Electronic Music 101, Episode 1

Electronic Sounds in Classical European Music

In this article series, we will be looking for the answers to the questions such as what is electronic music that affects many types of music today and increases its popularity day by day, how and why it started, in which types has it been formed.

Electronic music has been evolving and developing for over a century. The beginning of the 20th century is a period when there are new seekings in music and also radical destructions as well. It can also be defined as the century when the two world wars took place, where the West didn’t have the old romantic structure and the safe world that is disappeared.

The classical harmony system of Western music has become insufficient to describe a world of such devastation. The composers and musicians who are starving and unable to express themselves in this area have put forward many different movements that will be called avant-garde and gathered under the same roof, such as random music, 12-tone music, minimalism, dadaism or serialism. Besides these movements of ideas, composers, thanks to the developments in technology, have found the opportunity to pull their searches to different planes in the elements that form the basis of music such as timbre, texture, rhythm and density.

The telharmonium, developed by Thaddeus Cahill in 1906, was one of the first steps to produce sound in the electronic environment. Then, in 1920, theremin that is invented by Levemene and, in 1928, the Martenot wave produced by Maurice Martenot opened new horizons in the search of composers.

In addition to these, one of the most important developments in electronic music was the magnetic tape technology invented in 1935.

Apart from the technology which became widespread of its use after World War II, the filters that form the basis of the electronic music and effect generators, the invention of oscillators that enable pure electronic sound production has also been an important step in this field. Finally, the synthesizer technology that combines modules in a single body such as an oscillator, filter and effect producers, which we can see as the most important of these technological developments, is discovered. After RCA Mark II, which was produced as the first synthesizer, we see Robert Moog and Donald Buchla as the first two names that made great progress in this field.

In this field, which began to reproduce in the 1950s, two different mainstreams established. These are; Musique concrète, which treats every sound in nature as a “sound object” and uses them in different ways, and Electronic Music that produces works using sounds produced only in electronic atmosphere.

Pierre Henry, one of the most important names in musique concréte, composed the “Symphony for a Lonely Man”, one of the first examples of this style of music in the 1950s. In that same period, the music gained a concrete dimension for the first time. The graphic sketches of Metastasis, composed by Greek Iannis Xenakis in 1954, were used in the architectural design of the Philips Pavilion that is designed in 1958. Furthermore, Edgar Vérse composed his work, Electronic Poetry, to be performed only in this pavilion. Electronic music laboratories have been established in many parts of the world and researches have been intensified after the 1950s. One of the most important of these research centers is the Colombia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in America. Another important aspect of this institution for us is that Bülent Arel, whose name is not known in our country but made important developments in the field of electronic music, was also in that institution for a while. In 1961, Arel wrote his first important work, consisting of purely electronic sounds, Stereo Electronic Music I, followed by Music for the Religious Rite: Prelude and Postlut, the first church music made in electronic atmosphere.

Electronic music has been an important point for many composers, producers and artists who are looking for new sounds and expressions in the changing world. I also share our Spotify list where you can find examples of the artists mentioned in this part of the article and adopting approximately the same musical style. In the later episodes of these articles, we will talk about the part of electronic music, which is out of classical music composers, that is how drum’n’bass, hardcore, techno, house and trance are separated and how these genres are formed.