I chose to write about electronic music, as this was the genre I found most difficult to listen to over the progress of the course unit, and therefore didn’t do much additional research about it.
The history of electronic music started at the end of the 19th century; as electricity itself was starting to develop, some of the first electronic instruments were created as well. These instruments were the beginning of a completely new type of music which were the first step to create a huge variety of musical directions over the 20th century. 1
Generally electronic music can be described as music created with electronic tools. Until it had established itself, composers had to rely on traditional instruments and their sounds. Composers tried to create new sounds with tone generators and audiotape. Apparently the first steps of producing it were made in the USA at around 1890 and in the early 20th century in Germany. Nevertheless, the whole development was a broadly slow process, which only made new steps with the inventions of the telephone, microphone, tape and other forms of conserving music. 2, 3, 4
The probably most important milestone for the development of this new type of music was the foundation of the Studio for Electronic Music in Cologne, 1951. Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928 – 2007), who is one of the most influential composers concerning electronic music, used exclusively artificially created sounds which were exactly defined in their frequency, amplitude and duration and were modified through copying and overlaying the different sounds. Those first attempts were still shaped by Schönberg’s’ serialism. The outcomes were saved on a tape recorder and played back through speakers. This allowed the composer to have total control over the colour of sound and would not allow any performer to misinterpret the composers’ ideas. Thus, it also wasn’t necessary to define the musical aim through notation. One of the first produced pieces was Stockhausens’ Gesang der Jünglinge, which was meant to be a religious work were the composer tried to seamlessly connect human voices with electronic sounds. The piece was originally meant to be played in a cathedral, although it was seen as an inappropriate space for speakers, so Stockhausen transformed his piece into a nonliturgical religious work. It was premiered on the 30th of May 1956. 5, 6, 7, 8
An important subitem of electronic music was defined as “Tape Music”. In 1948 the composer- couple Louis and Bebe Barron experimented with magnetic tape recorders. The composer John Cage (1912 – 1992) was introduced to their work and founded a group, with which he wanted to produce music for tape. Members of this group were Morton Feldman (1926 – 1987), David Tudor (1926 – 1976) and Christian Wolff (1934*). The probably first piece for tape produced in the USA in January 1952 was Cage’s Imaginairy Landscape No. 5, in which 42 record discs are used and the score provides information about when each of the records has to be played. The outcome is recorded on tape to capture the developed piece. One of the most well – known compositions is Cage’s Williams Mix, for recording tape was composed between 1951 and 1953. It had its premiere in 1958, and interestingly, the opinions about the piece are similar to the past: It is seen as a piece of the future involving completely new, unheard sounds.9, 10
Another important representative was the sometimes called “father of electronic music”, Edgard Varese (1883 – 1965). Even after experimenting with new synthetic sounds he was continuously looking for new technological ways to produce music. His concept of an architectural layered music breaks up the common twelve – note system by differentiating notes or chords from a developing new acoustic world. Due to the often uncommon sounds from some of Varese’s works, some premiers left the audience more shocked than delighted. 11
Although, Until Varese’s piece Poéme électronique, which had its premiere in 1958 in Brussels and was composed for the public, electronic music was mainly produced for institutions. This generated an important impact from the public recognition on it and brought the medium not only to other musicians but also carried it around the world. By today’s standards this piece could be seen as rather crude, but heard by someone in 1958, it will have made a great impression, as such unusual sounds hadn’t been heard before. Poéme électronique and was therefore seen as one of the most revolutionary achievements in music history. 12
One further subitem of electronic music is the so- called “Musique Concrète”, which was named by the French composer Pierre Schaeffer (1910 – 1995). The term describes music which is also entirely heard over speakers, but recorded from different sound material, such as text, music and noises. They were recorded individually and afterwards compositionally arranged. One famous example would be Schaeffer’s piece etude aux chemins de fer, (= Railway study, premiered in 1948) which was produced with recorded noises from a train station. The sounds were then changed with pitch – shifts, looping and time – stretching. Seeing, that he was one of the first composers to work with these features, he played an important role in the developmend of modern music, which often works with loops, transpositions and time stretching as well.13
Obviously the term “electronic music” is not only used to describe the musical experiments from the early 20th century, but also defines most of the music produced today. In my opinion, it is interesting to see how quickly electronic music evolved from a few attempts on creating new sounds to a huge variety of musical productions, which work mainly or even entirely with synthetic sounds. With this huge variety of different composers, it is difficult to tell who really started the term “electronic music”, but it also can be seen as a new wave of experimental music, which was starting in different places at the same time. Being used to the modern electronic works, which move from mostly computer generated pop – songs to entirely abstract sounding genres like dubstep or instrumental lo-fi, I find it difficult to enjoy the above named early productions. Nevertheless, I can understand the negative as well as the positive reactions coming from an audience to which electronic sounds were absolutely alienating.
1 Gerdes, H. (2019). Pionierzeit der elektronischen Musikinstrumente. [online]. Amazona.de. Available at: https://www.amazona.de/geschichte-der-elektronischen-musik-1900-1970/ [Accessed: 29.06.2020]
2 Kennedy, M; Kennedy, J and Rutherford-Johnson, T. (2013). Electronic
3 Heuköufer, N. (2014) Musik Abi – Kompaktwissen Oberstufe. 5th edition. Berlin: Cornelsen Scriptor, p. 194
4 Knapp, W. and Peschl, W. (2005) Wege zur Musik – Band 1. Esslingen: Helbling, p. 76.
5 Hofmann, B; Liebl, R; Lindner, U and Unterberger, S. (2015) Wege zur Musik – Oberstufe Band 2. Innsbruck: Helbling, p. 138
6 Lernhelfer. (2010). Elektronische Musik. [online]. Available at: https://www.lernhelfer.de/schuelerlexikon/musik/artikel/elektronische-musik [Accessed: 29.06.2020]
7 Sabbe, H. (1994). Goeyvaerts and the Beginnings of Punctual Seralism and Electronic Music. Recue belge de Musicolofie/ Belgisch Tidschrift voor Muziekwetenschap. [online]. Vol. 48. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3687128?seq=14#metadata_info_tab_contents [Accessed: 29.06.2020]
8 Smalley, J. (2000). Gesang der Jüngline: History and Analysis.[PDF]. pp. 1 – 5. Available at: http://sites.music.columbia.edu/masterpieces/notes/stockhausen/GesangHistoryandAnalysis.pdf [Accessed: 29.06.2020]
9 Lernhelfer. (2010). Elektronische Musik. [online]. Available at: https://www.lernhelfer.de/schuelerlexikon/musik/artikel/elektronische-musik [Accessed: 29.06.2020]
10 Hill, S. (2018). A „sound „ approach: John Cage and music education. Philosopjy of Music Education Review. [online]. Vol. 26, Iss. 1: India University Press. Available at: https://go-gale-com.ucreative.idm.oclc.org/ps/i.do?p=AONE&u=ucca&id=GALE|A620930978&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon [Accessed: 29.06.2020]
11 Lerngelfer(2010). Edgard Varése. [online]. Available at: lernhelfer.de/schuelerlexikon/musik/artikel/edgard-varese [Accessed: 2906.2020]
12 Homes, T. (2012). Electronic and Experimantal Music: Technology, Music, and Culture. 4th ed. [ebook] Columbia: University Computer Music Center. Available at: https://books.google.at/books?hl=en&lr=&id=aT5nAQAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=electronic+music+history&ots=D9By10Goo8&sig=QqebGszh5LqMFmmjbgDjx0UqNeY#v=onepage&q&f=false [Accessed: 28.06.2020]
13 Föllmer, G. Pierre Schaeffer “ Études aux Chemins de fer“. Mediankunstnetz. Avaliable at: http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/etude-aux-chemins-de-fer/audio/1/ [Accessed: 29.06.2020]
Spider Map – Electronic Music
Gesang der Jünglinge
- Composer: Karlheinz Stockhausen
- Year of composition: 1955 – 1956
- First performance: 30th May, 1956
- Performed by: Westdeutscher Rundfnk studio, vocal parts from Josef Protschka.
- Listened to: 29. 06. 2020
The piece works with a biblical subject from the figure Daniel. Originally the piece was designed for five tracks, although Stockhausen only had a 4 track – studio on hand. During the first performance there were five speakers distributed in a room. The movement of the sounds through the room are an important feature of the composition. 14
Seeing that Stockhausen aimed for a seamless mix between human voices and electronic sounds, he especially put focus on emphasizing the consonants of the recorded voices. This made it incredibly difficult to understand the text due to it overlapping with other sung parts. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see, that it was sometimes not easy to tell which parts were sung and which were produced entirely electronically. On the other hand, there are some clearly defined electronic parts as well, which work like an accompaniment to the boy’s voice. Over the first three verses of the piece it was difficult to find a structure, although one does notice that some aspects are reused afterwards, nevertheless, the ending part seems rather chaotic again.
Imaginairy Landscape No. 5
- Composer: John Cage
- Instruments: 42 discs, recording tape
- Year of composition: 1952
- First performance: 18th January, 1952
- Listened to: 29.06.2020
Always using another set of the 42 discs, every perfomance is unique. Nevertheless, all of the versions I’ve listened to, seem to include more instrumental sounds rather than electronic ones. I personally really liked the idea of this composition and there were some versions which I enjoyed much more than others. The original version seemed to include several parts of classical pieces of music, which made it really enjoyable at times. Nevertheless, the electronic squeaking sounds, which appear in between the different musical fragments were slightly unsettling.15
- Composer: John Cage
- Year of composition: 1951
- First performance: 1958
- Listened to: 29. 06.2020
The very first production of this four minute piece took, with the help of Earl Brown and David Tudor about a year. The first performance was made with four stereo tape recorders and 8 speakers. 16
For me it actually didn’t sounds as unsettling as I expected. It may be due to the amount of electronic music I’ve listened to by now, but I thought it was rather entertaining, It was almost like continuously switching radio stations. Even being used to modern electronic music, I experienced a complete new set of different noises and sounds. Even though it is more or less irregular, One can even notice a consistently moving rhythm.
- Composer: Edgard Varese
- Instruments: 3 tapes, 2
- Year of composition: 1958
- Performed by: Robert Craft
- First performance: 1958
- Listened to: 29.06.2020
The piece was part of a wider project, which didn’t only involve the music, but also the structure of the building it was first performed in as well as visual influences for the audience. The work was presented through four hundred speakers. Unfortunately, in 1959, the whole artwork was gone with the destruction of the Philips pavilion. 17
This piece sounded like a collection of different noises, created by manipulating magnetic tapes. Neither any chords nor harmonies were used within the piece, instead Varese used rather shrill and loud sounding noises, but also silence to fill this piece. It is difficult to tell by just listening to it, whether Varese just arranged the parts of this piece in any order, or whether he put a structure behind it. Even though it is slightly terrifying at times, it is a rather refreshing piece of art.
Etude aux chemnis de fer
- Composer: Pierre Schaeffer
- Instruments: Recorded sounds from a train station
- Year of composition: 1948
- Listened to: 29. 06. 2020
The piece is based on recordings, which were made by Schaffer on the Parisian Gare de Batignolles with the help of six, after his instructions, improvising train drivers. 18
The surrounding noises of a train station which were used for this piece give a clear visual image of a steam locomotive. There appears to be no musical rules, thus the structure of the piece relies on putting a certain amount of chosen noises into a specific order to create the from Schaeffer intended effect. On the other hand, some of the recorded noises, such as the steam pipe and a damp rattling sound, somtimes create with a rhythmic pattern and pitch changes the impression of a normal instrumental piece. Nevertheless, this only lasts for a few moments, before more disoriented noises and sounds can be heard again.
14Smalley, J. (2000). Gesang der Jüngline: History and Analysis.[PDF]. pp. 1 – 5. Available at: http://sites.music.columbia.edu/masterpieces/notes/stockhausen/GesangHistoryandAnalysis.pdf [Accessed: 29.06.2020]
15Homes, T. (2012). Electronic and Experimantal Music: Technology, Music, and Culture. 4th ed. [ebook] Columbia: University Computer Music Center. Available at: https://books.google.at/books?hl=en&lr=&id=aT5nAQAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=electronic+music+history&ots=D9By10Goo8&sig=QqebGszh5LqMFmmjbgDjx0UqNeY#v=onepage&q&f=false [Accessed: 28.06.2020]
16 Daniels, D. John Cage “Williams Mix”. Mediankunstnetz. Avaliable at: http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/williams-mix/ [Accessed: 29.06.2020]
17 Crayson, A. (2005). Poème Électronique – Edgard Varese. [PDF] Available at: https://www.loc.gov/static/programs/national-recording-preservation-board/documents/PoemeElectronique.pdf [Accessed: 29.06.2020]
18 Föllmer, G. Pierre Schaeffer “ Études aux Chemins de fer“. Mediankunstnetz. Avaliable at: http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/etude-aux-chemins-de-fer/audio/1/ [Accessed: 29.06.2020]
Reflection on the course unit
This course unit involved a huge variety of compositional styles and I was surprised about all the different directions western music covered within just one century compared to the previous ones. Obviously, the development of electricity and the music that came with it opened a completely new way of writing and experiencing music. I personally also find it nice to see that some modern composers, such as John Rutter, still mainly stayed with the classical forms of composing music despite the whole contrary movement of Schönberg’s serialism and the sometimes only with noises created first pieces of electronic music. I find it almost difficult to believe that such atonal works were produced almost coincidentally with the warm jazzy harmonies Gershwin used. Having been confronted with this variety of music, I am now able to differ between impressionism, minimalism, electronic music and serialism.
The exercise I enjoyed most was writing the graphical score for a film scene. Even though, the outcome might sound unusual to a modern audience, I really liked the idea of art meeting music by transforming the score.
I still find it difficult to choose the right amount of detail for my listening log entries as well as knowing exactly what to listen for, although it has become easier than it was during the previous unit. Overall I found it easier to describe my impression and opinion about the more harmonically sounding pieces, working with traditional instruments, Ravel’s Bolero for example. Therefore, I will probably find it easier to listen to the music of the coming course units, as they focus more (or entirely) on traditional harmonic forms. I was absolutely astonished by the idea of chance music and furthermore thought it was a great exercise to experience Cages 4’33 myself.
Even though it was part of the previous course unit, from he given options, I would really have enjoyed it to write more about minimalism, as this was, at least for me, a new type of music, which I thoroughly enjoyed listening to. Nevertheless, the most challenging part for me is still describing atonal music with no obvious structure, which is also the reason why I chose to write my assignment about it. The further I got into researching about it the more interesting it became, and towards the end, I surprisingly found some of the pieces I’ve listened to really entertaining.
For the assignment itself, I couldn’t really find a point to start, as there were a huge variety of sites and books to learn from. Furthermore, most of them went into different directions about the origins and first experiments with electronic music. Thus, it was incredibly helpful to create the above shown mind – map with a collection of information. Nevertheless, I unfortunately wasn’t able to include all of the information I found in my essay and would have probably found it easier with a bigger word count.