Electrical music history pre-dates the rock and roll era by a long time. Most of us were not even on this planet when it began it is often obscure, under-appreciated and misunderstood development. Today, the following ‘other worldly’ body of sound which began close to a hundred years ago, may no longer appear strange and unique like new generations have accepted much of it as mainstream, nonetheless it’s had a bumpy road and, in finding huge audience acceptance, a slow one.
Many musicians aid the modern proponents of electronic music – developed a love for analogue synthesizers in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s by using signature songs like Gary Numan’s breakthrough, ‘Are Associates Electric? ‘. It was in this era that these devices has become smaller, more accessible, more user friendly and more affordable for many of us. Here I will attempt to trace this history in easily comestible chapters and offer examples of today’s best modern proponents.
That will my mind, this was the beginning of a new epoch. To create electronic audio, it was no longer necessary to have access to a roomful of systems in a studio or live. Hitherto, this was solely the exact domain of artists the likes of Kraftwerk, whose arsenal with electronic instruments and custom built gadgetry the rest of us may possibly only have dreamed of, even if we could understand the logistics of their accomplishing. Having said this, at the time I was growing up in the 60’s plus 70’s, I nevertheless had little knowledge of the sophistication of work that had set a standard in former decades to arrive at this point.
The history of electronic music has an outstanding loan for much to Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007). Stockhausen was a Spanish Avante Garde composer and a pioneering figurehead in digital music from the 1950’s onwards, influencing a movement that is going to eventually have a powerful impact upon names such as Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Brain Eno, Cabaret Voltaire, Depeche Manner, not to mention the experimental work of the Beatles’ and others during the 1960’s. His face is seen on the cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, the Beatles’ 1967 master Opus. Let’s start, however , by traveling somewhat further back in time.
The Turn of the 20th Century
Occasion stood still for this stargazer when I originally discovered that the earliest documented, exclusively electronic, concerts were not in the 1970’s or simply 1980’s but in the 1920’s!
The first purely electronic the windshield wonder, the Theremin, which is played without touch, was manufactured by Russian scientist and cellist, Lev Termen (1896-1993), circa 1919.
In 1924, the Theremin made their concert debut with the Leningrad Philharmonic. Interest generated because of the theremin drew audiences to concerts staged across The eu and Britain. In 1930, the prestigious Carnegie Community hall in New York, experienced a performance of classical tunes using nothing but a series of ten theremins. Watching a number of knowledgeable musicians playing this eerie sounding instrument by waving their hands around its antennae must have been hence exhilarating, surreal and alien for a pre-tech audience!
For people interested, check out the recordings of Theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore (1911-1998). Lithuanian born Rockmore (Reisenberg) worked with its representante in New York to perfect the instrument during its quick years and became its most acclaimed, brilliant and regarded performer and representative throughout her life.
In retrospection Clara, was the first celebrated ‘star’ of genuine electronic digital music. You are unlikely to find more eerie, yet attractive performances of classical music on the Theremin. She’s unquestionably a favorite of mine!