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The RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer (nicknamed Victor) was the first programmable electronic synthesizer and the flagship piece of equipment at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. Designed by Herbert Belar and Harry Olson at RCA, it was installed at Columbia University in 1957. Consisting of a room-sized array of interconnected sound synthesis components, much of the design of the machine was contributed by Vladimir Ussachevsky and Peter Mauzey. The Mark II gave the user more flexibility and had twice the number of tone oscillators as its predecessor, the Mark I.The synthesizer was funded by a large grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.
Earlier 20th century electronic instruments such as the Telharmonium or the theremin were manually operated. The RCA combined diverse electronic sound generation with a music sequencer, which proved a huge attraction to composers of the day, who were growing weary of creating electronic works by splicing together individual sounds recorded on sections of magnetic tape. The RCA Mark II featured a binary sequencer using a paper tape reader analogous to a player piano, that would send instructions to the synthesizer, automating playback from the device.The synthesizer would then output sound to a synchronized shellac record lathe next to the machine. The resulting recording would then be compared against the punch-tape score, and the process would be repeated until the desired results were obtained.
The sequencer features of the RCA were of particular attraction to modernist composers of the time, especially those interested in writing dodecaphonic music with a high degree of precision.The RCA is cited by composers of the day as contributing to the rise of musical complexity, because it allowed composers the freedom to write music using rhythms and tempos that were impractical, if not impossible, to realize on acoustic instruments. The allure of precision as a mark of aesthetic progress (continuing with contemporary computer-based sequencers) generated high expectations for the Mark II, and contributed to the increased awareness of electronic music as a viable new art form. An album featuring the instrument and its capabilities was issued by RCA (LM-1922) in 1955.
The synthesizer had a four-note variable polyphony (in addition to twelve fixed-tone oscillators and a white noise source). The synthesizer was difficult to configure, requiring extensive patching of analog circuitry prior to running a score. Little attempt was made to teach composition on the synthesizer, and with few exceptions the only persons proficient in the machine's use were the designers at RCA and the engineering staff at Columbia who maintained it. Princeton University composer Milton Babbitt, [ citation needed ]though not by any means the only person to use the machine, is the composer most often associated with it, and was its biggest advocate.
A number of important pieces in the electronic music repertoire were composed and realized on the RCA. Babbitt's Vision and Prayer and Philomel both feature the RCA, as does Charles Wuorinen's 1970 Pulitzer Prize for Music-winning piece Time's Encomium .Over time it fell into disrepair, and it remains only partly functional. The last composer to get any sound out of the synthesizer was R. Luke DuBois, who used it for a thirty-second piece on the Freight Elevator Quartet's Jungle Album in 1997.
Although part of the history of electronic music, the RCA was seldom used. Made to United States Air Force construction specifications (and even sporting a USAF oscilloscope), its active electronics were constructed entirely with vacuum tubes, rendering the machine obsolete by its tenth birthday, having been surpassed by more reliable and affordable solid state modular synthesizers such as the Buchla and Moog modular synthesizer systems. It was prohibitively expensive to replicate, and an RCA Mark III, though conceived by Belar and Olsen, was never constructed. Nor was RCA to remain in the synthesizer business, prompting Columbia to purchase enough spare parts to build two duplicate synthesizers.[ citation needed ]
Much of the historical interest of the RCA, besides its association with the Electronic Music Center, comes from a number of amusing and possibly apocryphal stories told regarding the synthesizer. One common story is that Ussachevsky and Otto Luening effectively conned RCA into building the machine, claiming that a synthesizer built to their specifications would "replace the symphony orchestra," prompting RCA executives to gamble the cost of the synthesizer in the hopes of being able to eliminate their unionized radio orchestra.[ citation needed ]
In 1959, the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center acquired the machine from RCA. At Columbia-Princeton, Milton Babbitt used it extensively. His tape and tape and instrument pieces were realized using the RCA Mark II, including his masterpiece Philomel, for synthesized sound and soprano.
The RCA remains housed at the Columbia Computer Music Center facility on 125th Street in New York City, where it is bolted to the floor in the office of Professor Brad Garton.[ citation needed ]
Electronic music is 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.
An electronic musical instrument or electrophone is a musical instrument that produces sound using electronic circuitry. Such an instrument sounds by outputting an electrical, electronic or digital audio signal that ultimately is plugged into a power amplifier which drives a loudspeaker, creating the sound heard by the performer and listener.
Digital music technology encompasses digital instruments, computers, electronic effects units, software, or digital audio equipment by a performer, composer, sound engineer, DJ, or record producer to produce, perform or record music. The term refers to electronic devices, instruments, computer hardware, and software used in performance, playback, recording, composition, mixing, analysis, and editing of music.
Milton Byron Babbitt was an American composer, music theorist, mathematician, and teacher. He is particularly noted for his serial and electronic music.
Charles Peter Wuorinen was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer of contemporary classical music based in New York City. He performed his works and other 20th-century music as pianist and conductor.
Electroacoustic music is a genre of 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. 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 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 1900s.
The Computer Music Center (CMC) at Columbia University is the oldest center for electronic and computer music research in the United States. It was founded in the 1950s as the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center.
Mario Davidovsky was an Argentine-American composer. Born in Argentina, he emigrated in 1960 to the United States, where he lived for the remainder of his life. He is best known for his series of compositions called Synchronisms, which in live performance incorporate both acoustic instruments and electroacoustic sounds played from a tape.
Halim Abdul Messieh El-Dabh was an Egyptian American composer, musician, ethnomusicologist, and educator, who had a career spanning six decades. He is particularly known as an early pioneer of electronic music. In 1944 he composed one of the earliest known works of tape music, or musique concrète. From the late 1950s to early 1960s he produced influential work at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center.
Vladimir Alexeevich Ussachevsky was a composer, particularly known for his work in electronic music.
The Group for Contemporary Music is an American chamber ensemble dedicated to the performance of contemporary classical music. It was founded in New York City in 1962 by Joel Krosnick, Harvey Sollberger and Charles Wuorinen and gave its first concert on October 22, 1962 in Columbia University's MacMillin Theatre. Krosnik left the ensemble in 1963. It was the first contemporary music ensemble based at a university and run by composers.
Harry Ferdinand Olson was a prominent engineer at RCA Victor and a pioneer in the field of 20th century acoustical engineering.
Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center was an album of electronic music released in 1964. It was the recording of a concert performed at the McMillin Theater at Columbia University on May 9 and 10, 1961. The stereo version was MS 6566 and the monophonic version was ML 5966. There was a sequel released in 1998 on the New World label titled Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center 1961–1973. Bülent Arel is the only artist who appears on both albums.
Bethany Beardslee is an American soprano particularly noted for her collaborations with major 20th-century composers, such as Igor Stravinsky, Milton Babbitt, Pierre Boulez, George Perle, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and her performances of great contemporary classical music by Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Anton Webern. Her legacy amongst midcentury composers was as a "composer's singer"—for her commitment to the highest art of new music. Milton Babbitt said of her "She manages to learn music no one else in the world can. She can work, work, work." In a 1961 interview for Newsweek, Beardslee flaunted her unflinching repertoire and disdain for commercialism: "I don't think in terms of the public... Music is for the musicians. If the public wants to come along and study it, fine. I don't go and try to tell a scientist his business because I don't know anything about it. Music is just the same way. Music is not entertainment."
Philomel, a serial composition composed in 1964, combines synthesizer with both live and recorded soprano voice. It is Milton Babbitt’s best-known work and was planned as a piece for performance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, funded by the Ford Foundation and commissioned for soprano Bethany Beardslee. Babbitt created Philomel in the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, of which he was a founding member.
Time's Encomium is an electronic, four channel, musical composition by Charles Wuorinen for synthesized and processed synthesized sound. Released on Nonesuch Records in 1969, the composition was commissioned by Teresa Sterne for the label.
String Quartet No. 6 is the last of six chamber-music works in the string quartet medium by the American composer Milton Babbitt.
All Set, for jazz ensemble, is a 1957 composition for small jazz band by the American composer Milton Babbitt.
Robert Miller was an American pianist and attorney.
The timeline of music technology provides the major dates in the history of electric music technologies inventions from the 1800s to the early 1900s and electronic and digital music technologies from 1917 and electric music technologies to the 2010s.
The success of the Mark I led to the creation of the Mark II, which had twice as many tone oscillators and gave the composer more flexibility.[ verification needed ]
Still going strong at age 84, renowned composer Milton Babbitt was a founding member of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Center (see related article) where he created "Philomel," one of the first compositions of the synthesizer (available on New World Records).
Olson-Belar composing machine (circa 1950)
RCA Electronic Music Synthesizer, Mark I (circa 1955)
The electronic music synthesizer is a machine that produces music from a coded record. The coded record, is produced by a musician, musical engineer, or composer with a fundamental understanding of the composition of sound. The electronic music synthesizer provides means for the production of a tone with any frequency, intensity, growth, duration, decay, portamento, timbre, vibrato, and variation. If these properties of a tone are specified, the tone can be completely described. ...
RCA Mark II Electronic Music Synthesizer (circa 1958)