Electronic music (within the 20th Century art music tradition) - 1593 Words | Essay Example (2022)

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The most outstanding identity of music in the 20th century is the abrupt emergence of progressed technology when it comes to recording and dispensing music. In addition, other new styles and forms of music also exist.

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Music artists today have become extremely famous the world over for their music is not limited to clubs or concerts only, but people across the world can access to any music regardless of location courtesy of technology.

Earlier periods had strict restrictions as to how the music should be composed, but the 20th century heralded the introduction of new music forms and styles1. Music of the 20th century had different styles and forms, which include impressionistic, neoclassical, and 12-tone system.

Some examples of “electomechanical sound devices include the electric guitar, the Hammond organ, and telharmonium”.2 At one time, there was a link between electronic music and the western art music and as from the 1960s; electronic music started becoming very popular.

Currently electronic music entails different forms of with the example of electronic dance music. This paper seeks to look into the electronic music within the 20th century art music tradition, which uses musical instruments that have to be connected electrically and use of electronic music technology

The 20th century harbingered first of the many innovative instruments seen over the centuries, which is the Theremin. For quite a number of centuries, there was a creation of music mostly using metal strings or constricting woodwinds and using percussion.

After the World War II, progressive composers embraced electronic music, which limited the use of traditional instruments. Despite the fact that electronic music started in the classical composition world, in the 1960s, Wendy Carols made electronic music popular by using synthesizer that was developed by Robert Moog who had two popular albums, viz. Switched on Bach and the well tempered synthesizer.

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By 1970s, musicians like “Suzanne Ciani, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Jean Michel Jarre, and Brian Eno had made electronic music popular”.3 The development of “techno music was in Detroit, Michigan, while house music started in Illinois around early 1980s.

Acid house and new beat movements made development and acceptance of electronic music to be a reality into the mainstream music industry and even went ahead to pioneer dance music in nightclubs”4.

Electronic music geneses lie in the creative imagination. Technologies that facilitated the electronic music are simply human urges of recording as well as changing sound.

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Despite the fact that electronic music describes music that is made using electronic devices and also uses electricity as source of energy, these technologies have opened up very diverse musical possibilities particularly in engineering, art, literature, as well as philosophy.

However, in the 20th century, electronic instruments became a reality. An example of a celebrated modern studio belongs to Francis Bacon. The wordelektron in Greek refers to amber, while the word electricus in Latin means produced by friction from amber.”5 In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, some of the electronic music elements were already in existence.

There was a debate in the 16th century in regards to tuning systems. For instance, writers like Nicola Vicentino (1511-1576) made a defense of intonation against the compromised tuning systems that were on the rise with examples of equal temperament.6

The 18th century became a surge of interest in terms of musical devices like music boxes, carillons, and mechanical organs of different types. Jacques Vaucanson was the most famous engineer as his machines mimicked both biological and natural functions.

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He had a life-size flute player in the year 1738, which he blew and played twelve different melodies such that is outshined previous mechanical devices.

In terms of sound recording, the genesis of important change hinged on the manner that changing experiences and consumption of music that happened in the 19th century. For instance, “the autograph was the phon-autograph invented by Leon Scott in the year 1857”.7

Sound recording in essence happened through a vibrating membrane attached to a pen that would draw a line in the shape of a wave8.

Nevertheless, it could only record, but was unable to reproduce original sound. Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray invented earliest microphones; however, in the year 1877, there were statements that Emile Berliner was part of the invention of the first microphone.

Thomas Edison in the same year came up with the carbon microphone, which went ahead to be commercially available. In addition, in 1877 he also discovered the phonograph.9

In 1877, Sir Oliver Lodge and Ernst Werner von Siemens discovered loud speakers. Combined with magnetic and electromagnetic systems they evolved quite swiftly. In the early 1930s thanks to the magnetic tape invention, electrical recordings became a viable medium.

With the invention of innovative electronic instruments, electronic music started despite the fact that people viewed them as curiosities or novelties. For example, the Singing Arc an electronic instrument invented in 1899 by William Duddell used sounds produced by carbon arc lamps.

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Electronic music composers in most parts of the world continue to operate in relative obscurity for many years. In many cases, performance opportunities that happened outside North America and Europe are limited with the resources being tight. In mist cases, composers like Halim El Dabh who was born in Egypt came to discover their own technologies.

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In the past twenty years, the challenges to electronic music have gone down immensely in terms of size, cost, as well as speed, which are the three major factors in the revolution. In the early decades, there was great difficulty gaining access to electronic music equipment and it took quite a long time.10

Most of the musicians who used analogue equipment spend quite a long time grappling with razor blades and tape. Musicians using earliest digital tools when creating programs and listening to the resultant music suffered huge delays that went for days.

In many occasions, musicians had to make trips to cities in order to get work done since digital and analogue converters found in only few locations. 1983 was the year the accessibility of digital music technology came about after the release of Yamaha DX-7, which was a programmable digital music synthesizer.11

For quite a number of years, electronic musicians changed their strategies because of the competing agendas of commercial profit, government programs, audio research, and artistic expression. In developing countries like Mexico where the government did not put in any investment in electronic music, the prices that went down led to the possibility of governments funding studios.

Today, electronic musicians have unlimited access to many if not all of their tools and they can get information from the Internet, right at their studio, local cyber café, or at the comfort of their home.

In the 1600s, a desire to come up with space meant for sound in various forms was in the offing. In 1937, John Cage asked, “centers of experimental music to be started up where there will be use of oscillators, generators, turntables and film phonographs.”12

A majority of the electronic musicians found it necessary to have specialized studio spaces; however, only a few of them could imagine that these studios would one day be at their homes.

Today’s computer and software generation has made it possible to the musicians to be in a position to record, generate, produce, and even edit music from their own home studios. There are many advantages of having home studios because for one, it makes the composer free and secondly it promotes freedom of expression and flexibility.

Louis (1920-1989) together with Bebe Barron (1927) knew the first electronic music piece for magnetic tape composed in the US as “Heavenly Menagerie”.

Today, the home stereo is not the only one that gives novice musicians room to manipulate music, as the home computer has free audio software with examples of Soundhack, Garage Band, and Audacity. Electronic music goes back all the way to the steam age. Thaddeus Cahill, in the year 1897, patented a machine that weighed more than two hundred tons known as the Telharmonium.13

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This machine produced sine tones with dynamos and went to play organ-like keyboard. The currently known type is the eponymous electronic instrument of the Russian inventor Leon Theremin that was created in 1920. There was rejection of instrumental interfaces like the keyboards, finger holes, and frets by Theremin. Playing it entailed moving hands next to two antennas.

It appeared modern; however, it did not have the substance and legitimacy of more conventional instruments. There were other early electronic instruments like the Ondes Martenot (1928) as well as the Trautonium (1928) that were similarly added into a new chamber works and orchestral music by a couple of mote composers.14

However, Laurence Hammond’s electric organ development in 1935 made it musically popular to the public. The early electronic instruments only made new sounds; however, they did not change the composition of music or the performance.

After fifty years, the tape music came about after the Telharmonium and it embodied a type of desire that was high modernist for going to the levels of independence and composer-control.

Electronic music became popular in the late 1960s when musicians started using electronic instruments like Mellotron and Theremin to complement and classify their sound. There were even Japanese musicians who produced electronic rock with an example of Isao Tomita (1972).

In mid 1970s, electronic art musicians like Tomita, Vangelis and Jean Jarre heavily influenced the New Age Music development. In the mid 20th century, there was use of music sequencers. In addition, in the late 1950s there was the use of drum machines, which also went by the name rhythm machines.


Cascone, Kim. “The aesthetics of failure: Post-digital tendencies in contemporary computer music.” Computer Music Journal 24, no. 4 (2000): 12-18.

Paradiso, Joseph. “Electronic music: new ways to play.” Spectrum, IEEE 34, no. 12 (1997): 18-30.

Salznan, Eric. Twentieth-century music. New York: Pearson, 2001.

Simms, Bryan. Music of the twentieth: style and structure. New York: Schirmer Books, 1996.


1Eric Salznan, Twentieth-century music: An introduction (New York: Pearson, 2001), 112.

2Ibid, 95.

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3Bryan Simms, Music of the twentieth: style and structure (New York: Schirmer Books, 1996), 38.

4Ibid, 114.

5 Ibid, 82.

6 Salznan, 111.

7 Ibid, 103.

8Kim Cascone, “The aesthetics of failure: “Post-digital” tendencies in contemporary computer music,” Computer Music Journal 24, no. 4 (2000): 16.

9 Simms, 70.

10Joseph Paradiso, “Electronic music: new ways to play,” Spectrum, IEEE 34, no. 12 (1997): 26.

11Ibid, 31.

12 Paradiso 27.

13Simms, 119.

14Ibid, 76.

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