Term Paper: Identify the Context of Electronic Computer Generated and Electro Acoustic Music Performance

Pages: 6 (1798 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Music  ·  Buy This Paper

Electronic Music:

instruments, techniques & PERFORMERS

For the most part, electronic music began in the 1950's in Europe, where the various governments provided funds for special recording studios to meet the new demand for different types of music. During this time, the use of tape recorders "became popular and some engineers and composers gathered together various sounds, such as that of machinery, musical instruments, human speech and singing to create completely new forms of musical expression" (Manning 67). At times, the tape recorders were speeded up to produce higher-pitched sounds or even slowed down to create lower-pitched sounds. Also, tape was run backward so that the recorded sounds began and stopped in entirely different ways. Thus, "all of the natural recorded sounds became the raw material to be altered and manipulated with tape equipment" (Howe 89). Sometime later, these new sounds were combined with natural and familiar musical compositions and recordings which ushered in the era of electronic music.

The earliest instruments designed to re-create electronic sounds were developed in the 1940's, and generally, these instruments were sound-generating and processing devices that included sources developed in specialized electronic music studios through oscillators, such as filter and ring modulators. The first commercial synthesizers, as they came to be known, were marketed in 1964 by Donald Buchla who worked independently with composer Milton Subotnick and Robert a. Moog, the creator of the famous Moog synthesizer. Soon after, other synthesizers appeared on the market, including ARP, Roland and Korg, all of which were fundamentally designed in accordance with the synthesizers developed by Robert Moog.

By 1970, in order to meet the need of an electronic instrument designed for concert performance, Moog introduced his Minimoog, "a small console containing a monophonic keyboard (one note played at a time) and a fixed combination of modules, such as envelope, ring and white noise oscillators" (Mackay 97). In a very short time, this device became popular with rock musicians and led to the introduction of the ARP 2600 and the Odyssey in 1971. The first polyphonic synthesizer (two or more notes at a time) appeared in the mid-1970's and ranged from the Polymoog (1976) to the more flexible and complicated Oberheim which "contained two, four, six or even eight individual voices which made it possible to play chords, much like an acoustic piano" (Horn 134).

The introduction of digital synthesizers and related devices occurred in the early 1970's and featured a selection of timbres which were programmed into the device. In the 1980's, manufacturers began to incorporate "patches" from other musicians, meaning that the devices were sampled from other sources. Some of these synthesizers "provided the player with programming facilities or offered other methods, such as removable storage media (cassettes, floppy discs, data cards, plug-in microchips and RAM and ROM cartridges).

However, with the introduction of MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) in 1983, many musicians discovered that they could link up instruments from different manufacturers. The first successful digital synthesizer with MIDI capability was the Yamaha DX7 in 1983 which "made it possible to interconnect various keyboards and other electronic devices" (Darter 91). From the mid-1980's, a new generation of microcomputers like the Apple Macintosh could be linked to MIDI synthesizers and specially-designed software was created in order to give players more flexibility in programming their own individual sounds.

Synthesizers like the Yamaha DX7 were completely digital which meant that they lacked any kind of analog devices for shaping the sound. Not surprisingly, many musicians by the early to mid-1990's had grown tired of digital processing and yearned for the more simplified character of the analog synthesizer, a trend that is still in force and often manipulated by many outstanding musicians.

In today's electronic world, increasing sophistication achieved by the designers of digital equipment have managed to create truly realistic sounds that actually mimic the sounds produced by acoustic instruments like the piano, saxophone, pipe organ and violin. As a result, completely new devices appeared that combined analog and digital synthesis, some being hybrid combinations of both types. More recently, new generations of analog instruments based on digital designs have come to the forefront with some of these being virtual analog digital instruments based on more accurate analysis of analog sound generation known as physical modelling. Of course, these new instruments only became possible through the increased speed and processing power of digital signal processing (DSP) microchips.

Several very important instruments which changed the very face of music must be explored in some depth. The first truly electronic instrument was the theremin which contained a metal loop for volume and an antennae for pitch control. The player would thus manipulate the sounds with his hands by moving and placing them in various positions. This instrument was made up of "two oscillators and the sound closely resembled that of a vibrating violin string" ("Electronic Music with the Theremin, 22). Of course, the theremin was a monophonic instrument and could only play one specific note/pitch at a time.

Another important instrument that gained prominence in the mid to late 1960's was the mellotron. Basically, this instrument was a thirty-five note keyboard/cabinet that contained an endless loop, quarter-inch tape holding various sounds which were then accessed by the keyboard. It also had a number of drum pattern loops, thus making it the first true sampler. The sounds generated by the mellotron were similar to a church organ but were accentuated by the obvious influence of the electronics. The sampler, as mentioned above, is still in wide use today and is basically a device in which the player records various sounds from other sources and then incorporates them into the sampler for playback through a keyboard or a guitar.

One additional instrument that opened the proverbial door to electronic music and experimentation was the Roland TB 303, a dedicated sequencer/bass device that was designed to replace the drummer and the bassist. Much like a synthesizer, this device has a keyboard-like control panel and various knobs for controlling frequency, resonance, the oscillators, volume and tempo. The player could also employ programming sequences in this early form of drum sampling machine.

The development of electronic instruments like the theremin, mellotron and analog/digital synthesizers have brought together many musical styles and skills that at one time were considered as separate entities. In the past, a composer wrote his/her music on a specific instrument (Bach's Contatas on the organ or Beethoven's piano sonatas); however, in today's electronic world, the musician can write and play his/her music on a wide variety of electronic devices. And with the introduction of multi-recording devices and techniques, samplers, sequencers and related devices, the musician of today can virtually replace every musician found in a symphonic orchestra and thus create a symphony through the use of a single electronic instrument, such as a digital synthesizer equipped with a sampler, sequencer and MIDI capabilities.

Ideally, a musician or a group of musicians might use a programmed percussion sequencer or electric bass sequencer for the background of a piece of music and then electronically add or alter other instruments to suit their musical tastes. Perhaps they might also add voices and other keyboards at the same time, making tonal changes on the keyboard during the process. At the end, all of the sounds can be recorded on a tape or CD recordable machine which in essence layers all of the sounds into one single unit.

The inter-relationship between the musician and the instrument in today's electronic world has reached new dimensions, for due to the advancements in electronics and computer science, a musician or a group can perform or record the sound of virtually any instrument. In the past, many musicians took full advantage of the possibilities related to electronic devices and especially synthesizers. The theremin, although designed for individual performance, has in the past been used in many film scores, especially in the genre of science-fiction ("The Day the Earth Stood Still" and "Forbidden Planet"). Also, the Beach Boys used the theremin in their hit song "Good Vibrations" in the mid-1960's as a metaphor for the "good times" related to surfing and the California lifestyle. The theremin was also used by Edgard Varese in the late 1950's as part of his electronic orchestra.

The mellotron was used by many groups, both American and British, during the late 1960's and into the early years of the 1970's. Several stand out as true examples of the use of the mellotron -- first, the Moody Blues incorporated the mellotron into many of their musical excursions in such songs as "Nights in White Satin" and "Singer in a Rock and Roll Band." Other groups, like Tangerine Dream and especially Pink Floyd also incorporated the mellotron in their music. In these groups and many others, the mellotron allowed the musician to explore new musical vistas and helped to express his/her inner musical dimensions.

Of course, the synthesizer has played the biggest role in transforming 20th century music. Beginning in the early 1970's, Walter Carlos recorded his versions… [END OF PREVIEW]

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