Electronic music is a loose term for music created using electronic equipment. Any sound produced by the means of an electrical signal may reasonably be called electronic, and the term is sometimes used that way -- in music where acoustic performance is the norm, even the introduction of electronic amplifiers may touch off discussions of electronic music (jazz and folk music, for example, have gone through a good deal of argument about the topic).
As a category of criticism and marketing, however, electronic music refers to music produced largely by electronic components, such as synthesizers, samplers, computers, and drum machines. Theoretically, the music could include any of an array of other "instruments".
Late 19th century early 20th century
The earliest purely electronic instrument was the Teleharmonium or Telharmonium, developed by Thaddeus Cahill in 1897. Simple inconvenience hindered the adoption of the Teleharmonium: the instrument weighed seven tons and was the size of a boxcar. The first practical electronic instrument is often viewed to be the Theremin, invented by Professor Leon Theremin circa 1919 - 1920. Another early electronic instrument was the Ondes Martenot, which was used in the Turangalîla Symphony by Olivier Messiaen
Post-war years: 1940s to 1950s
In the years following World War II, Electronic music was embraced by progressive composers, and was hailed as a way to exceed the limits of traditional instruments. Modern Electronic composition is considered to have begun in force with the development of musique concrète and tape recorders in 1948, only to rapidly evolve with the creation of early analog synthesizers. The first pieces of musique concrète were written by Pierre Schaeffer, who later worked alongside such avant garde classical composers as Pierre Henry, Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Stockhausen has worked for many years as part of Cologne's Studio for Electronic Music combining electronically generated sounds with conventional orchestras. Other well-known composers in this field include Edgar Varese and Steve Reich. (See the main article on Electronic art music for more information.)
At the Radiophonic Workshop, the sound special effects unit of the BBC, Ron Grainer and Delia Derbyshire created one of the first electronic signature tunes for television as the theme music for Doctor Who. A short OGG file sample of this can be found here.
1960s to late 1970s
Although electronic music began in the world of classical (or "art") composition, within a few years it had been adopted into popular culture with varying degrees of enthusiasm. In the 1960s, Walter Carlos (now Wendy Carlos) popularized early synthesizer music with two notable albums The Well Tempered Synthesiser and Switched On Bach, which took pieces of baroque classical music and reproduced them on Moog synthesizers.
As technology developed, and synthesizers became cheaper, more robust and portable, they were adopted by many rock bands. Examples of relatively early adopters in this field are bands like The United States of America, The Silver Apples and Pink Floyd, and although not all of their music was primarily electronic (with the notable exception of The Silver Apples), much of the resulting sound was dependent upon the synthesised element. In the 1970s, this style was mainly popularised by Kraftwerk, who used electronics and robotics to symbolise and sometimes gleefully celebrate the alienation of the modern technological world; to this day their music remains uncompromisingly electronic.
In jazz, amplified acoustic instruments and synthesizers were mixed in a series of influential recordings by Weather Report. Joe Zawinul, the synthesizer player in that group, has continued to field ensembles of the same kind. The noted jazz pianist Herbie Hancock with his band the Headhunters in the 1970s also introduced jazz listeners to a wider palette of electronic sounds including the synthesizer, which he further explored with even more enthusiasm on the Future Shock album, a collaboration with producer Bill Laswell in the 1980s, which spawned a pop hit "Rockit" in 1983.
Musicians such as Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno, Vangelis, Jean Michel Jarre, the Japanese composers Isao Tomita, Kitaro also popularised the sound of electronic music. The film industry also began to make extensive use of electronic music in soundtracks; an example of a film whose soundtrack is heavily dependent upon this is Stanley Kubrick's film of Anthony Burgess's novel A Clockwork Orange.
The score for Forbidden Planet had used an electronic score in 1956 and, once electronic sounds became a more common part of popular recordings, other science fiction films such as Blade Runner and the Alien series of movies began to depend heavily for mood and ambience upon the use of electronic music and electronically derived effects. Electronic groups were also hired to produce entire soundtracks, in the same way as other popular music stars.
Late 1970s to late 1980s
In the late 1970s and early 1980s there was a great deal of innovation around the development of electronic music instruments. Analogue synthesisers largely gave way to digital synthesisers and samplers. Early samplers, like early synthesisers, were large and expensive pieces of gear -- companies like Fairlight and New England Digital sold instruments that cost upwards of $100,000. In the mid 1980s, this changed with the development of low cost samplers. From the late 1970s onward, much popular music was developed on these machines. Groups like Heaven 17, Severed Heads, The Human League, Yaz, The Art of Noise, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and New Order developed entirely new ways of making popular music by electronic means.
The natural ability for music machines to make stochastic, non-harmonic, staticky noises led to a genre of music known as industrial music led by pioneering groups such as Throbbing Gristle (which commenced operation in 1975) Wavestar and Cabaret Voltaire. Some artists, like Nine Inch Nails, KMFDM, and Severed Heads, took some of the adventurous innovations of musique concrète and applied them to mechanical dance beats. Others, such as Test Department, Einstürzende Neubauten, took this new sound at face value and created hellish electronic compositions. Meanwhile, other groups (Robert Rich, :zoviet*france:, rapoon) took these harsh sounds and melded them into evocative soundscapes. Still others (Front 242, Skinny Puppy) combined this harshness with the earlier, more pop-oriented sounds, forming electronic body music (EBM).
Allied with the growing interest in electronic and industrial music were artists working in the realm of dub music. Notable in this area was producer Adrian Sherwood whose On-U Sound record label in the 1980s was responsible for integrating the industrial and noise aesthetic with tape and dub production with artists such as the industrial-funk outfit Tackhead, vocalist Mark Stewart and others. This paved the way for much of the 1990s interest in dub, first through bands such as Meat Beat Manifesto and later downtempo and trip hop producers such as Kruder & Dorfmeister.
Recent developments: 1980s to early 2000s
The development of the techno sound in Detroit and house music in Chicago in the early to late 1980s, and the later UK-based acid house movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s all fuelled the development and acceptance of electronic music into the mainstream and to introduce electronic dance music to nightclubs. Electronic composition can create rhythms faster and more precise than is possible using traditional percussion. The sound of electronic dance music often features electronically altered sounds (samples) of traditional instruments and vocals. See dance music.
The falling price of suitable equipment has meant that popular music has increasingly been made electronically. Artists such as Bjork and Moby have further popularized variants of this form of music within the mainstream. In the 1990s, a Turkish electronic musician, Murat Ses, published his electronic works, which incorporated original Levantine, Central Asian, Anatolian musics in a so-called trilogy with the concept: "The Timeless and Boundariless Context of Culture and Civilization". Brazilian musician, Alexandre Bischof, by contrast, with his "Dark Lounge" has taken modern electronic music far from his country's Samba roots, to a sophisticated and sombre place.
Electronic music, especially in the late 1990s fractured into many genres, styles and sub-styles, too many to list here, and most of which are included in the main list. Although there are no hard and fast boundaries, broadly speaking we can identify the experimental and classical styles: electronic art music, musique concrète; the industrial music and synth pop styles of the 1980s; styles that are primarily intended for dance such as techno, house, trance, drum and bass and styles that are intended more as experimental styles or for home listening such as IDM, glitch and trip-hop. The proliferation of personal computers beginning in the 1980s brought about a new genre of electronic music, known loosely as chip music or bitpop. These style, produced initially using specialized sound chips in PCs such as the Commodore 64, grew primarily out of the demoscene. The latter categories such as IDM, glitch and chip music share much in common with the art and musique concrète styles which predate it by several decades.
Contemporary electronic music includes many different styles or musical genres, such as:
2Step also known as Speed garage
Drill and bass
Drum and bass
Trip hop (aka the "Bristol Sound")
Freeform hardcore - NEEDS ENTRY
Hard house - NEEDS ENTRY
Electronic body music (EBM)
Intelligent dance music (IDM)
Nortec (electronic style from Tijuana, Mexico)
Rave (see old skool)
Electroclash (late 1990s, early 2000s version)
Electropop (1980s incarnation)
Rotterdam techno - NEEDS ENTRY
Hard trance - NEEDS ENTRY
Notable artists and DJs
With the explosive growth of computers music technology and consequent reduction in the cost of equipment in the late 1990s, the number of artists and DJs working within electronic music is overwhelming. With the advent of hard disk recording systems, it is possbile for any home computer user to become a musician, and hence the rise in the number of "bedroom bands", often consisting of a single person. Nevertheless notable artists can still be identified. Within the experimental and classical or "art" traditions still working today are Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez and Steve Reich. Influential musicians in industrial and later synth pop styles include Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire (both now defunct), Tangerine Dream, the Human League and Kraftwerk who released their first album in over a decade in 2003. In house, techno and drum and bass pioneers such as Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Goldie, A Guy Called Gerald and LTJ Bukem are still active as of 2003. Commercially successful artists working under the "electronica" rubric such as Fatboy Slim, the Chemical Brothers, The Crystal Method, The Prodigy, Underworld and Moby continue to release albums and perform regularly (sometimes in stadium-sized arenas, such has the popularity of electronic dance music grown). Some DJs such as Paul Oakenfold and John Digweed have reached true superstar status and can command five-figure salaries for a single performance. The critically acclaimed Autechre and Aphex Twin continue to put out challenging records of (mostly) home-listening music.
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