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As technological innovations become more prevalent in the vast majority of facets basic to human survival, technological advances have been created to develop entertainment and recreation for man. Technological advancements have also caused the incredible transformations that have been observed in means of communication. Technology has also been created to aid in the creation and arrangement of music, considering that music is a form of communication. A wide range of timbres are now available for composers and modern day composers can now access to different timbres through technologies developed to create electrocaustic music (Collins and d'Escrivan, 2007). Electronic music is either electronically generated or created by altering sound electronically.

Going by the above description, electronic music has been created for over a century now. Though the results have been similar, the means of creating the music have changed through the exploration of new technology possibilities (Russcol, 1990). Since its widespread acceptance as a legitimate form of art, electronic music has undergone different distinct phases of development since the end of World War II.  Musique Concrete was created by altered sounds achieved through changing the pitch, duration and amplitude of tape recorded music. These methods were used from 1948 to 1964 and the music could also be referred to as tape music. This method of creating music way gave to Synthesizer music, from 1964 to 1984.  Synthesizers had been innovated in the 1950s, but they were too big, complicated and difficult to maintain. This situation changed when Robert Moog, a physicist, improved and patented a modular synthesizer in 1964. His was smaller in size and easier to control and could be used by more people in the population though it still required much maintenance (Manning, 2003).  

The design and affordability of analogue synthesizers underwent rapid changes, but they nonetheless went out of style with the invention of digital synthesizers, MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) in the 1980s and later the use of computers in the 1990s. Digital/Computer music was ushered by the release of the Yamaha DX7 synthesizer in 1984, which became the first digital synthesizer to create sound using frequency modulation, generally known as FM technology (Rumsey, 1990). The use of computers increased in the 1990s as their use became easier with simplified operations and the costs affordable to more people.

While these three phases are distinct in the history of electronic music, overlapping has not observed since some people opting to use tape music instead of synthesizers or computers in the creation of electronic music (Collins and d'Escrivan, 2007). Additionally, the distinct technologies of the three phases of electronic music are incorporated by electronic music studios of today (Holmes, 2002).

Musique Concrete

The early development of electronic music was a result of concerted efforts in research of philosophy and composing. The pioneers of this genre paid great attention to the understanding of the physical properties of sound and the aural perception of sound (Russcol, 1990). Many theories and propositions were developed and published and this research played a significant role in the composition of music. Pierre Schaefer, the father of the genre, set forth several principles that became important components in the creation of electronic music. This marked the beginning of ideological development influencing the creation of musical works. The wide range of theories and constructs of compositions resulted to an ever evolving musical system, where the technical machinery available at the time became the constant of defining the genre of electronic music. The machinery, however, lacked any artistically aesthetic or inherently musically properties. These technological limitations were imposed by the available equipment and the inventions of early composers and the characterized progress of eletroacoustic music (Collins & d’Escrivan, 2007). The development of new practices and theories was necessary for the creation of electronic works that were musically interesting.

Pierre Schaeffer created the first pieces of what became known as musique concrete in early 1948. These pieces were first performed during the “concert of noises” on the RTF (Radiodiffusion-Television Fracaises). The most remarkable thing about the five pieces was their composition using only turntable technology (Holmes, 1992). According to Holmes (2002), the only equipments available to Schaeffer were a reverberation chamber, a four channel mixer, a disc-cutting lathe, microphones, four turntables, audio filters, a portable recording unit for recording new sounds and sound effect records belonging to the radio station. The capability of the turntables highly limited his ability to modify the recordings in the course of creating a new piece of music. In addition, the speed of rotation of the turntable determined the duration of the loops he created by breaking the groove on a record (Manning, 2003)

Schaeffer was also able to isolate sounds by using turntables and a volume control, the only technology at hand. He later named these sounds objets sonores, and their juxtaposition were important in the creation of the first pieces of musique concrete. According to Holmes (2002), these pieces were musically significant because technology assisted in the process co creating music, and the organization of sounds was equally important as the outcome of the sounds themselves. The idea of objets sonores was dependent on a technological medium, and thus could not exist in traditional music because reproducing exact copies of music is impossible without the use of electronics. The traditional concepts of pitch and voice-leading were also different in the new music.

In 1951, Schaffer founded the Studio d’Essai in Paris together with his associates and began to create music using a tape recorder. This eliminated the limitations of using the disc-cutting lathe. However, according to Manning (1985), the results were not very encouraging even though the recorder expanded the augmentations of objets sonores. The equipment they had grown accustomed had become part of the musical process, and they feared that introducing new technology would change the course of musique concrete in a way that would affect their initial principles (MacDonald, 2003)..

In the same year, Schaeffer collaborated with Pierre Henry to form the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM) and also produce some tape works together. Some of the most groundbreaking electroacoustic pieces in the 1950s were produced at GRM music studio, “Deserts” by Edgard Varese being among the most crucial. However, the construction of Musique Concrete from phonographs and magnetic tape fragments was labor intensive, and this left Pierre Schaeffer burnt out and later retired in 1960 (MacDonald, 2003).

Schaeffer conceived the idea of the Morphophone and the Phonogene in 1951 to facilitate in the selection of his materials and the construction of music structure. These two machineries assisted Schaeffer to produce variable speed and pitch changes as well desynchronization (Holmes, 2002). As a result, Schaeffer grouped his objet sonores into three categories, iterative, continuous and impulsive.  He later developed a wider category of his sonores, solfege concrete, based on their manipulation, time structure and value judgments on the type of the sounds. Under solfege, he developed criterion for evaluation which he referred to as plans de reference, which included plan harmonique, plan melodique and plan dynamique. These three plans set out a way of classifying sounds in their perception based on timbre, pitch and intensity (Holmes, 2002).

Pierre Schaeffer inspired other music composers with his Musique Concrete, and different electronic music studios emerged at that time. One such studio was the Columbia-Princeton Electronic music studio, established in Columbia University in 1955. It was one of the first formal electronic studios in the United States. This facility allowed many American composers to create musical works surpassing those done at the GRM in terms of technical development and quality (Camilleri, 1993). It was also at this site that one of the first synthesizers was invented, the Mark II RCA Synthesizer, built the same year the facility was set up.

During the same time, Louis and Bebe set up their own electronic studio in New York. Theirs was a private studio and did not get much recognition. Baron studio also became one of the first electronic music centers established in the United States, and Louis and Bebe recorded one of the first electronic music scores for film in this studio. An American composer named John Cage put together over 500 recorded sounds and called it “Williams Mix”. “Williams Mix” was the first Musique Concrete work created by an American (MacDolnald, 2003).

Musique Concrete was very popular in the art of music world by the beginning of the 1960s. Since the premiere of Pierre Schaeffer’s “Etude aux Chemins de Fer” in 1948, the tape recorded pieces had evolved significantly (Manning, 1985). The sounds in the tape pieces were now recognized in the creation of the stereo field and the quality of technology used in creating Musique Concrete had improved significantly. The imagination used in the pieces was also very inspiring. Tod Dockstader utilized the stereo to complete his 46-minute work “Quatermass”, work that saw the development of the future synthesizer music.

The Effects of Musique Concrete

With the technological advances of this era constructing Musique Concrete by sliicing or altering magnetic tape would be impractical. While the methods of constructing tape music may be outdated, the pieces are still sounding innovative and the influence of Musique Concrete is evident in all popular music. Some of the most influential pieces from 1960s and early 1970s are the Beatles Edgard Varese-derived “Revolution 9” and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (Manning, 2003).

The tradition of incorporating sound continues with numerous underground and some mainstream acts today, the scope of the impact go beyond rock n’ roll. One of these impacts is well pronounced in rap music, which relies on pre-recorded music for a sonic backdrop. The effects that Musique Concrete has had on modern music can be observed in reggae, rock, rap and even techno music (Manning, 2003). It is evident that it was a radical innovation that has changed the world’s perception of music.

Elektronische Musik

Around the same time, Herbert Eimert and Werner Meyer proposed a different music at Cologne Radio in Cologne, Germany. Though still limited by the same equipment that was available in Paris at the time, their music was in complete contrast with Musique concrete (Heikinheimo, 1972). Concrete sounds were initially forbidden by this music, which relied on the creation of genre sounds by additive synthesis, redistricted to sine waves. Total control over timbre properties was possible in this method, and was based on Fourier’s principles of spectral analysis (Manning, 1985). The distinction in this genre was that the material preceded the structure during composition, an approach that implied aesthetic judgment of the composer.  The composer had to pick materials that could fit together to produce a musically coherent piece. This required the use of formal theories.

1953 saw the beginning of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s time at the Cologne studio, and his first works were Studie I and Studie II. Stockhausen followed the strict serialism taught by Eimert, and helped progress the use of echo and reverberation, thereby creating a need to invent reverberation technologies. Though the Cologne studio initially had a reverberation chamber, they were able to progress and use a plate reverb, giving them the ability to alter the different parameters of the reverberation. This eliminated the limitation of using the single reverberation as is the case in a chamber (Manning, 1985).

In his following pieces, Gesang der Jünglinge, Stockhausen decided to move away from the strict requirements of Elektronische Musik and began to use concepts and techniques characterictic of Musique Concrete.  Although it was Schaeffer who first contemplated the use of tape, it was Karlheinz Stockhausen’s piece “Gesang der Jünglinge” that questioned the use of new media. This piece marked the beginning of artistic development in the studio (Manning, 1985). Combining the two schools of thought in early electronic became a great success.

Stockhausen worked his music by his own set of principles. In one of the concepts he set out, the Unified Time Structuring, he proposed that slowing down any tone creates a unique rhythm, which would ideally complement the texture of the tone. According to Stockhausen (1971), sound is not only positional, but can be thought of spatially. Therefore, layering and masking can make some sounds move underground beneath a closer sound, only to be revealed later.

As is now evident, the pioneers of electroacoustic music were guided by theories and ideas about sound, and about how to effectively manipulate it (Russcol, 1990). This enabled composers to localize and copy sound bites and make changes that were impossible to produce in the natural setting. Many technological developments have taken place over the years, but by following strict electroacoustic principles and theories, the pioneers of electroacoustic music were able to create a work which featured by innovative recording technology, continues to be a coherent music genre throughout the technological advances being developed (Manning, 2003).

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