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  • Date :
  • 9/8/2004

Electronic Music History

Introduction: Electronic Music and Rave Electronic music is a popular type of music today. "Raving" is a term, which goes side by side with this type of music. There are many current bands that display this style of music. Along with the up to date bands, there are musicians from the past who set the stage for electronic music. The rave culture is a topic which deserves attention.

There are many current events to talk about when it comes to this subject, but, there are also the facts: where rave/electronic music started, and who was involved in its/ their creation?

It is important that we remember how significant the early beginnings of electronic and rave music were, because without the past, we would not have Prodigy, Beck, or any other electronically based band. So, let us take in all the facts, all of the names, and all of the dates, but let us also remember, there is so much more to follow. We cannot just skip to the rave culture, spirit, and philosophies without recognizing all of the people who made all of this possible.

Three Cornerstones of Electronic Music Since the mid 20th century, musicians have taken great strides in the development of electronic music.

 Three composers in particular, Edgar Varese, Milton Babbit, and Tod Machover, have pioneered such breakthroughs with their unique approaches to music composition and production. They started what we today know as electronic music.

Edgar Varese

In 1958, Edgar Varese composed "Pome electronique," the only composition he completed in his life. "Poeme electronique" was the first composition to combine human voice with synthetic sounds produced by an oscillator and a filter. This piece was played at a Belfina sound and light show, and featured both visual and audio elements as a complete environment of entertainment. The pavilion where it was performed was decorated, producing an even greater visual effect for the show. Percussion was also synthetic, a common feature today. However, in the 1950s, it was considered new and unusual. Back then, at age 73, Edgar Varese had set the standard for all synthetic electronic music of the" future.

Milton Babbit

Milton Babbit was an electronic composer who was known for his use of 12-tone serialism. He took electronic music to the next level by combining electronic music and live performance. In 1970, his masterpiece, "Phonemena," was completed, featuring a soprano, piano, and a prerecorded tape. In its performance, each note is attacked to the exact consonance of every vowel. This could be defined as the earliest interactive performance in music history. "Phenomena" represented the achievement of the musical and technological intellectual arisoity of the era.

Todd Machover

Todd Machover was trained as a composer at Julliard School, in New York. He went on to utilize computers and music, as many other composers at this time had. He combined acoustic and electric instruments with live interactive computer performances, as well as hyper-instruments, most notably his Electric Glove. "Bug Mudra" is Machover"s most famous composition, in which a variety of acoustic and electric guitar styles are combined, using rock, folk and classical music as well as jazz-like improvisation, and rock–like riffs. The Electric Glove worn by the conductor measures each nuance of a composition, and owing to the computer, the sound is dominated solely by electronics. With the glove, the conductor"s hand determines all measurements of the musical notes" pitches, as well as rhythm and pulse. Electronic Music in the 1980s: The Beginning of Rave Electronic Music remained experimental and obscure in the 1970s, yet it flourished in the 1980s due to the technological development of electronic equipment and the affordability of instruments and new technology.


1902 Thaddeaus Cahill sets up the Telharmonium or Dynamaphone, a 200-ton array of Edison dynamos that produced different pitched hums according to the speed of the dynamos. The electrical output was "broadcast" over telephone lines.

1906 Lee DeForest invents the Triode Vacuum Tube which led to amplification of electrical signals.

1907 Ferruccio Busoni publishesSketch for a New Aesthetic of Music discussing the use of electrical and other new sound sources in future music. He was to have a profound effect on his pupil, Edgard Varese.

1920"s Varese writes Ionisation and George Antheil writes Ballet Mecanique: Both use percussion and noise instruments and deal with the "liberation of sound" and a new view of "spatial-temporal" relationships.

Electronic instruments invented during this period include the:

Theremin (1919-20)

Ondes-Martenot (1928)

Trautonium (1928)

Hammond Organ (1929) based on technical principles of the Telharmonium


Obsolete.com for an unbelievably complete description of these and many other instruments.

Messiaen wroteFete des belles eaux (1937) for six ondes-martenot as well as featuring the instrument as soloist inTrois petites liturgies de la Presence Divine (1944) and Turangalila-symphonie (1946-8).  Strauss, Hindemith and Varese (2 used originally in Ecuatorial) composed for the Trautonium.

1930"s Improvement of amplifiers and invention of the Tape Recorder. John Cage composesImaginary Landscape no.1 (1939) andno. 2 (1942) using test-tones from recordings, which were played on variable-speed turntables.

1948 RTF (Radiodiffusion-television Francaise) broadcasts Pierre Schaeffer"s Etude aux Chemin de Fer on Oct. 5th. This marks the beginning of studio realizations and musique concrete.  Pierre Henry collaborates with Schaeffer onSymphonie pour un homme seul(1950), the first major work of musique concrete.  In 1951 the studio was formally established as the Groupe de Musicque Concrete, which included other composers such as Messiaen, Boulez and Stockhausen.

1951 Studio established in Cologne -- NWDR (Nordwest Deutsche Rundfunk). Karlheinz Stockhausen most influential.
RTF primarily concerned with manipulation of acoustic sound sources (Musique Concrete). NWDR studio equipped with …and modifiers (Electronische Musik).

1952Four compositions for tape recorder, composed by Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luening, presented at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (10/28).Raymond Scott designs possibly firstsequencer which consisted of hundreds of switches controlling stepping relays, timing solenoids, tone circuits and 16 individual oscillators. Also inventsClavivox synthesizer with subassembly by Robert Moog (1956).

1953Edgard Varese receives Ampex tape recorder as gift and begins work onDeserts, for orchestra and tape. Stockhausen completesStudie I

1955 Milan Studio de Fonologia RAI established, with Berio as artistic director. Mayuzumi founds studio in Tokyo. Phillips studio established at Eindhoven, Holland, shifted to University of Utrecht Institute of Sonology in 1960.

1956Lejaren Hiller and Leonard Isaacson compose Iliiac Suitefor string quartet, the first complete work of computer-assisted composition (also algorithmic composition). Stockhausen composesGesang der Junglinge, the first major work of the Cologne studio, based on text from the Book of Daniel.

1958VaresePoeme Electronique played over 400 loudspeakers at the Phillips Pavillion of the 1958 Brussels World Fair.

1959 Columbia-Princeton Studio established in New York with the help of a $175,000 Rockefeller grant. Incorporated the RCA Mark II synthesizer, the first major voltage-controlled synthesizer. Composers included Babbitt, Davidovsky, Luening, Ussachevsky, Wuorinen, Smiley, Druckman

1960"s Development of large mainframe computer synthesis. Max Mathews of Bell Labs perfects MUSIC V, a direct digital synthesis language. Development of smaller voltage-controlled synthesizers by Moog and others make instruments available to most composers, universities and popular musicians. Most well-known use Switched-on Bachalbum by then Walter, now Wendy Carlos. Beginning of live electronic performance. The Synket, a live performance instrument used extensively by composer John Eaton in works such asConcert Piece for Synket and Orchestra(1967). Once Festivals, featuring multimedia theater music, organized by Robert Ashley and Gordon Mumma in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

1963 San Francisco Tape Music Center established by Morton Subotnik, soon incorporating a voltage-controlled synthesizer based around automated sequencing by Donald Buchla, used in album-length Subotnik pieces such asSilver Apples of the Moon (1967) andThe Wild Bull(1968).

1967Max Mathews and F. Richard Moore develop GROOVE, a real-time digital control system for analog synthesis, used extensively by composers Laurie Spieglel and Emmanuel Ghent in the 1970"s.

1970"s Mini-Moog, a small affordable integrated synthesizer make analog synthesis easily available and affordable, along with newcomers ARP and Oberheim. Development of real-time digital synthesis. Charles Dodge composesSpeech Songs (1972) bases on early speech synthesis research. Jon Appleton (with Jones and Alonso) invents the Dartmouth Digital Synthesizer, later to become the New England Digital Corp."s Synclavier. Barry Vercoe writes Music 11, a next-generation music synthesis program (later evolving into csound, which is still widely used).
IRCAM (Paris) becomes a major center for computer music research and realization and develops 4X computer system, featuring then revolutionary real-time digital signal processing.

 Pierre Boulez"sRepons(1981)for 24 musicians and 6 soloists uses the 4X to transform and route soloists to loudspeaker system.


1980"s MIDI instruments and software make powerful control of sophisticated instruments easily affordable by many studios and individuals. Acoustic sounds are reintegrated into studios via sampling and sampled-ROM-based instruments.  Miller Puckette develops graphic signal-processing software for 4X called MAX (after Max Mathews), 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. Yamaha introduces DX-7 MIDI keyboard, based on FM synthesis algorithms developed by John Chowning at Stanford University. MIDI Specification 1published in 1985 by the MIDI Manufacturers Association. Also in 1985, Digidesign releases Sound Designer software for the Macintosh, the first consumer-level hard-disk recording and editing software. David Jaffe, Julius Smith and Perry Cook (CCRMA studios of Stanford University) prototype physical modeling, a method of synthesis in which physical properties of existing instruments and represented as computer algorithms which can then be manipulated and extended.

1990"s Interactive computer-assisted performance becomes popular. Tod Machover"s (MIT, IRCAM)Begin Again Again for "hypercello," an interactive system of sensors measuring physical movements of cellist premiered by Yo-Yo Ma. Max Mathews perfects Radio Baton to compliment his Conductor program for real-time tempo,dynamic and timbre control of a pre-input electronic score. Morton Subotnik releases multimedia CD-ROMAll My Hummingbirds Have Alibis.
MIDI sequencing programs expand to included digital audio.

 Large number of works for instrumentalist (or ensemble) and tape composed, such as James Mobberley"sCaution to the Winds for piano and tape, pioneered by Mario Davidovsky"sSynchronisms series several decades earlier.

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