voice to create an alien but organic universe that has enchanted many ears including mine. Her 2016 album EARS was one of my favorite records of last year.

Ciani is a contemporary composer whose work is rooted in synthesis. She made her name in the 70s composing music for commercials and films like The Incredible Shrinking Woman, Tron and The Day The Earth Stood Still. She also recorded 5 solo albums in the 80s which are some of the best records I know.

Electronic music is among the most exciting developments in the history of music, yet few people know much about it. One reason is that this remarkable development doesn’t fit into standard categories of musical styles and genres. Another is that much of its history has been lost or inaccessible to a wider public.

What Pioneers of Electronic Music Taught Us: a blog around synthesizers and new music.

Here at What Pioneers of Electronic Music Taught Us we have recently been going through a lot of old interviews from the 70s and 80s, with pioneers such as Wendy Carlos, Giorgio Moroder, and Klaus Schulze. As we read these interviews, we find that many of the things they talked about back then are still relevant today.

In this interview from 1992, J.J. Jeczalik of Art of Noise talks about his first experiments with electronic music in the 70s:

“I remember thinking at the time that you could only do electronic music if you had access to a studio, because it was too expensive for anyone to buy any equipment. But within a very short time modular synths became affordable and I remember feeling quite annoyed that people could actually afford to do it! There was no point in trying to keep up with everyone else because it would be impossible.”

In this interview from 1982, Jean Michel Jarre says:

“I think electronic music will never be truly accepted by society at large because it’s so cold and impersonal. It’s like an IBM computer, as opposed to a warm human being.”

In this interview from 1988, John Foxx said:

“For me there’s still something

My interest in electronic music was sparked in my teens when I discovered the Moog synthesizer. I played it so much throughout my teenage years that Moog became one of my main tools for composing music.

In this article, I wanted to pay homage to pioneers of electronic music who have helped shape the sound of our time.

What the pioneers of electronic music taught us is that the future of music is limitless. They have shown us that we can create any kind of sound with a synthesizer and compose any kind of music with a computer.

I recently came across an intriguing article in the New York Times that discussed the importance of a degree in music production. The article, written by Patrick Healy, states that “universities, conservatories and colleges are now offering degrees in a subject that, until recently, was mostly self-taught.” This is an important point. A trend I’ve noticed over the past few years is that more and more young people are interested in electronic music because they have a degree in it.

The problem of course is that no matter how much training you get in music production, it still won’t make you a better musician. You might have an advantage in some ways, but you’ll also be at a disadvantage in others.

What does this mean for those of us who don’t have degrees? Well, we can still learn from the pioneers of electronic music. In the 70s there were dozens of electronic groups releasing albums and singles. Some of these groups were incredibly influential and some of them aren’t even remembered today. But they all had one thing in common: they all taught us something about synthesizers and new music.

There will always be new things to learn about synthesizers. They’re constantly being refined and updated with new features. So take what you know

From the “Paris Avant Garde” of the early 20th century, through the Electroacoustic Music Studios of Paris and Cologne in the 1950’s and 60’s, to today’s avant garde, electronic music has constantly evolved. Today our keyboard controllers give us unprecedented power over sound generation and manipulation. It’s time to take the next step forward.

I created this blog because I believe we are witnessing a revolution in musical creation akin to that which occurred in the 1970s when synthesizers first appeared on the scene. Our new electronic instruments give us greater power than ever before: more ways to create sounds, make music, express ourselves with music. At the same time they make experimentation and exploration easier than ever before.

In this blog I’ll be sharing my discoveries while exploring these new instruments. Along the way I’ll introduce you to some great artists whose groundbreaking work inspired me to launch into this journey, and whose music is still captivating me as I discover it today.

At the time, the synthesizers of the day were unwieldy and inaccessible to most musicians. They required a great deal of equipment and knowledge to operate. In fact, most were not even capable of being played by hand. There was no MIDI or even any sort of protocol to allow one synthesizer to play another.

The result was that many composers turned instead to tape music: manipulating sounds that they recorded on magnetic tape. One of these composers was Raymond Scott (the guy responsible for the Looney Tunes theme music).

Scott’s experiments with tape manipulation led him to record sounds at half-speed, then play them back at normal speed; a technique that resulted in higher pitches and faster tempos.

He also experimented with what became known as “tape phasing” which involved recording the same track onto multiple tapes and playing them back simultaneously with each track slightly out of sync with the others.

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