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Electronic Music: A Timeline

December 31, 2009 by garry

Since the dawn of human history, music has been a source of much more than just fun and entertainment. For millennia, it has stoked myriad emotions, provided spiritual sustenance, built community and offered a chance to explore the world of sound. For a vast majority of that time, acoustic instruments were employed exclusively. But, as the 20th century unfolded, electricity was harnessed and breathed life into new musical instruments to stunning effect, giving birth to previously unimagined sounds. Since the history of popular music is well-documented elsewhere, the following timeline focuses more on the avant-garde end of the electronic music spectrum.

Late 1800s The advent of recorded music, via the phonograph, wax cyclinders and the first crude discs.

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 dreams of using electronic sounds in his music, but must wait two decades for the tape recorder to be invented. The advent of the 78 rpm record.

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." Raymond Scott composes minimal, rhythmic electronic music that predates Kraftwerk and techno by decades.

1958 Edgard Varèse composes “Poéme Èlectronique” for the Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World Fair.

1959 Pierre Schaeffer, Luc Ferrari, et al 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, which is early ambient music. 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. 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, mp3 files and digital downloading.

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.





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