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History of Synthetic Music
Transcript of History of Synthetic Music
A journey through time...
Crucial definitions before commencing the journey...
Synthetic Music and the 1800s
The Birth of the Theremin
Synthetic Music and the 1930s
Early signs of success...
Synthetic Music and the 1940s
The popularization of electronic sounds...
Synthetic Music and the 1950s
The development continues...
Synthetic Music and the 1960s
Synthetic Music and the 1970s
The start of an era...
Synthetic Music and the 1980s
"The 80s becomes the most danceable, diverse, and crossover decade of the 20th century. Dance and electronic music will flourish as new genres are created, influencing pop music as a whole" (Digital Dream Door, nd).
The Roland TR - 808
Synthetic Music and the 1990s
Synthetic music continues it's evolution...
The very beginnings of synthetic music lie in 1867, when Elisha Grey (inventor of the telephone) developed what is considered by many to be the world's first electronic instrument. It was to be known as the Electroharmonic Piano. This instrument was greatly influential, as even though it was not widely used, it gave the idea of an electronic instrument credibility, and was therefore crucial in the development of future inventions.
1897 then saw the invention of the Telharmoniun by Thaddeus Cahill. For those who did not consider Elisha Grey's invention to be the world's first electronic instrument, it was the Telharmonium. It worked by using tone wheels and electronic signals to recreate any desired note in any octave. The first Telharmonium weighed in excess of seven tonnes, and was therefore highly impractical. However, it was also a greatly influential instrument, as it was this technological principle that would form the foundations for Laurens Hammond and his inventions.
Invented in 1919 by Russian Composer, Leon Theremin.
In essence, the Thereminovox consisted of two antennas, one which was responsible for control of pitch, and the other for control of volume. "The pitch and volume of the note (were) controlled by the distance of the hands from the antennas which generated an electromagnetic field" (Hoge, nd). Therefore, moving a hand closer to the pitch antenna would increase the frequency of the note, and moving a hand closer to the volume antenna would decrease the volume. It was without doubt one of the most influential electronic instruments, mainly due to the high standards it set in terms of innovation and practicality.
- Largest producer of Theremins in history was Moog Music
- Monophonic instrument (can only play 1 note at the same time)
- Theremins have a range of over 8 octaves
- "Internally the classic theremin contains coils of tightly wound wire that act as radio frequency oscillators. It is the resultant difference between two pitch coils (a.k.a. heterodyne or beat frequency),that produces the pitch of the note" (Hoge, nd).
- A Theremin's primary original use was to play classical music
- The Theremin was later used to create movie and television soundtracks
- The Theremin is one of the only instruments that can be played without touching it
- The Theremin was the first commercially produced electronic instrument
Leon Theremin Playing His Own Instrument:
The Hammond Organ, invented in 1929 by Laurens Hammond, was an electro-acoustic instrument that helped shape the music we hear today. Laurens based it off a similar concept to the Telharmonium, however, his was far smaller and as a result of this usability, was a greater success. It was used throughout the world, taking major roles in churches, theatres and and concert halls. The Hammond Organ was greatly influential due to it becoming arguably the first electronic instrument that could replace a classical instrument, and as a result, displayed the first real purpose behind the production of electronic instruments. Undoubtedly this purpose would serve as motivation and inspiration behind future electronic instruments.
In 1939, composer John Milton Cage released "Imaginary Landscape No. 1". This piece was revolutionary in nature, as it did not only incorporate "found sounds", but was the first piece ever to do so.
Laurens Hammond with an original Hammond Organ
A post World War II upturn created a period of innovation and progress, which was reflected in popular and classical music at this time:
For example, a large number of artists/composers began using electronic sounds in their music. This was evident across Japan, with the a number of musicians experimenting with the Theremin among other instruments. In addition, upon creation of global company Sony, an article was released highlighting how the future of music was to include greater use of synthetic and electronic sounds. This period also saw the rise of Pierre Schaeffer's "Musique Concrete".
Produced by Pierre Schaeffer in 1948, "Musique Concrete" used new found ideas and techniques to create a piece that would forever influence synthetic music. In essence, it featured various recorded sounds, which would not usually be considered musical, and arranged them in a fashion that reflected an Avant-Garde style composition. A major example of this music style was his piece "Symphony for a Man Alone". This was the first use of what is now known as sampling, which now contributes to the base of most music genres, including all electronic music and rap. As a result, many consider Musique Concrete to be the starting point for music as we know it today. In addition, Musique Concrete was a direct influence behind a number of successful songs, including "Revolution #9" by The Beatles. "Overall, Musique Concrete is the pool where the first true modern electronic music composition is born" (Digital Dream Door, nd).
Pierre Schaeffer's "Apostrophe"
The 1950s marked a major time in synthetic music history, as it featured the creation of the world's first programmable synthesizer. Invented in 1955, by Harry Olson and Herbert Belar, the Olsen-Belar Sound Synthesizer (now known as RCA) was a truly revolutionary creation. This was because it erased the need to sample by cutting and placing individual separate pieces of magnetic tape. It achieved this by allowing sounds to be sequenced electronically. As a result, synthetic music became not only easier to produce, but could also be done with a far greater degree of accuracy.
The RCA Mark II Synthesizer
Throughout the 1960s;
-There was a split between traditional and synthesized rock
-In 1961 Robert Moog invents the Moog Synthesizer, which was used extensively throughout the 60s. It featured in songs such as "Strange Days" by The Doors, and "Their Satanic Majesties Request" by The Rolling Stones. Overall, the Moog Synthesizer greatly influenced synthetic music of the 1960s, and continues to do so today through the signature sound it created.
-The Beach Boys release "Good Vibrations", becoming the first pop song to feature electronic instruments through its use of the Theremin. This paved the way for a greater use of electronic instruments for years to come.
-Wendy Carlos releases "Switched on Bach", which becomes the first popularized synth album and the first classical album to go platinum (Digital Dream Door, nd).
A decade of firsts...
The 1970s marked a major period in synthetic music development, as it is considered by many to be the period of birth for popularized electronic music.
The decade featured numerous major album releases, many of which shaped the electronic music we know today. For example, Kraftwerk release "Tone Float", the first ever album featuring a full electronic band (Digital Dream Door, nd). This influenced music of the time greatly, as it were pioneer's like Kraftwerk that enabled greater experimentation with electronic sounds. In addition, 1972 saw the release of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon". It featured heavy, psychedelic and experimental/Avant-Garde sounds, resulted in great success, and the electronic features of the album helped to shape much of the music for decades to come. This was because it showed the capabilities of electronic and synthetic sounds, and lead to many artists attempting to recreate or grow on this Avant-Garde success. In addition, many tracks from "Dark Side of the Moon" (such as "Speak to Me") feature a number of sound effects, a concept that had not been previously explored to any great depth.
Pink Floyd's "Speak to Me" from "Dark Side of the Moon"
The 1970s also saw the release of the Mini Moog, the world's first portable synthesizer. This device was not only smaller than its counterpart, but also far more affordable and easy to use. As a result, it was extremely influential, as it was accessible to a greater number of people and therefore enabled further development in electronic music. According to HollowSun, nd, "The MiniMoog is quite possibly the most important synthesiser ever made". In addition, the 1970s also saw the release of the Fairlight MI, the world's first commerically available digital sampler. As a result of it's wide range of uses over a synthesizer, it became a crucial part in the production of new electronic music, and as a result, influenced the history of synthetic production greatly through once again stretching the limits of what was musically and technically possibly.
A MiniMoog Synthesizer
Perhaps the greatest development in electronic music history during the 1970s was the creation of the disco genre, as it and it's branches would later achieve great success.
1984 marks a major point in the history of electronic and synthetic music. This was the year that saw disco transition into house. House being a genre that has lasted for 30 years, its 4/4 time signature becoming a familiarity across the globe. The creation of this genre, along with the increased rave scene, caused a spike in the popularity of electronic music, and therefore contributed greatly to it's development.
The 1980s also saw the development of Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) technology. Invented in 1983, this technology (essentially an 'electronic language' spoken between electronic instruments) allowed devices and other instruments to be controlled by one central keyboard, and also for music to be recorded onto a sequencer. This recorded sound however, was not the actual note, but instead a set of instructions for which a synthesizer could use to reproduce the original note. In addition, MIDI technology helped bring computers into the music production industry. This revolutionary development allowed greater experimentation in synthetic music, while also making it far easier and more efficient to produce. MIDI technology is still used greatly today by producers and others alike. Many people also believe that Musical Instrument Digital Interface lead to the development of USB and WiFi technology, therefore reinforcing the influence it has had on not only the music industry, but also on the daily lives of millions of people.
Rob Lopes Testing 1980s MIDI Technology
One of the many, if not the most, influential developments in synthetic music during the 1980s was the invention of the Roland TR-808. Released in 1981, it was a drum sequencer, the first of its kind, which enabled a variety of prerecorded percussive sounds to be triggered in any order at a very high degree of accuracy. When first released, the Roland TR-808 experienced little success. Despite being easy to use and extremely practical, the sounds produced by the sequencer did not accurately replicate the timbre of a real drum kit, and as a result, it went out of production only 3 years after release (Beaumont-Thomas, B 2014). However, this very end of production caused a large price drop on remaining TR-808s. This made the sequencer very accessible to minor/upcoming artists, leading to a wide use throughout the electronic/synthetic music community. After increased use, many people began to believe that the sound of the Roland TR-808 was the "future of music" (Beaumont-Thomas, B 2014), and as a result, it became the signature sound of much dance music of the time and is still used greatly today. It also directly influenced and featured in a number of famous songs, as demonstrated by the video below:
Famous Drum Beats on an Original TR-808
Throughout the 1990s synthetic/electronic music went through a period of evolution. This occurred through the merge and creation of different genres. For example, what was once Jungle music evolved into what is now known as Drum N Bass (Digital Dream Door, nd). The 1990s also the rise of a number of new genres such as IDM and Hardcore.
In addition, the 1990s also saw the release of "Age of Love" by Age of Love, which gave birth to the genre of trance. Trance has now become one of the most successful and popular electronic genres in history, and as a result, the influence of "Age of Love" remains strong through it's legacy.
Automated Harmonization of Melody in Real Time was also developed in the 1990s. Although a minor development within the grand picture of synthetic music, it could be considered revolutionary in terms of live concert performances. Developed by Pedro Eustache, it was essentially a way of analyzing a note and playing a harmonic orchestra version of that note in real time (Wikipedia, 2014). This furthered the possibilities of what could be done in front of a live audience, and therefore influenced electronic music through an increase in popularity.
From the 2000s and Beyond
The 2000s is a period in music history that has undergone much scrutiny and criticism. This judgement mainly revolving around issues such as auto tune and online sharing. However, the technological advancements made in the field of computing can only be considered positive, as the boundaries of what can be done in music are being ever expanded. Throughout the next decade computers can only become an even more integral part of synthetic music production, all the while becoming more and more accessible to everyday people.
Being such a recent period, developments made during the 2000s have not stood the test of time, and as a result, cannot be easily classified as 'revolutionary'. However, notable developments include production software such as Ableton Live, which creates an alternative to hardware-based production studios. This means that professional quality electronic music could be produced by the average person. "Such advances have democratized music creation, leading to a massive increase in the amount of home-produced electronic music available to the general public via the internet" (Wikipedia, 2014). In addition, almost all hardware found in an electronic music studio (synthesizers, effects modules etc.) have now been reproduced virtually for all to use on a computer. This includes software such as Reaktor, a virtual 'music studio' used for producing sounds and creating new instruments, which has influenced electronic music greatly (Wikipedia, 2014). Overall, the 2000s has not been an age of groundbreaking discoveries, but a decade of reproducing what has already been done into a virtual format. This has without doubt increased the accessibility of electronic music production tools, therefore creating a larger number of artists, a higher standard for success and a therefore higher quality of electronic music.
Synthetic: "Not real or genuine; artificial; feigned", or "Noting or pertaining to compounds formed through a chemical process by human agency, as opposed to those of natural origin" (Dictionary.com, nd)
Synthetic (Regarding Music): Music created through means other than traditional instruments, meaning the sound is not 'real'. I.e. Sounds are synthesized, not recorded
Electronic: "Of or pertaining to electronics or to devices, circuits, or systems developed through electronics" (Dictionary.com, nd)
Electronic (Regarding Music): "Using electric or electronic means to produce or modify the sound" (Dictionary.com, nd)
Avant-Garde: "The advance group in any field, especially in the visual, literary, or musical arts, whose works are characterized chiefly by unorthodox and experimental methods" (Dictionary.com, nd)
Beaymont-Thomas, B 2014, "Roland TR-808: the drum machine the revolutionised music", viewed 12th April, <www.theguardian.com/music/2014/mar/06/roland-tr-808-drum-machine-revolutionised-music>.
Digital Dream Door, nd, "Dance/Electronic Timeline", viewed 25th March, <digitaldreamdoor.com/pages/best_timeline-elec.html>.
Hoge, nd, "What Is A Theremin", viewed 5th April, <www.hoge-theremin.com/salon/hoge-what-is-a-theremin.html>.
Hammond, nd, "Hammond / Leslie Heritage", viewed 14th April, <hammondorganco.com/about-us/company-profile/>.
Unknown, 2014, "Electronic Music", viewed 15th April, <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_music#Development:_1940s_to_1950s>.
Hollowsun, nd, "MiniMoog", viewed 15th April, <www.hollowsun.com/vintage/minimoog/>.
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