electronic music

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electronic music. Mus. prod. by elec. means, the resulting sounds being recorded on tape. At first the term applied strictly to sounds synthesized electronically, to differentiate from musique concrète, which was assembled from normal mus. and everyday sounds. But by now it covers both groups. Attempts to produce elec. sounds began in the USA and Canada in the 1890s. Early in the 20th cent., experiments were made in Ger. by Fischinger; and in USSR in the 1930s elec. mus. was prod. by the use of photo-electric techniques rather than by oscillator. In fact, the development of elec. mus. has proceeded step by step with the invention of equipment: telephone, loudspeaker, microphone, tape, film sound-track, oscillator, gramophone recording, etc. For composers, an important milestone was reached with experiments at Bonn Univ. in 1949–50 followed by a public perf. at Darmstadt in 1951. The first elec. mus. studio was est. 1951 by W. Ger. Radio, Cologne, dir. by Herbert Eimert. Other studios were set up in Milan, Tokyo, London, Warsaw, Brussels, Munich, Eindhoven, Paris, and at Columbia Univ., NY.

In the 1950s the comp. of elec. works was a slow and laborious business, chiefly because of the comparatively primitive equipment in the early studios. A comp. consisting of hundreds of predetermined and separately recorded sounds which would last a few minutes could take weeks to assemble on the final tape. The equipment in the early studios generally comprised: (a) sine-tone generators. Sine-tones are pure sounds which have no harmonics and are on a single frequency of even dynamic level. To build a complex tone at least 8 generators were needed. (b) white sound generator. White sound comprises all audible frequencies sounding together. (c) square wave generator. Square waves are richly harmonic and produce contrasts to sine-tones. (d) filters. Devices which, as their name implies, can ‘filter’ sound, or extract a single sine-tone from the white sound. Filters are classified according to their frequency-response characteristics, i.e. low-pass, high-pass, band-pass, and band-stop. For example, the band-pass filter passes only the sound-waves within a specified band of frequencies grouped round a centre frequency. (e) ring modulator. Used to combine several sound signals so that the sound output comprises the sums and differences of all the input-frequency components. (f) variable speed tape recorders. Varying speeds of playing the tape are used to speed up or slow down specific effects. (g) dynamic suppressor. A device which allows signals to be cut out below a selected level of dynamics, thus introducing a ‘chance’ element.

Among the most celebrated elec. pieces composed in the 1950s were Eimert's Fünf Stücke, Stockhausen's Gesang der Jünglinge (which incl. a boy's v., fragmented and superimposed upon itself, thereby creating a bridge with musique concrète), Krenek's Spiritus Intelligentiae Sanctus, Berio's Mutazioni, and Maderna's Notturno. But it should be remembered that in 1939–42 John Cage's first 3 Imaginary Landscapes incl. the use of records played at different speeds, audio oscillators, and an amplified wire coil. The first public concert of elec. mus. was given by Ussachevsky and Luening in Museum of Modern Art, NY, on 28 Oct. 1953.

Elec. mus. was revolutionized in the 1960s by the invention of voltage-controlled sound synthesizers, especially the model developed in 1964–5 by the American Robert A. Moog. This instr. dispensed with the drudgery of tape-splicing and cutting. It not only presented composers with a complete spectrum of new sounds, but could be made to play itself in a remarkable variety of sounds which could be recurrent or otherwise, as required. By the fitting of a control device known as a sequencer, the synthesizer can be used by a composer to memorize a long and complicated mus. compilation and play it ‘live’ without recording or tape-editing. Because of the synthesizer's astonishing imitative qualities, its use has been commercialized and vulgarized, but its potentiality as a serious instr. is still being explored and awaits a Wagner to exploit it to the full. Its main working principle, greatly over-simplified, is that the oscillators used as sound sources are also used to ‘control’ each other. Some synthesizers have a kbd., often with its own tuned oscillator, or set to act as a voltage control.

The sequencer is a small variety of the other revolutionary device also introduced in the 1960s, digital computer synthesis. Control by digital computer means that the equipment the composer uses is supplied with a ‘memory’. For example, a work comp., or ‘programmed’, for voltage-controlled equipment by means of punched paper tape has an intrinsic major problem in that the system has no way of storing information until it is needed; everything must be supplied in detail each time it is required. The computer memorizes all this information. The disadvantages of a computer are those inherent in ‘programming’, and it remains to be seen whether a supreme work of art will evolve by this system. The advantages of elec. mus. for th., radio, and film incidental mus. are obvious, and so far it is in these fields that the best results have been achieved.

Notation of elec. mus. obviously bears no relation to conventional mus. notation, and since the principal feature of an elec. work is that it is predetermined and mechanically produced, notation as a guide to performers is unnecessary. But ‘live’ elec. mus. is a developing art-form, and graphic directions in pitch (frequency) etc. are provided in ‘realization’ scores which provide all the technical data necessary to reproduce the piece. ‘Representational’ scores, for the score reader, are slightly less fearsome. An illustration of a typical elec. score or graph will give the reader a better idea of what is involved (see p. 224).

Among composers who have prod. elec. works are: Cage, Berio, Stockhausen, Wuorinen, Blacher, Boulez, Babbitt, Pousseur, Badings, Varèse, Davidovsky, Ligeti, Takemitsu, Penderecki, and Xenakis.

Interested readers who wish for fuller and more technical information than can be provided here are referred to Reginald Smith Brindle's The New Music (London, 1975), to which this entry acknowledges its indebtedness, and to Tristram Carey's Illustrated Compendium of Musical Technology (London, 1992). See also computers in music.

electronic music

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electronic music Music in which electronic methods are used to generate or modulate sounds. The first pieces produced on tape recorders were composed in the 1920s. In Paris, Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry manipulated recorded sounds, producing one of the first major works, Symphonie pour un homme seul (1950). The invention of the synthesizer inspired many composers, particularly Karlheinz Stockhausen. In the 1960s, it became possible to use computers for complex electronic sounds; Yannis Xenakis and Pierre Boulez are two of many composers to have used computers.

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electronic music