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History and Practice of Electronic Music
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History and Practice of Electronic Music

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  1. History and Practice of Electronic Music Instruments, Technology, Organizations, Composers, Performers, Schools of Thought

  2. Music + Technology • A sidenote before we start…. • Music has always been tied to technology! • From the development of early instruments to the latest in DSP processing! • There is a balance between inventor/performer/composer with each new invention • Each respective creator has a role in the evolution of music and its technology

  3. The Telharmonium • Thaddeus Cahill (1867-1934) • “Father of Muzak” • Aka: Dynamophone • Huge • Bigger than your living room! • Transmitted through telephone lines • Complete failure! • Demise brought on by advent of radio • Triggered birth of electronic music

  4. The Telharmonium • Patented in 1897 • Music-generation: • Pitch shafts, or axles, which were mounted “tone wheels” that were made of metal and notched • Used multiple tone wheels per pitch to make multiple overtones per pitch to create a warm sound • Two parts • Keyboard console • Machinery in a different room

  5. The Telharmonium • Absolutely massive! • 12 pitch shafts, 30 feet each! • 2,000 switches! • 200 tons! • Moving it required 30 railroad cars • Used an enormous amount of power • The power grid could not grow exponentially • Pressing more key would split available power and reduce the volume on each note

  6. The Telharmonium • Concerts began in NY in 1906 • Initially successful, then amazingly unsuccessful • It was too expensive to operate • Not portable • Run concerts over phone lines • People just lost interest • Final Concert in 1908 • No known recordings

  7. The Telharmonium

  8. The Theremin • 1917 (1920) • Leon Theremin • Protruding metal antennae = pitch • Metal loop = volume • Monophonic continuous tone • Fixed Timbre

  9. The Theremin • Leon Theremin (1896-1993) • (Russian name Lev Termen) • Important pioneer of electronic music • 1920s-moved to US • Patented Theremin • 1938-kidnapped by Russians! • put in Siberian prison • Thought to be dead • Created first “bug” for tracking and listening to people without their knowledge • Later taught at Moscow Conservatory

  10. How Does it work? • Uses a method called Heterodyning • 2 supersonic radio frequencies • Near in frequency • Mixed • The “combination tones” are heard • Tones that are the difference between the frequencies • F1+F2 combined with F1-F2 (sound familiar?) • Frequencies are mixed in the Theremin and output

  11. Theremin • Unfortunately used mostly as novelty • People performed single-line literature that could be played on a stringed instrument • John Cage’s early view: “When Theremin provided an instrument with genuinely new possibilities, Thereminists did their utmost to make the instrument sound like some old instrument, giving it a sickeningly sweet vibrato, and performing upon it, with difficulty, masterpieces from the past. Although the instrument is capable of a wide variety of sound qualities, obtained by the turning of the dial, Thereminists act as censors, giving the public those sounds they think the public will like. We are shielded from new sound experiences.” -From Silence

  12. Famous Performers • Theremin could play the instrument • Two virtuosic students • Clara Rockmore (1910-1998) • Played mostly rep for other instruments • Remembered at the greatest master • Lucie Bigelow Rosen (1890-1968) • Pioneer of new music • Explore new territories • Commissioned several composers • Many others could play the Theremin, but not with the skill and aptitude of Rockmore and Rosen • Theremins still make their way into film soundtracks and popular music today!

  13. The Ondes Martenot • 1928 • Maurice Martenot(1898-1980) • Influenced by Theremin • First successful electronic instrument • Still used today! • Early-string attached to finger ring • Later- keyboard added • Expression key to change timbre

  14. The Ondes Martenot • Used by many composers! (>300) • Messiaen • Varese • Milhaud • Honegger • Peringer • Messiaen - “Turangalila Symphony” (excerpt)

  15. The Ondes Martenot

  16. Ondes Martenot A few videos to check out: • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yy9UBjrUjwo • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpdK-kSW4KA • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dh6Fk0gLFog

  17. First Generation of EA Composition France, Germany, Italy, United States

  18. Musique Concréte • Construction of music using: • Sound recording tools • Natural sounds • Electronic signals • Instrumental sounds • 1948 - France (Paris) • Pierre Schaeffer • Radio engineer, broadcaster, writer, and biographer • Pierre Henry • Classically trained composer

  19. Musique Concréte • Different approach from traditional composing. • Works directly with the sound material • Rather than with a score • The material preceded the structure • Not all pieces were written this way, but its the approach Schaeffer used to develop his aesthetic ideas

  20. L’Objet Sonore • Means “the sound object” • Developed by Schaeffer and Abraham Moles (1922-92) • Moles view on musical material, • “separable in experiments from the continuity of perception” • Sound object is sound that exists apart from human perception. • Music becomes a “sequence of sound objects”in musique concrete • 3 characteristics; amplitude, frequency, time

  21. RTF • Radiodiffusion-Television Français • Schaeffer worked in the Studio d’Essai of the Radiodiffusion Nationale (he developed in 1943) • Devoted to experiments in radio production and musical acoustics • Had a wealth of radio broadcasting equipment • Filters, microphones, disc-cutting lathes, reverb chamber, portable recording, SFX library

  22. Pierre Schaeffer • “Etude aux Chemins de Fer” (1948) • First EA piece • Uses turntables • From Études de Bruits “Studies of noise” • Significance to electronic music: • Composing was realized through technological means • Any manner of sounds were used • Could be replayed identically over and over • Presentation of the work required no performers

  23. RTF Music • Symphonie pour un homme seul (1949-50) • “Symphony for a Man Alone” • First major collaboration between Schaeffer and Henry • 12-Movements • Early use of turntables for composition and not just for record playback • Based on two categories of sounds: • Human sounds (breathing, vocal fragments, shouting, humming whistling) • Non-Human sounds (foot stomping, knocking, percussion, prepared piano, orchestral instruments)

  24. GRM • Groupe de Recherches Musicales • Originally called GRMC (musique concréte), 1951 • Henry resigned and Schaeffer renamed it GRM in 1958 • Originators (GRM): • Pierre Schaeffer • Iannis Xenakis • Francois Bayle • Luc Ferrari

  25. Sidenote…Schaeffer • Never was comfortable as a composer: • “I fought like a demon throughout all the years of discovery and exploration in musique concréte. I fought against electronic music [electronische musik, germany], which was another approach, a systemic approach, when I preferred an experimental approach actually working directly, empirically with the sound. But at the same time, as I defended the music I was working on, I was personally horrified at what I was doing…I was deeply unhappy at what I was doing. I was happy at overcoming great difficulties-my first difficulties with the turntables when I was working on Symphonie pour un homme seul…that was good work, I did what I set out to do…But each time I was to experience the disappointment of not arriving at music. I couldn’t get to music, what I call music. I think of myself as an explorer struggling to find a way through the far north, but I wasn’t finding a way through.” • - from Interview with Pierre Schaeffer

  26. Elektronische Musik • 1951 - Germany (Cologne) • Herbert Eimert • Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) • Electronically-generated sounds • (Uses oscillators, amplifiers, etc.) • Extension of serialism

  27. WDR vs. RTF • There was animosity between the Germans and the French studios • The roots of dislike was formed by Schaeffer • “…we liberated ourselves politically, but music was still under an occupying foreign power, the music of the Vienna School.” • The Germans had little respect for musique concréte, which they saw as “fashionable and surrealistic”. • Eimert’s thoughts on French music was that they were “any incidental manipulations or distortions haphazardly put together for radio, film or theater music.”

  28. Similarities • Both sides of the line were aware of the importance of electronic music, not as novelty, but as a part of the future of music. • A split from the traditional, and a different view of what “music” is, questions we still explore today • Eimert said it best: • “Electronic music is, and remains, part of our music and is a great deal more than mere “technology.” But the fact that it cannot be expected either to take over or imitate the functions of traditional music is clearly shown by the unequivocal difference of its material from that of traditional music. We prefer to see its possibilities as the potentialities of sound itself. -from die Reihe (1955)

  29. Karlheinz Stockhausen • Gesang der Junglinge(1956) • “Song of the Youths” • Idea of unifying vocal sounds and electronically produced sounds • Sung sounds - appear to be electronic; and electronic to be sung • Composed for 5 groups of loudspeakers to be distributed in space around listeners (later changed to 4 channels)

  30. WDR • For as much as they were divided aesthetically, the audio results of WDR were often indistinguishable from RTF • Even as early at 1952 • Other notable composers: • Henri Pousseur • Gyorgi Ligeti • Mauricio Kagel

  31. Studio de Fonologia • “The Italians” • 1955 • Milan • Started by: • Luciano Berio • Bruno Maderna • Maderna and Berio both studied in Germany at Darmstadt with Stockhausen and Boulez (both of whome are associated with WDR and GRM)

  32. “The Italians” • Radio Audizioni Italiane (RAI) • Italian public broadcasting network • Started the Studio di Fonologia Musicale • One of the best-equipped studios in Europe for many years • Did not align themselves aesthetically with the French or Germans, as Berio states: • “Bruno and I immediately agreed that our work should not be directed in a systematic way, either toward recording acoustic sounds or toward a systematic serialism based on discrete pitches.” • Known also for using speech as sound material

  33. Luciano Berio • “Thema Omaggio a Joyce” (1958) • Based on beginning of Ch. XI of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” (so-called siren chapter) • Idea was to create “continuity between music and literature, to make possible and imperceptible transition from the one to the other.” • Recorded material with electronic sounds

  34. But what about the USA? • Music in the US during the 1950s was neither organized or institutional • America’s “rugged individualism”was apparent in the way electronic music developed • US composers did not adhere to a “school”of thought in their aesthetics • Viewed with amusement the aesthetic wars in France and Germany • France – rooted in experimentation and freedom of thought • Germany – rooted in systemization and extremely calculated music

  35. The Barron’s • Louis (1920-89) and Bebe Barron (b.1927) were two of the first electronic composers in the US • Heavenly Menagerie (1950) • First electronic piece in US, magnetic tape • “We had to earn a living somehow so we opened a recording studio that catered to the avant-garde. We had some pretty good equipment, considering. A lot of it we built ourselves…” • Located in NYC

  36. Barrons • Had a lot of gear, some of it unorthodox • Louis did circuitry design, Bebe composing and production • Worked with influential NYC composers: • John Cage • David Tudor • Earle Brown • Morton Feldman • Christian Wolff • 1951, Cage started Project of Music for Magnetic Tape • Most well known for composing score to Forbidden Planet (1956) • First soundtrack to be entirely composed with electronic instruments • Sound effects and music were amazing for the time • When the spacecraft landed on Altair IV the crowd erupted in applause.

  37. NY School • The “NY school” are a collective of composers, artists, etc. who were on the edge of the US avant-garde. • They contributed not only to electronic music, but American music and experimentalism • John Cage is the most well-known composer from this group • His ideas were revolutionary, thought-provoking, and on the edge of music thought at the time

  38. NY School’s Music • Here’s a short list of the NY school’s electronic output in the 1950s • John Cage: • Imaginary Landscape #1 (1939) • Williams Mix (1952) - with David Tudor • Imaginary Landscape #5 (1952) - w/Tudor • Fonatana Mix • Earle Brown: • Octet I (1953) • Morton Feldman (SUNY Buffalo) • Intersection (1953) • Christian Wolff (SUNY Buffalo) • For Magnetic Tape (1953)

  39. Columbia-Princeton Studios 1959

  40. Columbia-Princeton Studios • Columbia Composers: • Vladimir Usschevsky (1900-96) • Otto Luening (1911-90) • Princeton Composers: • Milton Babbitt (b. 1916) • Mario Davidovsky (b. 1934) • Columbia started with tape manipulation • Had success as tape composers, using initially recorded instruments to expand their sounds and create new timbers

  41. Luening and Ussachevsky • Became the US spokesmen for electronic music • Featured on television • Live appearance on NBC’s Today show • After a few years of lecturing, demonstrating, and performing, received Rockefeller grant and visited the French and German studios, among more • Both were successful composers and researchers in the early developments of electronic music

  42. Columbia-Princeton Music • Milton Babbitt • Ensembles for Synthesizer (1962-65) • Ussachevsky • Linear Contrasts (1958) • Ussachevsky and Luening • Mathematics (1958) • Edgard Varese (French composer) • Desertes (INSERT DATE HERE)

  43. Indiana University • Indiana University (Bloomington) had a prominent electronic music studio in the early days of American electronic music • Fred Fox was a key figure in the department • However, the electronic music research at IU was headed primarily by Iannis Xenakis • And why is Xenakis important?

  44. San Francisco Tape Music Center • Started in 1960s • Home to composers: • Terry Riley • Morton Subotnik • Pauline Oliveros • Independent cooperative of musicians • Not funded by academia

  45. IRCAM • Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique • Est. 1969, Paris • Pierre Boulez, director • Today a huge influence on computer music • Max/MSP and jMax were both developed there

  46. Instruments, People, Styles Monumental technological advances in performances Styles and genres of EA music Key figures in the development of EA music

  47. Columbia-Princeton • Ussachevsky and Luening were important figures in American electronic music • Eventually they received a grant to do research in Europe • Traveled to studios in Germany, France, Italy and many others • Main idea was to find new advances in technology and equipment. When they returned to America they found this waiting for them…

  48. The RCA Mark II Synthesizer • 1958-59 • First instrument developed in US to use synthesis and sequencing. Other instruments were manually operated in real-time • Oscillators and noise generators • Operator gave instructions on punch paper roll • Pitch, volume, duration, timbre • Milton Babbitt was one of the leading composers who used the RCA Mark II RCA Mark II Synthesizer plays “Blue Skies”

  49. The Moog Synthesizer • Robert Moog • 1964 • Began by making Theremins! • Became more common in pop music • Beatles • Mick Jagger • Set a future standard for the analog synthesizer

  50. Wendy Carlos • Wendy Carlos (formerly Walter) • Used Moog Synths • Switched on Bach” (1968) • Top-selling classical album of the year • Commercialization of electronic music • Switched on Bach • Well-Tempered Synthesizer • Digital Moonscapes • Semi-famous movie scores: • A Clockwork Orange • Tron (the original). Not the Daft Punk version…