Introduction to Computer Music: Volume One

2. Electronic Music History 20th Century Timeline

See also A Brief History of Sound Synthesis

1902 Thaddeus Cahill sets up the Telharmonium or Dynamaphone, a 200-ton array of Edison dynamos that produced different pitched hums according to the speed of the dynamos. The electrical output was "broadcast" over telephone lines.

1906 Lee DeForest invents and patents the Triode Vacuum Tube (called appropriately the Audion) which led to amplification of electrical signals by 1912.

1907 Ferruccio Busoni publishes Sketch for a New Aesthetic of Music discussing the use of electrical and other new sound sources in future music. He was to have a profound effect on his pupil, Edgard Varese.

19teens Italian futurists investigate, classify, and produce noise instruments called "intonarumori." Most notable was Luigi Russolo, who wrote a letter/treatise entitled L'arte dei Rumori or The Art of Noises, in which he embraced modernity's new world of sounds which the mechanisms of the industrial age, modern urban life and even the machinery of war had brought forth. The Futurists were one of the few artistic movements in history that gravitated towards Fascism.

1920's Varese writes Ionisation and George Antheil composes Ballet Mecanique: Both use percussion and noise instruments in a unique, featured way (i.e. they are the stars, and not just supporting cast) and deal with the "liberation of sound" and a new view of musical "spatial-temporal" relationships. Ballet Mècanique (click link to see on Youtube) was the score for a Dadaist/post-Cubist film of Fernand Léger.

Electronic instruments invented during this period include the Theremin (1919-20), Ondes-Martenot (1928), Trautonium (1928), and Hammond Organ (1929) based on technical principles of the Telharmonium. See 120years.net for an unbelievably complete description of these and many other early electronic instruments.

Messiaen wrote Fete des belles eaux (1937) for six ondes-martenot as well as featuring the instrument as soloist in Trois petites liturgies de la Presence Divine (1944) and Turangalila-symphonie (1946-8).  Strauss, Hindemith and Varese (2 used originally in Ecuatorial) composed for the Trautonium. 

1930's Improvement of amplifiers and invention of the Tape Recorder. John Cage composes Imaginary Landscape no.1 (1939) and no. 2 (1942) using test-tones from recordings, which were played on variable-speed turntables.

1940's Egyptian-born composer Halim El-Dabh experiments with wire recorders in Cairo. In 1944, he produces The Expression of Zaar, using field sound recordings of a street festival and manipulating it using equipment such as reverb chambers at the Middle East Radio station. It is considered by many to be the first piece of musique concrète performed in concert. The piece was later abridged and released as Wire Recorder Piece. El-Dabh came the the US, worked at the Columbia-Princeton studios and is perhaps best known for his expansive Leiyla Visitations.

1948 RTF (Radiodiffusion-television Francaise) broadcasts Pierre Schaeffer's Etude aux chemins de fer on Oct. 5th. This marks the beginning of studio realizations and for some (see El-Dabh above), musique concrète. Musique concrète is characterized as compositions whose materials originate as real-world, recorded sounds which are reorganized, sometimes processed via tape splicing, speed or direction change, looping, filtering, and so forth. Pierre Henry collaborates with Schaeffer on Symphonie pour un homme seul (1950), the first major work of musique concrète. In 1951, the studio was formally established as the Groupe de Recherche de Musique Concrète, which included other composers such as Messiaen, Boulez and Stockhausen.

1951 Studio established in Cologne, Germany— NWDR (Nordwest Deutsche Rundfunk). Karlheinz Stockhausen most influential. While the RTF was primarily concerned with manipulation of acoustic sound sources (musique concrète), NWDR studio equipped with electronic sound generators and modifiers (Electronische Musik), where the origins of the sounds were artificially created via oscillators, noise generators, etc.

1952 Four compositions for tape recorder, composed by Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luening, presented at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (10/28). Raymond Scott designs possibly first sequencer which consisted of hundreds of switches controlling stepping relays, timing solenoids, tone circuits and 16 individual oscillators. Scott also invents Clavivox synthesizer with subassembly by Robert Moog (1956).

1953 Edgard Varese receives Ampex tape recorder as gift and begins work on Deserts, for orchestra and tape. Stockhausen completes Studie I

1955 Milan Studio de Fonologia RAI established, with Berio as artistic director. Mayuzumi founds studio in Tokyo. Phillips studio established at Eindhoven, Holland, shifted to University of Utrecht Institute of Sonology in 1960.

1956 Lejaren Hiller and Leonard Isaacson compose Iliiac Suite for string quartet, the first complete work of computer-assisted composition (also algorithmic composition). Stockhausen composes Gesang der Junglinge, the first major work of the Cologne studio, based on text from the Book of Daniel.

1958 Varese Poeme Electronique played over 400 loudspeakers at the Phillips Pavillion of the 1958 Brussels World Fair.

1959 Columbia-Princeton Studio established in New York with the help of a $175,000 Rockefeller grant. Incorporated the RCA Mark II synthesizer, the first major voltage-controlled synthesizer. Composers included Babbitt, Davidovsky, Luening, Ussachevsky, Wuorinen, Smiley, Druckman

1960's Development of large mainframe computer synthesis. Max Mathews of Bell Labs perfects MUSIC V, a direct digital synthesis language. Development of smaller voltage-controlled synthesizers by Moog and others make instruments available to most composers, universities and popular musicians. Most well-known use Switched-on Bach album by then Walter, now Wendy Carlos. Beginning of live electronic performance. The Synket, a live performance instrument used extensively by composer John Eaton in works such as Concert Piece for Synket and Orchestra (1967). Once Festivals, featuring multimedia theater music, organized by Robert Ashley and Gordon Mumma in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

1963 San Francisco Tape Music Center established by Morton Subotnik, soon incorporating a voltage-controlled synthesizer based around automated sequencing by Donald Buchla, used in album-length Subotnik pieces such as Silver Apples of the Moon (1967) and The Wild Bull (1968).

1967 Max Mathews and F. Richard Moore develop GROOVE, a real-time digital control system for analog synthesis, used extensively by composers Laurie Spieglel and Emmanuel Ghent in the 1970's.

1970's Mini-Moog, a small affordable integrated synthesizer make analog synthesis easily available and affordable, along with newcomers ARP and Oberheim. Development of real-time digital synthesis. Charles Dodge composes Speech Songs (1972) bases on early speech synthesis research. Jon Appleton (with Jones and Alonso) invents the Dartmouth Digital Synthesizer, later to become the New England Digital Corp.'s Synclavier. Barry Vercoe writes Music 11, a next-generation music synthesis program (later evolving into csound, which is still widely used). IRCAM (Paris) becomes a major center for computer music research and realization and develops 4X computer system, featuring then revolutionary real-time digital signal processing.

1980's Pierre Boulez's Repons (1981) for 24 musicians and 6 soloists uses the IRCAM 4X (above) to transform and route soloists to loudspeaker system. MIDI instruments and software make powerful control of sophisticated instruments easily affordable by many studios and individuals. Acoustic sounds are reintegrated into studios via sampling and sampled-ROM-based instruments.  Miller Puckette develops graphic signal-processing software for 4X called MAX (after Max Mathews), later ports it to Macintosh (with Dave Zicarelli extending it for Opcode) for real-time MIDI control, bringing algorithmic composition availability to most composers with modest computer programming background. Yamaha introduces DX-7 MIDI keyboard, based on FM synthesis algorithms developed by John Chowning at Stanford University. MIDI Specification 1.0 published in 1985 by the MIDI Manufacturers Association. Also in 1985, Digidesign releases Sound Designer software for the Macintosh, the first consumer-level hard-disk recording and editing software. David Jaffe, Julius Smith and Perry Cook (CCRMA studios of Stanford University) prototype physical modeling, a method of synthesis in which physical properties of existing instruments and represented as computer algorithms which can then be manipulated and extended.

1990's Interactive computer-assisted performance becomes popular. Tod Machover's (MIT, IRCAM) Begin Again Again for "hypercello," an interactive system of sensors measuring physical movements of cellist premiered by Yo-Yo Ma. Max Mathews perfects Radio Baton to compliment his Conductor program for real-time tempo,dynamic and timbre control of a pre-input electronic score. Morton Subotnik releases multimedia CD-ROM All My Hummingbirds Have Alibis. MIDI sequencing programs expand to included digital audio. Large number of works for instrumentalist (or ensemble) and tape composed, such as James Mobberley's Caution to the Winds for piano and tape, pioneered by Mario Davidovsky's Synchronisms series several decades earlier.

Opcode releases a consumer version of MAX software in 1990, characterized by connecting graphic objects (similar to the IRCAM software objects) on the screen via mouse-routed patch cords. Opcode's MAX was written by Dave Zicarelli, and at first manipulated MIDI data only. Zicarreli reacquired the rights and released it through its current company, Cycling'74 in 1997, around the same time Miller Puckette released Pure Data (Pd), a similar interface, and both could manipulate audio data as well, MAX being renamed MAX/MSP (for MAX Signal Processing). Both are still going strong as of this writing in 2019, with MAX having added a visual creation element originally called Jitter (now the whole package (data, audio, visuals) is just called MAX).

In the mid-90's, James McCartney creates the SuperCollider realtime synthesis programming language, a descendant of the Music-N-style languages which is open source and free to download. SuperCollider is extremely powerful, does require some study and programming skills, and it frequently used for live coding, where composer/performers are typing to guide a composition as it is in process.

STAND BY FOR THE 21st CENTURY: a lot has happened in electronic music since...

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