Electronic Music the Creation Essay

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[. . .] Electric technology and music have been closely associated since the discovery of usable electronic power. As early as the 1850s, French inventors were looking into ways in which music could be recorded for posterity. However, it would not be until Thomas Edison's invention of the phonograph in 1878 that recorded music would be able to be played back at the discretion of the listener (Rosen 2008). Edison famously recorded himself reciting "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and then played it back. A perfect duplicate of his voice was recorded for the world to hear. This was a revolution for the music world, creating the industry of music production as we know it today. Before the phonograph, people could hear music only in the moment in which it was produced. The phonograph made it possible to record music and listen to it at the discretion of the hearer. An entire industry was created by this one invention. An industry that today is worth literally billions of dollars.

By 1907, scientists and musicians alike were seeing the potential for the growth of the industry through the use of electronic means. Electronics allowed for the discovery of microtonal scales. This, some felt, would be the basis for experimentation and musical creation for years to come. As creation of new instrumentation had led to musical exploration in the past, the utilization of electronics in music would alter the future. Composer and famed conductor Ferruccio Busoni (1907) wrote that music was not a stagnant thing and we should embrace the potential that electronic music afforded. Although some more traditionally-minded composers were reluctant to incorporate the new type of instruments in their work, there were some willing to experiment. Busoni claimed that music was all about experimentation and those that were too afraid to try electric music were hindering the entire industry.

With the advent of electricity and the availability of electrical devices to larger populations, people were asking composers and musicians to incorporate the new technologies into their work. The first know electromechanical instrument was known as the Telharmonium. The Telharmonium was one of the first demonstrations of an electronic device which was capable of producing sound or music. The instrument was discussed in a 1906 edition of The World's Work. In that piece Marion Melius discusses the work of a Dr. Thaddeus Cahill. Dr. Cahill created a keyboard which was purported to be capable of transmitting audible music across distances using electricity and wires. Whether or not Dr. Cahill's invention was entirely successful is subject to debate depending upon which version of the events that a person is reading. However, what is interesting to note is the process that Cahill used to create his invention. According to Melius (1906):

An alternating-current generator has been built up for each note of the musical scale. Each of these generators produces as many electrical vibrations per second as there are aerial vibrations per second in the note of the musical scale for which it stands…The vibrations are pressed through several transformers or tone mixers to become still more complex, and then the interwoven vibrations go forth on a wire (p. 7660).

Dr. Cahill was able to understand the correlation between vibration and audible sounds and duplicate these in an inorganic way. However, the Telharmonium was quite unpopular with both musicians and composers because it was considered inefficient as an instrument. Its large size and costly construction made it ultimately unusable for most orchestras and musical groups (see figure 4).

Figure 4 Figure 5

The production of the Theremin, invented by Leon Theremin in 1919 was considered the first efficient electromechanical musical instrument (see figure 5). This instrument was far more popular than its earlier counterpart, but also had only limited use for musicians and composers. Certain instruments are capable of eliciting sounds which can potentially create a variety of sensations and emotions. The Theremin however was only capable of producing highly electrified sounds which produced an eerie effect. This is evident by the fact that the Theremin is most commonly heard in the scores of films or musical plays which are trying to horrify or frighten the audience.

The Theremin led to the Futurist movement. This advocated all the potential sounds that electrified music could make; even ones that would not be traditionally considered musical. The Futurists used electricity to create atonal musical pieces which used different variations of sounds which could be produced by horns and other brass instruments. One of the most famous pieces from the period was also called "The Art of Noises" by Luigi Russolo (Russcol 1972). The sounds would be recorded and then modulated and modified. The music was neither instantly-heard such as in a concert setting, nor was it organic. The creation of Futuristic music required the musicians and composers to manipulate what was created by the actual instruments. It was the first genre of music which not only used electronic technology, but could not exist without electronics and electricity.

As time and technology progressed, more innovations were made to the field of electronics and consequently in the field of electronic music as well. People became more confident and comfortable with incorporating electronic techniques and technologies into their music. Even mainstream performers became influenced by the futurists and started using what music historians refer to as "electronic ambience." This is the incorporation of electronic instruments such as the organ, guitar, and drum machine in actual studio recordings instead of relying on the traditional instruments (Scaruffi 2003, p. 512).

In the 1960s, the first modular synthesizer was commercially produced (see figure 6). Inventor Robert Moog began selling his synthesizer in 1966. His intention with the synthesizing machine, he said, was to create "the first instrument that could play more than one 'voice' and even imitate the voices of all the other instruments" (Scaruffi 2003, p. 74). These machines would be hooked up to microphones either in a live setting or in a recording studio (Retrosound 2008). When the performer sang into the microphone, their voice would be modulated based upon the setting of the synthesizer. There is a system of wires attached to the mechanisms which can be arranged in different variances. This allows for the formulation of a nearly infinite number of modulation types.

Figure 6

In the current time, people associate the terms electronic music with the musical genre often referred to as "electronica." This type of music is the descendant of those first electric experiments conducted by Cahil and Theremin. It has been characterized in the recent time period by successful musical groups, for example "Sonic Youth." The first performer credited with popularizing electronic music was Walter Carlos in his record Switched on Bach. It was the first electronic album to achieve success on the music charts (Scaruffi 2003, p. 74). From there, critics and music lovers alike would start to see electronics not only as a component to music, but as a musical genre as well.

However, Carlos was not the originator of electronic music. It is actually true that no modern musician creates music without the help of electronic influences. For the last seventy years, various countries from around the globe, from the United States to Japan and all points in between, musicians and composers have found ways to blend traditional musical sounds with those which can be achieved only through electronic means. Even traditional, acoustic musicians do not perform or record music without the influence or inclusion of electronic instrumentation and manipulation.

One of the more recent examples of electronic music to gain fame, or perhaps notoriety, as the case may be is the auto tuner (see figure 7). This device allows the singer to stay in tune despite the way they actually perform the piece that they are singing (Everett-Green 2006, p.1). The technology is used most often in concerts and other life performances, but has also been used to record music. The machine blends the singer's voice with the instrumental sounds that have already been recorded and will electronically match the voice to the correct key. What happens is that it becomes impossible to detect erroneous notes that are sung by the performer because the technology masks the errors. Auto-tune has also been used as a technique to modulate the voice of the singer to seem different from the person's natural singing voice. The voice can be distorted by raising the pitch or lowering it, giving the voice a sound similar to an electronic synthesizer machine. This type of Auto-tune is exemplified in the Cher song "Believe" wherein her voice is modulated in the chorus to take on a computerized aspect (Cher 1998).

The Auto-tune process has gained something of notoriety in the recent years. So many artists are relying on the machine that it becomes difficult to ascertain whether or not a person actually has musical talent or whether they have been Auto-tuned into an acceptable sound. The machine has gained negative attention particularly when used on television programs [END OF PREVIEW]

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