Piero Scaruffi's
History of Avantgarde Music

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TM, ®, Copyright © 2004 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.


Electronic music 1963-70

TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved. The first ever concert of electronic music was held in may 1952 in New York, and featured works by the organizer, Vladimir Ussachevsky (USA, 1911). In october 1952, a live concert by Otto Luening (USA, 1900) and Ussachevsky of electronic music at New York's Museum Of Modern Art was broadcasted live, and caused a sensation. It included Ussachevsky's Sonic Contours (1952), that electronically modified the sound of a piano. Other works that Ussachevsky composed in this period were A Poem In Cycles And Bells (1954) for tape and orchestra (one of the earliest electro-acoustic pieces), which was based on Otto Luening's Fantasy In Space (1952) and his own A Poem In Cycles And Bells (1954), and Piece for Tape Recorder (1956). In 1955, Luening began experimenting with the synthesizer invented by Harry Olson and Herbert Belar at RCA's Princeton Labs. In 1959, Ussachevsky and Luening founded the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center (CPEMC), the first studio for electronic music (then called "tape music") in the USA, which featured the synthesizer "Mark II". Their Concerted Piece (1960) was another milestone in the development of electronic music. Luening's Synthesis (1962) for orchestra and tape opened new horizons for electro-acoustic music.

Live electronic music was also pioneered by David Tudor (USA, 1926), notably with Rainforest (1973).

Bernard Parmegiani (France, 1927), another pupil of Pierre Schaeffer, created De Natura Sonorum (1975), that combined the droning sounds emitted by live instruments with the dense and wild textures spun by electronic machines, and La Creation Du Monde (1984), a phantasmagoric mythological suite of electronic collage.

The chaotic tornadoes of Morton Subotnick (USA, 1933) such as Silver Apples Of The Moon (1967), The Wild Bull (1967) and Touch (1968), no matter how naive, took Edgar Varese's "electronic poem" to another dimension, a dimension that blurred the distance between primitivism and futurism, between tribal and binary percussion, between ancestral sound and alien noise. Their dense textures and hectic counterpoint, approaching the intensity and cacophony of rock'n'roll, completely redesigned the landscape of western music. His "chamber music", such as the harsh and stormy The Key To Songs (1985), created even more surreal and nightmarish soundscapes, this time directly related to the human condition.

Tod Dockstader (USA, 1932), a self-taught sound engineer and sound-effect specialist who scored soundtracks for Hollywood cartoons, influenced by both Pierre Schaeffer and Edgar Varese, produced tapes such as Eight Electronic Pieces (1960), Apocalypse (1966) and especially Quatermass (1966), visionary works with a narrative and dramatic emphasis.

The recordings by Jon Appleton (USA, 1939), such as Syntonic Menagerie (1969) and Human Music (1970), with Don Cherry, introduced electronic instruments to a wider audience.

Their equivalent in Britain were Desmond Leslie (Britain, 1921) with his album Music of the Future (1960), Basil Kirchin (Britain, 1927) with Worlds Within Worlds (1971), Trevor Wishart (Britain, 1946) with his double-album with urney Into Space (1973) and Denis Smalley (New Zealand, 1946), whose Pentes (1974) was perhaps the crowning achievement of that national school.

Ralph Lundsten (Sweden, 1936) was one of the first European composers to experiment with the new medium, as documented on Elektron (1966).

Igor Wakhevitch (France), a student of Pierre Schaeffer, blended electronic music, psychedelic rock and classical opera on his intimidating albums Logos (1970), Docteur Faust (1971) and Hathor (1973).

Ilhan Mimaroglu (Turkey, 1926), a student of Vladimir Ussachevsky and Edgar Varese, gave electronic music a political agenda with La Ruche (1968) for electronics, cello, harpsichord and piano, and the 35-minute electronic collage Tract (1972), a "composition of agitprop music for electromagnetic tape".

These works were emblematic of the way electronics was being used to produce maximum emotional impact.


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TM, ®, Copyright © 2004 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.