Electroacoustic music

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Electroacoustic music is a genre of popular and Western art music in which composers use technology to manipulate the timbres of acoustic sounds, sometimes by using audio signal processing, such as reverb or harmonizing, on acoustical instruments. [1] It originated around the middle of the 20th century, following the incorporation of electric sound production into compositional practice. The initial developments in electroacoustic music composition to fixed media during the 20th century are associated with the activities of the Groupe de recherches musicales  [ fr ] at the ORTF in Paris, the home of musique concrète, the Studio for Electronic Music in Cologne, where the focus was on the composition of elektronische Musik, and the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York City, where tape music, electronic music, and computer music were all explored. Practical electronic music instruments began to appear in the early 20th century.


Tape music

Tape music is an integral part of musique concrète , which uses the tape recorder as its central musical source. The music can utilise pre-recorded sound fragments and the creation of loops, which can be altered and manipulated through techniques such as editing and playback speed manipulation. [2] The work of Halim El-Dabh is perhaps the earliest example of tape (or, in this case, Wire recording) music. El-Dabh's The Expression of Zaar, first presented in Cairo, Egypt, in 1944, was an early work using musique concrète–like techniques similar to those developed in Paris during the same period. El-Dabh would later become more famous for his work at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, where in 1959 he composed the influential piece Leiyla and the Poet. [3]

Composer John Cage's assembly of the Williams Mix serves as an example of the rigors of tape music. First, Cage created a 192-page score. Over the course of a year, 600 sounds were assembled and recorded. Cut tape segments for each occurrence of each sound were accumulated on the score. Then the cut segments were spliced to one of eight tapes, work finished on January 16, 1953. The premiere performance (realization) of the 4'15" work was given on March 21, 1953, at the University of Illinois, Urbana. [4]

Electronic music

In Cologne, elektronische Musik , pioneered in 1949–51 by the composer Herbert Eimert and the physicist Werner Meyer-Eppler, was based solely on electronically generated (synthetic) sounds, particularly sine waves. [5] [6] [7] The beginning of the development of electronic music has been traced back to "the invention of the valve [vacuum tube] in 1906". [5] The precise control afforded by the studio allowed for what Eimert considered to be the subjection of everything, "to the last element of the single note", to serial permutation, "resulting in a completely new way of composing sound"; [8] in the studio, serial operations could be applied to elements such as timbre and dynamics. The common link between the two schools is that the music is recorded and performed through loudspeakers, without a human performer. The majority of electroacoustic pieces use a combination of recorded sound and synthesized or processed sounds, and the schism between Schaeffer's and Eimert's approaches has been overcome, the first major example being Karlheinz Stockhausen's Gesang der Jünglinge of 1955–56. [9] [10]

Circuit bending

Circuit bending is the creative short-circuiting of low voltage, battery-powered electronic audio devices such as guitar effects, children's toys and small synthesizers to create new musical instruments and sound generators. Emphasizing spontaneity and randomness, the techniques of circuit bending have been commonly associated with noise music, though many more conventional contemporary musicians and musical groups have been known to experiment with "bent" instruments. [11]

Examples of notable works

Electronic and electroacoustic instruments

Important centers of research and composition can be found around the world, and there are numerous conferences and festivals which present electroacoustic music, notably the International Computer Music Conference, the international conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression, the Electroacoustic Music Studies Conference, and the Ars Electronica Festival (Linz, Austria).

A number of national associations promote the art form, notably the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC) in Canada, the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS) in the US, the Australasian Computer Music Association in Australia and New Zealand, and Sound and Music (previously the Sonic Arts Network) in the UK. The Computer Music Journal and Organised Sound are the two most important peer-reviewed journals dedicated to electroacoustic studies, while several national associations produce print and electronic publications.


There have been a number of festivals that feature electroacoustic music. Early festivals such as Donaueschingen Festival, founded in 1921, were some of the first to include electroacoustic instruments and pieces. This was followed by ONCE Festival of New Music in the 1950s, and since the 1960s there has been a growth of festivals that focus exclusively on electroacoustic music.

Conferences and symposiums

Alongside paper presentations, workshops and seminars, many of these events also feature concert performances or sound installations created by those attending or which are related to the theme of the conference / symposium.

See also

Related Research Articles

Electronic music is a genre of music that employs electronic musical instruments, digital instruments, or circuitry-based music technology in its creation. It includes both music made using electronic and electromechanical means. Pure electronic instruments depended entirely on circuitry-based sound generation, for instance using devices such as an electronic oscillator, theremin, or synthesizer. Electromechanical instruments can have mechanical parts such as strings, hammers, and electric elements including magnetic pickups, power amplifiers and loudspeakers. Such electromechanical devices include the telharmonium, Hammond organ, electric piano and the electric guitar.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tape loop</span>

In music, tape loops are loops of magnetic tape used to create repetitive, rhythmic musical patterns or dense layers of sound when played on a tape recorder. Originating in the 1940s with the work of Pierre Schaeffer, they were used among contemporary composers of 1950s and 1960s, such as Éliane Radigue, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and Karlheinz Stockhausen, who used them to create phase patterns, rhythms, textures, and timbres. Popular music authors of 1960s and 1970s, particularly in psychedelic, progressive and ambient genres, used tape loops to accompany their music with innovative sound effects. In the 1980s, analog audio and tape loops with it gave way to digital audio and application of computers to generate and process sound.

<i>Gesang der Jünglinge</i> Electronic music work by Karlheinz Stockhausen

Gesang der Jünglinge is an electronic music work by Karlheinz Stockhausen. It was realized in 1955–56 at the Westdeutscher Rundfunk studio in Cologne and is Work Number 8 in the composer's catalog. The vocal parts were supplied by 12-year-old Josef Protschka. It is exactly 13 minutes, 14 seconds long.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">EMS Synthi 100</span> Hybrid synthesizer

The EMS Synthi 100 was a large analogue/digital hybrid synthesizer made by Electronic Music Studios, London, originally as a custom order from Radio Belgrade for what was to be the Radio Belgrade Electronic Studio, largely thanks to contact between composer Paul Pignon, then living in Belgrade, and Peter Zinovieff. The synthesiser was designed by David Cockerell and documented in detail in 1971. The cost at that time was £6,500. The last unit built by EMS was number 30. Afterwards, one final unit was built by Datanomics, who bought assets from EMS when the company folded in 1979. The redesigned unit was sold to Gabinete de Música Electroacústica, Cuenca, Spain.

Werner Meyer-Eppler, was a Belgian-born German physicist, experimental acoustician, phoneticist and information theorist.

Herbert Eimert was a German music theorist, musicologist, journalist, music critic, editor, radio producer, and composer.

Die Reihe was a German-language music academic journal, edited by Herbert Eimert and Karlheinz Stockhausen and published by Universal Edition (Vienna) between 1955 and 1962. An English edition was published, under the original German title, between 1957 and 1968 by the Theodore Presser Company in association with Universal Edition (London). A related book series titled "Bücher der Reihe" was begun, but only one title ever appeared in it, Herbert Eimert's Grundlagen der musikalischen Reihentechnik.


Kontakte ("Contacts") is an electronic music work by Karlheinz Stockhausen, realized in 1958–60 at the Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) electronic-music studio in Cologne with the assistance of Gottfried Michael Koenig. The score is Nr. 12 in the composer's catalogue of works, and is dedicated to Otto Tomek.

Punctualism is a style of musical composition prevalent in Europe between 1949 and 1955 "whose structures are predominantly effected from tone to tone, without superordinate formal conceptions coming to bear". In simpler terms: "music that consists of separately formed particles—however complexly these may be composed—[is called] punctual music, as opposed to linear, or group-formed, or mass-formed music", bolding in the source). This was accomplished by assigning to each note in a composition values drawn from scales of pitch, duration, dynamics, and attack characteristics, resulting in a "stronger individualizing of separate tones". Another important factor was maintaining discrete values in all parameters of the music. Punctual dynamics, for example

mean that all dynamic degrees are fixed; one point will be linked directly to another on the chosen scale, without any intervening transition or gesture. Line-dynamics, on the other hand, involve the transitions from one given amplitude to another: crescendo, decrescendo and their combinations. This second category can be defined as a dynamic glissando, comparable to glissandi of pitch and of tempi.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Harald Bode</span> German engineer and electronic music developer

Harald Bode was a German engineer and pioneer in the development of electronic musical instruments.

Experimental music is a general label for any music or music genre that pushes existing boundaries and genre definitions. Experimental compositional practice is defined broadly by exploratory sensibilities radically opposed to, and questioning of, institutionalized compositional, performing, and aesthetic conventions in music. Elements of experimental music include indeterminacy, in which the composer introduces the elements of chance or unpredictability with regard to either the composition or its performance. Artists may approach a hybrid of disparate styles or incorporate unorthodox and unique elements.

<i>Hymnen</i> Electronic and concrete work by Karlheinz Stockhausen

Hymnen is an electronic and concrete work, with optional live performers, by Karlheinz Stockhausen, composed in 1966–67, and elaborated in 1969. In the composer's catalog of works, it is No. 22.

Live electronic music is a form of music that can include traditional electronic sound-generating devices, modified electric musical instruments, hacked sound generating technologies, and computers. Initially the practice developed in reaction to sound-based composition for fixed media such as musique concrète, electronic music and early computer music. Musical improvisation often plays a large role in the performance of this music. The timbres of various sounds may be transformed extensively using devices such as amplifiers, filters, ring modulators and other forms of circuitry. Real-time generation and manipulation of audio using live coding is now commonplace.

Studie II is an electronic music composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen from the year 1954 and, together with his Studie I, comprises his work number ("opus") 3. It is serially organized on all musical levels and was the first published score of electronic music.

Studie I is an electronic music composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen from the year 1953. It lasts 9 minutes 42 seconds and, together with his Studie II, comprises his work number ("opus") 3.

The Konkrete Etüde is the earliest work of electroacoustic tape music by Karlheinz Stockhausen, composed in 1952 and lasting just three-and-a-quarter minutes. The composer retrospectively gave it the number "15" in his catalogue of works.

Nummer 5 met zuivere tonen is a musical work by the Belgian composer Karel Goeyvaerts, realized at the WDR Studio for Electronic Music in 1953 and one of the earliest pieces of electronic music.


Oktophonie (Octophony) is a 1991 octophonic electronic-music composition by Karlheinz Stockhausen. A component layer of act 2 of the opera Dienstag aus Licht, it may also be performed as an independent composition. It has a duration of 69 minutes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Studio for Electronic Music (WDR)</span>

The Studio for Electronic Music of the West German Radio was a facility of the Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) in Cologne. It was the first of its kind in the world, and its history reflects the development of electronic music in the second half of the twentieth century.

Scambi (Exchanges) is an electronic music composition by the Belgian composer Henri Pousseur, realized in 1957 at the Studio di fonologia musicale di Radio Milano.


  1. Anon.a.
  2. Anon.b.
  3. Holmes 2008, 153–154, 157.
  4. Chaudron n.d.
  5. 1 2 Eimert 1957, 2.
  6. Morawska-Büngeler 1988, 11–13.
  7. Ungeheuer 1992, 13.
  8. Eimert 1957, 8.
  9. Morawska-Büngeler 1988, 17.
  10. Stockhausen 1996, 93–94.
  11. Collins 2006, [ page needed ].
  12. Midgette 2004.

Works cited

  • Anon.a. Avant-Garde » Modern Composition » Tape Music at AllMusic. Retrieved 25 May 2022.
  • Anon.b. Electro-Acoustic: Overview at AllMusic. Retrieved 25 May 2022.
  • Chaudron, André. n.d. "Williams Mix" (Accessed 9 July 2011).
  • Collins, Nicolas. 2006. Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking. New York: Routledge. ISBN   0-415-97592-1 (pbk).
  • Eimert, Herbert. 1957. "What is Electronic Music?" Die Reihe 1 [English edition] ("Electronic Music"): 1–10.
  • Holmes, Thom. 2008. "Early Synthesizers and Experimenters". In his Electronic and Experimental Music: Technology, Music, and Culture, third edition. New York: Routledge. ISBN   978-0-415-95781-6 (cloth); ISBN   978-0-415-95782-3 (pbk), (accessed 4 June 2011).
  • Midgette, Anne. 2004. "Noises Off! Making a Boombox Cacophony". The New York Times (20 December).
  • Morawska-Büngeler, Marietta. 1988. Schwingende Elektronen: Eine Dokumentation über das Studio für Elektronische Musik des Westdeutschen Rundfunk in Köln 1951–1986. Cologne-Rodenkirchen: P. J. Tonger Musikverlag.
  • Stockhausen, Karlheinz. 1996. "Electroacoustic Performance Practice", translated by Jerome Kohl. Perspectives of New Music 34, no. 1 (Fall): 74–105.
  • Ungeheuer, Elena. 1992. "Wie die elektronische Musik „erfunden" wurde...: Quellenstudie zu Werner Meyer-Epplers musikalische Entwurf zwischen 1949 und 1953." Kölner Schriften zur Neuen Musik 2, edited by Johannes Fritsch and Dietrich Kämper. Mainz: B. Schott's Söhne. ISBN   3-7957-1891-0.

Further reading