electronic music

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electronic music


electro-acoustic music,

term for compositions that utilize the capacities of electronic media for creating and altering sounds.

Initially, a distinction must be made between the technological development of electronic instruments and the music conceived to utilize the inherent advantages of these instruments. Experiments in electronic tone production began soon after the invention of the vacuum tube (see electron tubeelectron tube,
device consisting of a sealed enclosure in which electrons flow between electrodes separated either by a vacuum (in a vacuum tube) or by an ionized gas at low pressure (in a gas tube).
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). The first important instrument, the theremintheremin
, one of the earliest electronic musical instruments, invented (1920) in the Soviet Union and named for its creator, Leon Theremin. A forerunner of the synthesizer, it consists of a wooden box fitted with two radio-frequency oscillators and two metal antennas, a
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, invented by the Russian Leon ThereminTheremin, Leon
, 1896–1993, Russian engineer and inventor, b. St. Petersburg as Lev Sergeyevich Termen. He studied and worked in his native city, attending its university and conservatory and directing a lab at one of its technical institutes, where he invented the
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 in 1920, used interference beats of two oscillators to produce sine-wave tones. The Ondes Martinot, invented in 1928, and the Trautonium, invented in 1930, were of similar design.

The earliest pieces of electronic music used recorded sounds that were then electronically altered to create sonic collages. This style, called musique concrete, was developed in Paris in 1948 by Pierre Schaeffer. The invention of the tape recorder in the late 1940s gave composers new means for modifying recorded sounds, including splicing (cutting the tape to create new juxtapositions of sound), speed variation (which changes the pitch of the recorded sound), and mixing (which allowed two or more different recordings to be played back at the same time). In popular music, Les PaulPaul, Les,
1915–2009, American guitarist and inventor, b. Waukesha, Wis., as Lester William Polsfuss (later Polfuss). He began playing country music at 14, later switched to jazz, and started his own trio in 1936.
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 was one of the pioneers of electronic music, inventing the first solid-body electric guitar in 1946 and recording music in the 1950s in an eight-track recording studio of his own design.

Controlling aspects of the musical sound by means of voltage regulation eventually led to the invention of synthesizers, devices that could produce and modify sound for musical applications. Among the earliest of these was the RCA synthesizer developed in the late 1950s and used extensively by composer Milton BabbittBabbitt, Milton,
1916–2011, American composer, b. Philadelphia. Babbitt turned to music after studying mathematics. He studied composition with Roger Sessions at Princeton, and taught there from 1938 (emeritus from 1984).
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 in many of his electronic works. In the 1950s various studios that specialized in the production of electro-acoustic music were developed, including the West German Radio Studio in Cologne, associated with composer Karlheinz StockhausenStockhausen, Karlheinz
, 1928–2007, German composer, music theorist, and teacher; his first name also appears as Karl Heinz. He studied composition with Frank Martin in Cologne (1950–51) and with Olivier Messiaen and Darius Milhaud in Paris (1951–53).
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, the Italian Radio Studio in Milan, associated with Luciano BerioBerio, Luciano
, 1925–2003, Italian composer, b. Oneglia. After studying at the Milan Conservatory and working as a coach and conductor in Italian opera houses, Berio was introduced in 1952 to serial music by Luigi Dallapiccola, and a nondoctrinaire serialism subsequently
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 and Bruno MadernaMaderna, Bruno
, 1920–73, Italian composer and conductor, b. Venice. Maderna studied composing with Gian Francesco Malipiero and conducting with Hermann Scherchen. As a conductor he introduced many avant-garde works to Italy.
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, and the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, associated with Otto Luening, Vladimir UssachevskyUssachevsky, Vladimir
, 1911–90, Russian-American composer, b. Manchuria. Ussachevsky emigrated to the United States in 1931 and studied at the Eastman School. He joined the faculty of Columbia in 1947.
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, Mario Davidovsky, and Babbitt.

During the 1960s synthesizers were made widely available by companies such as Moog (see Moog, RobertMoog, Robert Arthur
, 1934–2005, American electronic engineer, inventor of the Moog synthesizer, b. New York City, grad. Queens College (B.S, 1957), Columbia (B.S., 1957), Cornell (Ph.D., 1965).
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) and Buchla and found widespread usage in rock music. Popular groups such as the BeatlesBeatles, The,
English rock music group formed in the late 1950s and disbanded in 1970. The members were John (Winston) Lennon, 1940–80, guitar and harmonica; (James) Paul McCartney, 1942–, guitar and piano; George Harrison,
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 and the Beach Boys began experiments in multitrack recording, years after the innovations of Paul, that enabled several different recordings to be synchronized on the same tape. Eventually synthesizers switched from voltage control to digital control.

In 1983 the MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) standard was agreed on by synthesizer manufacturers (see computer musiccomputer music,
term used to describe music composed or performed with the aid of a computer. The first substantial piece of music composed on a computer was the Illiac Suite (1956) by the avant-garde composer Lejaren Hiller (1925–94).
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). This digital code enables different electronic devices to communicate a variety of information to each other and allows computer control of synthesizer output. MIDI can also be used to control a wide range of equipment in addition to synthesizers; these include mixers, lights, and signal processors (devices that modify sounds by adding reverberation, by modifying pitch, and by other means).

Today MIDI is widely used in both academic and popular musical production. In MIDI production, computers are often used as sequencers (devices that control the output of musical instruments and signal processors). Throughout the last three decades of the 20th cent. electronic music increasingly became a part of pop music compositions, eventually allowing a solo artist to compose, produce, and perform music that employs a full complement of instrumental sounds. In the 1980s MIDI was also used in the creation of the radio baton, a new instrument that allows players to control the nuances of the music played.


See P. Manning, Electronic and Computer Music (1985); C. Anderton, The Electronic Musician's Dictionary (1988); H. Russcol, The Liberation of Sound: An Introduction to Electronic Music (1990); F. Rumsey, MIDI Systems and Controls (1990); N. Collins and J. d'Escrivan, The Cambridge Companion to Electronic Music (2007).

Electronic Music


music that is created with the help of audio-frequency generators, whose electric oscillations are recorded on magnetic tape and reproduced on a tape recorder. An important feature of electronic music is the absence of a performer in the traditional sense—that is, as a necessary intermediary between the composer and the audience.

In creating electronic music, the composer engages in several basic operations. He must develop and select the sounds, record them on magnetic tape, process them, and organize the composition; the processing stage entails deformation, modification, and transformation of the sounds. The sounds that are played back may be combined with the sounds of electronic instruments (the music for which is not regarded as electronic music in the strict sense), voices, or traditional instruments. Electronic music makes use of pure tones (sine waves), which differ from ordinary musical tones in their absence of overtones; they are tones of a defined pitch without tonal color. Tones of variable and of indefinite pitch (microtones) are also used.

The concept of electronic music was introduced circa 1950 by the German physicist W. Meyer-Epler. Electronic music is created in special studios, the first of which was established in 1951 in Cologne on the initiative of the engineer E. Eimert and the composer K. Stockhausen; a similar studio was founded by E. A. Murzin in Moscow in 1967. Leading creators of electronic music are Eimert, Stockhausen, and the Soviet composers E. V. Denisov, S. A. Gubaidulina, A. G. Shnitke, and E. N. Artem’ev. Electronic music is used to produce special sound effects in music for motion pictures, the theater and radio.


electronic music

[i‚lek′trän·ik ′myü·zik]
(engineering acoustics)
Music consisting of tones originating in electronic sound and noise generators used alone or in conjunction with electroacoustic shaping means and sound-recording equipment.