For 60 years now, avant-garde composers and musical outsiders alike have tried to flex your head—electronically.
In the middle of the 20th Century, a small handful of avant-garde classical composers crumpled up the graph paper of conventional music reality and threw it very far away. In Paris, Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry developed a stunning new form of music in 1948 called musique concrète. By mixing together sound effects records via multiple turntables through a disc lathe, new platters of abrupt, sound collage chaos resulted. With the advent of magnetic tape recorders in the early ’50s, the process was made a lot easier, setting composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen in Germany, Iannis Xenakis in France, plus Vladimir Ussachevsky, John Cage and Edgard Varèse in the United States free to exploit the novel sounds of new electronic equipment and / or recorded acoustic sounds from the outside world–hence the term “electro-acoustic.” Immense realms of abstract, alien sound and dark, dissonant collage pushed out the boundaries of what music could be, predating the use of electronics, concrete sounds, tape manipulation, feedback and noise in popular music by over a decade.
Raymond Scott in his studio, 1950s.
As the ’50s wore on, numerous electronic music studios began to appear in radio stations and universities, mainly in France and Germany, followed in the late ’50s by the United States. At places like the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel / Groupe de Recherches Musicales (INA-GRM) in Paris, WDR in Cologne, Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New Jersey and The Center For Contemporary Music at Mills College in Oakland, the fame was fanned, carried on and multiplied into diverse aural treats from the ’60s through the ’90s and continues today. From cumbersome tape decks and tedious weeks of tape splicing to Moog and Buchla synths to the simplicity and speed of today’s desktop computers, electro-acoustic music production has emanated over the decades from the exclusive university laboratory and radio studio to the ubiquitous bedroom laptop. The mid-to-late ’90s fortunately produced a worldwide explosion of CDs that reissued classic, long-lost electronic and electro-acoustic LPs, plus many previously unissued pieces. so that you can now with little effort experience these works in the luxury of your own bed. Following is a list of the most essential, plus a few contemporary works thrown in. Enjoy.
Carlos Roque Alsina – Hinterland
Charles Amirkhanian – Walking Tune
Edgardo Canton – Promenade d’Ete d’Ulis NASA
Francis Dhomont – Frankenstein Symphony
Tod Dockstader – Quartermass
Luc Ferrari – Presque Rien
Luc Ferrari – Cellule 75
Vittorio Gelmetti – Musiche Elettroniche
Henry Gwiazda – noTnoTesnoTrhyThms
Pierre Henry – Messe Pour Le Temps Present
Rune Lindblad – Death of the Moon
Rune Lindblad – Objekt 2
Alvin Lucier – I Am Sitting In A Room
Ivo Malec – Doppio Coro, Artemisia, Triola, Cantate Pour Elle, Week-End, Luminétudes, Reflets, Dahovi, Lumina
The McLean Mix – The Golden Age of Electronic Music
Attilio Mineo – Man In Space With Sounds
Arne Nordheim – Electric
Michael Obst – Metal Drops
Pauline Oliveros – Alien Bog + Beautiful Soop
Pauline Oliveros – Electronic Works
Bernard Parmegiani – La Creation du Monde
Bernard Parmegiani – Violostries, Pour un Finir Avec le Pouvoir d’Orphee, Dedans-Dehors, Rouge-Mort: Thanatos, Exercisme 3, Le Present Compose
Larry Polansky – The Theory of Impossible Melody
Pierre Schaeffer – L’Oeuvre Musicale
Raymond Scott – Soothing Sounds For Baby
Karlheinz Stockhausen – Kontakte
James Tenney – Selected Works 1961-1969
Vladimir Ussachevsky – Film Music
Vladimir Ussachevsky – Electronic and Acoustic Works 1957-1972
Edgard Varese – The Varese Album
Iannis Xenakis – Electronic Music
Iannis Xenakis – La Legende d’Eer
Christian Zanesi – Stop! L’horizon, Profil-Desir, Courir
The Sound-Utopias of François Bayle
Francois Bayle, live performance in his Acousmonium, early 1980s.
I pull on a glittering, ankle-length robe for an evening stroll through a glass city filled with see-through skyscrapers, geodesic domes, monorails and flying cars—all immersed in François Bayle’s strange sound clusters floating from thousands of loudspeakers hidden behind neatly crafted shrubs. Monseur Bayle helped mint the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM) in 1958 with Pierre Schaeffer and was head of it from 1966 to 1997. He’s now working in his own home studio called Magison. Although a few of his works appeared on record in the vinyl era, the INA-GRM label has more recently busied itself releasing the complete Cycle Bayle collection on CD in 18 volumes.
Francois Bayle – Erosphere
Francois Bayle – Theatre d’Ombres + Mimameta
Francois Bayle – Vibrations Composees + Grande Polyphonie
Francois Bayle – Fabulae
Francois Bayle – L’Experience Acoustique
Francois Bayle + Bernard Parmegiani – Divine Comedie
Francois Bayle – La Main Vide
Francois Bayle – Son Vitesse-Lumiere
Francois Bayle – Motion-Emotion
Francois Bayle – Morceaux de Ciels + Theatre d’Ombres
Francois Bayle – Jeita + L’infini du Bruit
Francois Bayle – Camera Oscura + Espaces Inhabitables
Francois Bayle – La Forme du Temps est un Cercle
Francois Bayle – Toupie Dans le Ciel
Francois Bayle – Erosphere 2-CD
Francois Bayle – La Forme de l’Esprit est un Papillon
Electronic Music: A Timeline
Philips Pavilion, 1958 World’s Fair, Brussels.
1897 Thaddeus Cahill invents the Telharmonium, a crude forerunner to the synthesizer.
1924 Leon Theremin invents the Theremin.
1928 Maurice Martenot invents the Ondes Martenot, an electronic keyboard for the orchestra.
1920s Edgard Varèse wants to use electronic sounds in his music, but must wait two decades for the tape recorder to be invented.
1935 The advent of the Hammond organ.
1939 John Cage composes “Imaginary Landscape #1” for turntables, cymbals and piano.
1948 Pierre Schaeffer invents musique concrète with turntables and a disc lathe. The advent of the long-playing (LP) record.
1950 The advent of the magnetic tape recorder.
1952 John Cage composes “Williams Mix” for magnetic tape. The first public concert for magnetic tape is performed by Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luening.
1953 Iannis Xenakis uses a computer to compose the instrumental piece “Metastasis.”
1954 Edgard Varèse composes “Deserts” for magnetic tape and orchestra.
1955 Louis and Bebe Barron compose the Forbidden Planet film soundtrack using electronic sounds exclusively.
1957-1962 Iannis Xenakis composes his groundbreaking electro-acoustic pieces “Bohor,” “Orient-Occident,” Concret P-H” and “Diamorphoses.”
1958 Edgard Varèse composes “Poéme Èlectronique” for the Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World Fair.
1959 Pierre Schaeffer, Luc Ferrari, etc. open the Groupe Recherches Musicales in Paris. Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luening open the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York.
1960 John Cage and David Tudor pioneer the use of electronic music in live performance with “Cartridge Music.” Karlheinz Stockhausen composes “Kontakte” for electronic sounds, piano and percussion.
Early 1960s Lejaren Hiller, Max Matthews and James Tenney compose early computer music. Raymond Scott composes Soothing Sounds For Baby. Terry Riley composes minimal trance pieces featuring tape loops.
1965-1966 Steve Reich composes the classic tape loop pieces “It’s Gonna Rain” and “Come Out.” AMM includes electronics with instruments to perform their groundbreaking free-improvisation, followed by Musica Elettronica Viva (MEV). Robert Moog invents the Moog voltage-controlled synthesizer. The Beach Boys use a Moog-Theremin on “Good Vibrations.”
Late 1960s La Monte Young begins to use sine wave drones with instruments and vocals. Psychedelic rock groups begin to use tape manipulation, feedback and other electronic effects that avant-garde composers pioneered 15 years earlier.
1970 Several pavillions at the Osaka World Expo feature the electronic music of Arne Nordheim, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Iannis Xenakis, etc.
Early 1970s Kraftwerk pioneers electronic pop music, which paves the way for techno.
Mid 1970s Throbbing Gristle pioneers industrial noise music.
1978 The compact disc is invented by Philips and Sony, but is not marketed until 1983.
1979 The Fairlight CMI, an early digital synthesizer sampler, appears.
Early 1980s The advent of the desktop computer.
Mid-late 1980s Derrick May, Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson usher in techno. The advent of house and acid house.
Early 1990s Dance music branches out into endless variations like deep house, hardcore, garage, gabba, ambient dub, trance techno, breakbeat, jungle, goa trance, trip-hop, ambient, illbient, trillbient, not to mention happy hardcore.
Mid-late 1990s The dance madness continues with drum ’n’ bass, drill ’n’ bass, techstep, turntablism, minimal acid techno, etc. The advent of Powerbook laptopcore: Oval, Pita, Fennesz and Farmer’s Manual form very interesting sound-blankets from digital glitches. The advent of the World Wide Web.
2000 The DJ Dubble R hooks a speaker array to a metal kite and flies it in a thunder and lightning storm. He dies for the cause.
Note: All of the articles on this page originally appeared in Arcane Candy Issue 1 in the year 2000.