Electroacoustic Music

May 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

MUSIC COMPOSED WITH OR ALTERED BY ELECTRONICS HAS A LONG AND INVOLVED HISTORY  EARLY EXPERIMENTAL INSTRUMENTS  include the Clavecin Electrique or Electric Harpsichord of Delaborade in Paris (1971) and Elisha Gray’s Electroharmonic Piano in Chicago (1876). Some composers used their instruments to imitate styles and materials of their times. Many others, however, attempted to develop a unique aesthetic wherein any sound could act as a resource for coposing. Hoffman’s The Automaton in the early nieteenth century and the Art of Noises  (1913) by the Italian futurist Luigi Russolo evidence these attempts. From 1920 to 1940, composers such as Otto Luening, Norman McLaren, Pierre Schaeffer, Leon Theremin (who in 1923 invented the Theremin), Friederich Trautwein, Paul Hindemith, and Ernst Toch also began to experiment with electronic instruments.

Around 1920, Leo Theremin invented the Theremin. Originally called the etherophane and thereminovox, performers moved their hands in its viciity to create pitches and glissandi between pitches caused by heterodyning.

Joerg Mager created his Klaviatur-Spaeron in 1925. This instrument, using inductnace-capacitance principles with audi-frequency generators, avoided the glissando effects of Theremin. Meger, supported hy both the Heinrich Hertz Institute and the German Telegraph-Technical Office, performed mostly classical masterworks.

Concurrently with Mager’s creations in Germany, John Hays Hammond, creator of the Hammond organ, began experimenting with electrical sound production in the United States. His first effort, called the breathing piano, uses reflective slats withing a soundproof case that opens by the use of an extra pedal. While not explicity electronic, the concept paralleled that of regenerative procedures in radio.

By 1929, Eduard Coupleaux and Joseph Givelet had created the automatic synthesizer that they exhibited at the Paris Exposition, Their ” Automatically Operating Musical Instrument of the Electric Oscillation Type ” (AOMIEOT) utilized oscillators performed much the way player pianos operate (paper roll). However, both timbre alteration using filters and pitch blending for vibrato could be created with the potentials far exceeding the player piano.

One year later, Emerick Spielmann created the Superpiano, an instrument that utilizes devices to interrupt light on photoelectric cells that in turn generates alternating currents for pitch.

The ondes martenot represents one of the mos succesful pioneering electoacoustic musical instruments prior to present-day digital synthesizers. The ondes martenot was created by Maurice Martenot around 1928,but not fully developed until  the mid-1920s. Dimitri Levidis’s Symphonic Poem used this instrument in its premiere. Looking like a clavichord, it follows the same basic principles of the Theremin but with a much more traditional look and touch. The monophonic pitch is controlled by a lateral movement of a fingering attached to a metal ribbon. Using an intiguing silencing device, performers can hide the glissandi so obvious when performing the Theremin.

Many composers including Olivier Messiarn, Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger and Edgar Varese, effectively used the ondes martenot in their works. In 1936, Varese said, “I am sure that the time will come when the composer, after he has graphically realized his score, will see this score automatically put on a machine that will faithfully transmit the musical content to the listener…” (Varese 1936) A year later, John Cage remarked: “To make music… will continue to increase until we reach a music produced through the aid of electical instruments” (Cage, 1966)

French composer Pierre Schaeffer  and Pierre Henry developed musique concrete by recording natural sounds at various speeds and splicing together various lenghts of the tape to create rhythms. These experiments represent the first truly serious analog electro-acoustic music. The pioneering work of composers like Pecry Grainger (whose free music of 1935 used four Theremins) also explored electroacoustic resources. Along with Burnett Cross, Grainger later created a free music machine using various oscillators. The works of John Cage, Vladimir Ussachecsky, and Otto Luening brought attention to these new sound sources during the four-year period 1948-52-the years of real discovery and experimentation.

Milton Babitt’s Vision and Prayer (1961) and Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Mikrophonie I (1965) demonstrate the contrasting aspects of electronic and musique concrete composition. Vision and Prayer  consists of pure electroacoustic sounds with the voice part carefully notated by the composer (Babitt 1964). Mikrophonie I involves the recording of  two performers playing on one six-foot gong with music created primarily by performing processes such as grating, scraping, and so on. Two other performers control directional microphones, filters, and volume control.

Synthesizers enabled composers to control most pitches, dynamics, envelopes, durations, and, except for performances acoustics and audience receptivity, the performance itself.

Luciano BERIO comments : “When someone hears electronic music it doesn’t reverberate to other levels of his experience, as instrumental music has and does. Up to now I feel electronic music has been developing, evolving as a bridge between what we know and what we don’t know yet. It is not without reason that the best musical works that have been produced up until now (from the early 1950s to the present) and those that try to make this connection.”


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