Introduction | Electronic

Unlike rock music, electronic music is made partly or wholly using electronic equipment – tape machines, synthesizers, keyboards, sequencers, drum machines and computer programmes. Its origins can be found in the middle of the nineteenth century, when many of electronic music’s theories and processes were conceived.

In 1863 German scientist Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz published On The Sensation Of Tone As A Physiological Basis For The Theory Of Music, which laid the foundations of modern acoustics and predicted the development of electrical means for creating sound and music. In 1877 Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, the precursor to the modern record turntable, which is still central to electronic music and DJ culture. In 1912 Luigi Russolo set up the Futurist movement. Intent on representing the soul of the masses and the industrialized world, the first Futurist concert took place in Milan, Italy, in 1914. The driving concepts behind Futurism are still inherent in techno and electro, in which contemporary electronic styles try to define and capture the essence of the post-industrial world.

By the 1920s, Leon Theremin had developed the theremin instrument, whose spooky, otherworldly sound was used in numerous Hollywood soundtracks. The rock band Led Zeppelin used it during the 1970s, and the instrument is still an essential part of modern music production. The theremin was the inspiration for Robert Moog to develop his own instrument, the Moog synthesizer. First manufactured in 1964, it was one of the earliest electronic music synthesizers, and used most famously by US art-rock act The Doors. The 1920s also saw production of the avant garde Ballet Mecanique by American composer George Antheil, which featured both live and automated piano music, as well as the sound of doorbells and airplane propellers.

Orson Welles released his War Of The Worlds odyssey in 1938, and a decade later, Pierre Schaeffer and Jacques Poullin broadcast a ‘concert of noises’ in 1948 which they christened musique concrète. Although electronic music won widespread support only with the advent of dance music and rave culture from the mid- to late-1980s, it was the sound collage and minimal work of John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen in the mid-twentieth century that provided the impetus for others to experiment with less familiar concepts and instruments.

In the 1960s, German bands Neu, Can and Faust, as well as seminal US outfit The Velvet Underground and psychedelic rockers Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream, fused conventional rock instruments with sound effects, tapes and synthesizers, questioning and changing the nature of the ‘traditional’ band. By the 1970s, Brian Eno had produced the first ambient music, and Jean-Michel Jarre and Vangelis were writing epic compositions for synthesizers. Kraftwerk explored sampling, and their fusion of synthesized melodies and rigid electronic beats laid the foundation for techno and electro, while Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass’s minimalist works were precursors for ambient and new age music.

By the end of the decade,...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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