What are the origins of electronic music

History of electronic music - the 50s

The sight of a synthesizer on stage is normal nowadays, computers as a means of music production are standard, and electronic music can now be heard ubiquitously, from techno to ambient to pop. Before they found influence in the commercial music market and became part of our pop culture, some musicians had already experimented with abstract sound collages, tape manipulations and the first synthesizers.

The history of electronic music goes back a long way and includes numerous artists, genres and varieties. In this section we want to bring you closer to individual historical aspects and put them in the context of current techno and house music. In each article in the 'History' series, we delve into a specific point in time or genre in order to make the history of electronic music more tangible.

Electronic music: starting point

In a Europe marked by the devastation of World War II, an increasing number of artists emerged in the emerging 1950s, who incorporated electronic influences such as tape recorders, sine tone generators, records or noise generators into their compositions or even made them a main component of their compositions Made work. In addition to a necessary technological development that made certain types of music possible in the first place, it is also the pioneering spirit of many post-war musicians who consciously turned against musical conventions and thus opened up a new cosmos.

Supported by radio and later also television stations, they looked for new ways and means to create a new form of music from sounds and machines. Two important currents of this time include musique concrète and "electronic music", which is closely linked to the study for electronic music founded in 1951. They laid some of the foundations on the basis of which music is still made today and numerous artists of this time are a great source of inspiration for many contemporary performers:

The musique concrète

French radio began broadcasting a program called Études de bruits for the first time in 1948. This program was thematically about the musique concrète developed by Pierre Schaeffer. Musique concrète is considered to be one of the earliest trends in electronic music. Schaeffer and later Pierre Henry wanted to create music from "concrete", i.e. already existing materials, contrary to the conventional process of composing. The music is based on cutting apart tape or vinyl recordings and combining them into new works. The actual source material was either chopped up, played back faster, slower or backwards in order to alienate it.

The approach of musique concrète represented a major break in the music world at that time. It is not uncommon for these musicians of this trend, now considered to be pioneering, to be criticized by their contemporaries, the accusation being that they are more of a hobbyist or technician. One of the best-known works based on musique concrète and tape manipulation is Steve Reich's "It's Gonna Rain" from 1965. Reich used the phrase It's gonna rain from a voice recording and played this snippet simultaneously on two tape recorders. As a result of the asynchronous sequence of the two tapes and targeted manipulation, a hypnotic composition was created, which repeatedly sets the phrase It's gonna rain in new rhythmic and harmonic references.



It's gonna rain, it's gonna rain, it's gonna rain [...]


Whether it's Kraftwerk's use of a conventional pocket calculator, Brian Eno's tape manipulation, or the nowadays self-evident handling of samples and field recordings: The processing of existing sound sources in order to create something new is now a common production method and some of the basics of musique concrète have paved the way for ours musical everyday life.

Electronic music studio

In addition to the French musique concrète, another fundamental trend was formed in Germany in the early 1950s around the newly established studio for electronic music in Cologne. In contrast to musique concrète, the musicians of the studio founded by Westdeutscher Rundfunk specialized in composing with electronic instruments and developing technology. So instead of referring to specific, already existing material, the artists created what was still known as electronic music (later also electroacoustic music; the terms quickly mixed up over the years and therefore not clearly distinguishable) from their music the abstract.

They generated and mixed sine tones with one another, experimented with ring modulators, noise generators, frequency filters and reverb devices. The top priority was to create all tones and noises artificially and not to use any organic elements. Driven by this principle, they looked for new ways and possibilities to implement their ideas and were therefore jointly responsible for a major technological advancement.



One of the most famous artists who emerged from the studio for electronic music is Karl-Heinz Stockhausen from Düsseldorf. At the very beginning, Stockhausen still composed strictly according to the above-described idea of ​​electronic music, but later repeatedly referred to other styles, especially musique concrète. With their work on sound synthesis (the artificial generation of sounds), the studio for electronic music and its musicians expanded the musical vocabulary and created new timbres that have endured to this day and shape our listening behavior.

In addition, through their way of making music, they developed a different form of composition. If you write music for a certain instrument, such as a piano, this is always linked to the way the instrument is played (instrumental idiom). Since the devices of that time did not have a keyboard like modern synthesizers and also had no strings or other known forms of sound generation, a new form of musical thinking and composing inevitably emerged. The sound generators of that time and their playing style can best be compared with that of a modular synthesizer, which is very popular in the techno scene.

Spread and a first step into pop culture

Both the sounds of electronic music and musique concrète quickly spread around the world and fascinated musicians and sound engineers alike. Electronic music and sound generation were used especially in radio plays for radio stations and early science fiction films. On November 23, 1963 at the latest, it became part of pop culture. Because the BBC broadcast the first episode of Dr. Who along with the iconic theme tune and thus holds the Guinness record for the longest running and most commercially successful sci-fi series on television.