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The Birth of Electronic Music 278

fm6 writes "NPR has a story up about the first musicians to compose electronic music. In 1947, Louis and Bebe Barron received an early tape recorder as a wedding present. About the same time, Louis Barron became interested in Norbert Wiener's book Cybernetics and its thesis of common elements in living and artificial systems. This led the Barrons to create a new kind of music using electronic circuits and painstakingly edited magnetic tapes. The Barrons music was featured in various avant-garde records and movies, and finally reached a mass audience in the Science Fiction classic Forbidden Planet."
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The Birth of Electronic Music

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  • Electronic music has been around for longer than that... we all know that
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Nope, the first electronic music experiment was done by Lev Sergeivitch Termen and his famus Theremin. Rumor says it was Joseph Stalin's favorite instrument. However, you can mainly hear it on Jean Michel Jarre's Oxygene and Pink Floyd's Echoes songs. You can do amazing things with this simple instrument : n/
    • Electronic music has been around for longer than that... we all know that

      Just because you consider a sixty-cycle hum a catchy tune makes it music not.

    • BIG BULL SH**.
      Electronic music was invented with the Thereminvox or Theremin on 1919.
      Just check Wiki...
    • Electronic music has been around for longer than that... we all know that

      probably true. and probably moot. the real musical revolution, though, isn't "electronic" music, but digital music.

      i personally count the begining of digital/electronic music to peter samson who, while at mit in the early 60's, prgrammed the tx-0 to play an entire fugue by bach. the entire piece was written in assembly!

      my source is here []... although you'll have to dig through a lot of text to find it.

    • by KillerCow ( 213458 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @07:18PM (#11612574)
      An IBM 7094 [] sang "Daisy" [] in 1961. Google [].

      And the Theremin was patented in 1929. Wiki [].
    • by AnEmbodiedMind ( 612071 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @09:41PM (#11614075)
      The sibling posts are a bit confused.

      Sure the Theremin from the early 1920's (1919 on) was influential, but it was not the birth of electronic music. Electronic music was around long before the vacuum tube and radio electronics (which were the technologies of the Theremin era).

      In some senses, the real birth of electronic music could be seen as Thomas Edison's invention of the "talking tinfoil device" in 1877 which he called the phonograph.

      If you are talking synthesis for music instruments you could cite Elisha Grey's "musical telegraph" created in 1887. It had a one octave keyboard and was designed to play music directly to peoples homes over the telegraph lines. That is over 30 years before the Theremin, and 60 years before "the Barrons" (RTFA) recieved their first tape recorder!

      I'm sure the Barrons were influential, especially if they were working with Cage, but this wasn't the birth of electronic music. Maybe "the birth of sampling" would have been more appropriate.

      Read "Electronic and Experimental Music" (Thomas B. Holmes) if you want more information.
  • JMJ (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    And we all know that Jean Michel Jarre [] is the father of medern electronic music.
    • I'd have awarded that title to Kraftwerk. Jean Michel Jarre did some impressive stuff, but it was never mainstream chart music.
    • Re:JMJ (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Ucklak ( 755284 )
      More like Walter/Wendy Carlos [] with Switched on Bach in the 60's
      to be copied by Hans Wurman and Isao Tomita and also a source of inspiration for Jarre, Eno, and other 'Avante Garde' musicians.
  • digital music is great. Where would we be without it? Those techno clubs just wouldn't be the same.
  • Wot? No Theremin? (Score:5, Informative)

    by igb ( 28052 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @06:44PM (#11612176)
    The claim that electronic music is all post-war seems a little hard to sustain. Theremin?
    Ondes Martineau?

    • Re:Wot? No Theremin? (Score:5, Informative)

      by EnronHaliburton2004 ( 815366 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @06:49PM (#11612248) Homepage Journal
      I was thinking the same thing. The Theramin was invented before 1921 [].

      People in the Dada movement were creating mechanical music (or rather, un-music and noisy stuff) before 1920 []. Dada has had a pretty heavy influence on the modern industrial scene...
      • Re:Wot? No Theremin? (Score:3, Informative)

        by mmkkbb ( 816035 )
        Can't find much information skimming through that link. Are you sure you don't mean the futurists? Luigi Russolo [] for example.
        • Different movements, similar time. And actually their music sounds pretty similar. It's all realated.

          As I understand it, the futurists were move about burning down the old culture and creating a brand new culture. I think they actually had big ambitions.

          Dadaists were more about breaking any rules possible... they did crazy, irrational stuff on purpose. I can't find any music, but think of being stuck in a room with 10 machines all beating at a different rhythm, different tune, and none of the beats work w
          • I can't find any music, but think of being stuck in a room with 10 machines all beating at a different rhythm, different tune, and none of the beats work with the beats of another machine, or running forks against garbage can lids.

            sounds almost as entertaining as a nau zee aun performance involving bench grinders and sparks flying into the audience
          • Dadaists were more about breaking any rules possible... they did crazy, irrational stuff on purpose. I can't find any music, but think of being stuck in a room with 10 machines all beating at a different rhythm, different tune, and none of the beats work with the beats of another machine, or running forks against garbage can lids.

            The musical heirs of this mode of thinking were the Experimentalists, most notably John Cage, who wrote stuff like: 4:33 (four minutes and 33 seconds of the performer not makin

          • I remember hearing one dadaist piece like you described but with a man saying "scrrrrooop-a-PING, SCROOOOOOOOP-a.... PING, scrooop........ a ping, scroooooooooooooooop-a-PING...." for about five minutes straight.

            Bach they were not.

      • You're right. I was under the impression that the Theramin was a recent invention, though quick glance at the Wikipedia [] tells me otherwise. I think the Barrons still deserve credit as pioneers in applying cybernetic circuitry to music composition, but I shouldn't have described them as the first electronic musicians.

        I should have known better than to play "the first" game. Usually comes down to some trivial detail only of interest to Guiness [] dweebs.

    • Exactly my reaction! (Score:3, Informative)

      by PaulBu ( 473180 )
      And do not forget that HP started when Hewlett and Packard built an electronic sound generator for Disney in '39 []

      Paul B.
    • Those are electronic musical instruments. The Barrons created "recordings" of music by manipulating the tape directly, rather than by recording sound. Which can a better claim to "Electronic Music" is debatable, but they are clearly different things, like a scanner and a paint program are different. Of course, these days they are generally used together.
    • Hm. I think the article was just attempting to highlight some often-overlooked contributions by the Barrons. I mean, I've never even heard of them, so I found it quite interesting.
      The submitter is the one who seems to have goofed here, by presenting this short blurb as "The Birth of Electronic Music". The article itself makes no such claims; its focus is simply the Barrons.
      If you do have an interest, there are plenty [] of [] great [] resources [] out there for one to peruse. Yes, Theremin was way ahead of his time
  • Fifty years later, it seems electronic music has fizzle out a little after being hyped as the next big thing in the 90s. I only hear it during fight scenes in movies now. In fact, one of the last good electronic albums I heard was from Japanese Telecom, a relative unknown.

    I guess the repetitive unS unS unS bores me after a while. What are the new movements going on in the electronic music world that the mainstream has yet to become aware of?
    • Re:50 years later (Score:5, Informative)

      by mmkkbb ( 816035 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @06:48PM (#11612237) Homepage Journal
      listen a little closer. electronic music is a vast, complex maze of styles.

      here are some names to check out (many of whom will NEVER hit the big time):
      -fabrice lig
      -thomas brinkmann
      -underground resistance
      -matthew dear
      -ricardo villalobos
      -needle sharing
      • There are so many different artists that are pushing the envelope these days in the electronic music scene. You can be a great fan of electronica and very effectively ignore all the 4-on-the-floor house crap that electronic music is often confined to in people's minds.

        In fact, you can readily remove the urge to listen to a "beat" altogether - Vidna Obmana comes to mind, or even Phillip Glass and Brian Eno, one of the "pioneers".

        To listen to artists that push the envelope without the pretentious disharmon


        My god man give them THE LINK!

        • Re:50 years later (Score:3, Insightful)

          by teneighty ( 671401 )
          Ishkurs Guide to music is far from definitive - while he identifies a lot of different sub-genres, he spends most of the time pontificating on each subgenre rather than actually informing the reader what exactly defines each genre. His guide is a start - but there's a big need for a resource that clearly defines each genre by a clear set of criteria - things like BPM, what chords are typically used, etc.
    • Electronic music didn't die. Not even remotely. Last I checked, most if not all candy pop is based on it. In most genres it merely got integrated as a technique into base forms. It's been that way for a while now, the experimentation in the 80s of combining sequencers with standard instruments was so much a success, most people don't even notice it's happening anymore.
    • "It seems grunge music has fizzled out after being hyped as the next big thing in the 90's"

      Come on. Mega-popular genre music comes and goes all the time. It doesn't mean that the core isn't still out there and still making music, waiting for their next go round in the "big big big" sphere. Other responders have pointed out plenty of electronica that is current, so I'll leave it to them.

    • What are the new movements going on in the electronic music world that the mainstream has yet to become aware of?

      Forget the "Hi NRG European Techno" and the crud they play in movies. The repetative beats got old real quick.

      For electronic music that is different, here are a couple places to check out. These may not be to your taste, but they definately different then your "unS unS unS unS unS unS unS unS WooooooooOOOOOT WoooooooooOOOOOT! 'Smack my Bitch Up!' unS unS unS unS unS unS unS unS":

      Warp Records []
    • Re:50 years later (Score:2, Insightful)

      by tidepool ( 137349 )
      Hahaha. Leave it to slashdot to produce people who think they know EVERYTHING that has to do with anything technologically related. Have you ever stepped out of your house and went out? DJ's, like it or not, are still dropping electronic beats in one of HUNDREDS of unique 'styles'. Many of these DJ's then become producers &/or remixers.

      Electronic isn't dead; it never will be. Perhaps you mean that electronic/dance music isn't being pushed into the U.S.public (as much), which would be partially true. Bu
    • Umm, Britney Spears is electronic. She's as popular as ever. Half of the currently popular music contains some electronic instrumentation, sampling, processing, or whatever. Everyone:


      Only the unwashed think of rave music when they hear electronic music.

      There are a number of classical composers who create electronic music. Paul Lanksy comes to mind. Check out his composition Idle Chatter Junior [] The whole electro-acoustic movement is very alive [] and creating completely new
    • Re:50 years later (Score:2, Informative)

      by ESSBAND. ( 651615 )
      Try: [] [] [] [] []


      There's so much good electronic music out there, it's silly to make such a statement. Not all of these labels will necessarily be your cup of tea, but these are the first five or so that popped in to my head without looking on the back of any CD's. Check out some record store sites like: [] []

      or a sit

    • Re:50 years later (Score:3, Interesting)

      "What are the new movements going on in the electronic music world that the mainstream has yet to become aware of?"

      While I am no real expert on electronic music, I WAS in the rave scene for quite some time, and I don't mean as a kandy kid who just went to roll. I went for the music, and I can honestly say you will see some of the most innovative stuff in the rave scene. That is where the underground is.

      Now as for styles, I recommend EVERYBODY check out Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Music []. It gives an EXT

  • Hmm... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ProudClod ( 752352 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @06:46PM (#11612222)
    Amazon referrer ID is still in that address - somebody's going to become very rich tonight...
    • Referrer links (Score:3, Interesting)

      by fm6 ( 162816 )
      I wish. I routinely put referrer links on Slashdot. (Why not, as long as I point to books I've can honestly recommend. I don't stoop to link spam, though.) I tend to generate many hits, but very rarely a purchase. Probably my favorite books are too far off the mainstream.

      I'll probably get a ton of hits this time -- but I can't picture a lot of Slashdotters wanting their own copy of Cybernetics or Forbidden Planet. Most will read the reviews on Amazon, then go to Netflix and/or their public library. If pas

      • Re:Referrer links (Score:3, Interesting)

        I know I personally detest when people put referral links in story blurbs because there is no way for me to know that they aren't just posting the story for the sake of trying to make money.

        Now, I realize that this probably wasn't your motive as you claim, but one can never be too sure on the internet. I know if I wanted to do this, right after the story got greenlighted, the first thing I'd do is post about how I probably won't get much money, etc. and try to start a grassroots effort behind it to gain cr

  • by nmoog ( 701216 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @06:47PM (#11612231) Homepage Journal

    When people first used electronics to make noises they certainly made some fucked up ones (Electronic Musical Instrument 1870 - 1990 [])

    I bet they'd be pissed to learn that the fruit of their endeavors would be making backing tracks for "pop stars" (though I reckon they'd be stoked about SquarePusher)

  • Leo Theremin is often cited as a godfather of electronic music. He was responsible for creating for one of the earliest electronic instruments back in 1917.

    You can read about him here []
  • Theremin? (Score:3, Informative)

    by jotaeleemeese ( 303437 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @06:48PM (#11612239) Homepage Journal
    I am not conversant with theremin's musical literature, but any original compositions for this instrument would predate the composers mentioned in the article by several decades.
    • Prof. Theremin was back in Russia by 1938, and he had been present for the composition of various music for his instruments while in the US. The First Aerphonic Suite for Theremin and Orchestra was composed by Joseph Schillinger in 1929.

      Further proof exists in that Clara Rockmore recorded Anis Fuleihan's Concerto for Theremin in 1945, fully two years before the Barrons got their start, and I think she had performed it in 1939, but I'm not certain of the latter. (It's an absolutely jaw-dropping recording by
  • by FFON ( 266696 ) []

    who fact checks for NPR? someone from CBS?
    • FTFL. NPR didn't claim the Barrons were the first electronic musicians. I did, when I submitted the the story. So blame me, not NPR.

      Of course, they're still a bunch of softheaded, bleedingheart liberal elitests, so you continue to be pissed at them, if you choose!

  • by the_skywise ( 189793 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @06:50PM (#11612253)
    I dunno what that was, but it made Philip Glass' music sound like full blown orchestral scores with complex melodies...
  • Louis and Bebe Barron received an early tape recorder as a wedding present

    ...that they actually received 9 early tape recorders as wedding presents. They managed to sell all but 1 for a handsome profit.

  • I'd argue that tape editing is hardly the birth. If you take the later development of sequencers as the real birth credit gets muddy, but perhaps it was Raymond Scott... []
    • Very rarely does anything appear in a culture out of a vacuum. Electronic music is no exception. Something like modern digital sequencers were made because of the needs of bands like Kraftwerk and other pioneers in analog sequencers. Analog sequencers because popular because they were feasible to use.

      Anyhow, you can keep tracing back and back till you end up with first guy who decided to lay a beat with morse code cause he bored. The point is, someone at one point made a purely electronic device for th
  • Rubbish (Score:4, Interesting)

    by GrabtharsHammer ( 852908 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @06:53PM (#11612305)

    This is hardly the first electronic music. That honour goes to some American chaps in the late 1890's, who devised a giant machine that played the Victorian equivalent of lift music. The concept was to pipe this music over wires into restaurants and clubs all over town, to save the venues the cost of maintaining house bands.

    They even had a successful rollout, with mellow, unoffensive tinkelings broadcast citywide. However, the exercise was doomed to failure because it was extremely costly to keep running. Ultimately, it shut down.

    Electronic Musician ran an article on this a few years back. I'd quote you reference but I am currently around 14 hours flight from my home.

  • electro (Score:2, Insightful)

    All the best electronic music seems to come from Europe.

    Aphex Twin
    The REPHLEX label
    stuff like that :-)
    • The best electronic music comes from SE Michigan, of course.

      Juan Atkins
      Derrick May
      Carl Craig
      Kevin Saunderson
      Underground Resistance
      Ecto m orph
      Midwest Product
      Tadd Mullinix
      Innerzone Orchestra

      Planet E
      Ersatz Audio
      Underground Resistance
      430 West

      Stuff like that. The Europeans are just ripping off black kids (well, these days it's white kids too) from Detroit.
      • Re:electro (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mmkkbb ( 816035 )
        and all these guys ripped off kraftwerk in the beginning...

        why do you have carl craig on there twice?
        • I wouldn't really say that Detroit "ripped off" Kraftwerk; influence, sure, but there's a difference between ripping someone off and taking inspiration from them. Detroit took inspiration from Kraftwerk, amongst others. Shitty Euro producers rip off good Detroit acts (*cough*SonyJaguarfiasco*cough*).

          Is there good stuff from Europe? Sure. I-F is brilliant. Techno Animal, though they may be defunct now, I don't know. Some Aphex and Autechre, yeah. Solex is fun sometimes. 3 Cylob. But I don't see it
          • what?! there's plenty of crap coming from detroit! mostly moodymann.
            • Aw, fuck. Somebody had to call me on KDJ, didn't they.

              Well, look. We kind of look at Moodymann as our own homegrown form of trance - it sucks now, we know it sucks now, but we have to tolerate it for its prior contributions. And even so, I'll take Moodymann over most trance producers.
  • ...was writing compositions for the tape recorder years before the tape recorder was invented. The great visionaries always anticipate.

    The present-day composer refuses to die!

  • by k0ft ( 812724 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @06:57PM (#11612343) Homepage
    Some other groups definately worth mentioning that have been around since around the 60's:

    Tangerine Dream []
    Kraftwerk []
    Isao Tomita []
    Vangelis []

  • In addition to having a great, spooky score, Forbidden Planet is one of the greatest science fiction films of all time (and far better, to my mind, than The Day The Earth Stood Still and its fascist interstellar-UN robot overlords). Scenes like the attack of the Monster from the ID on the space ship, the interiors of the Krell city, and the climax still hold up today. It's arguably the best science fiction film before 2001, and perhaps the best until Star Wars (Metropolis (or rather, what survives of it), is, IMHO, too heavy-handed in its philosophising.)

  • by jd ( 1658 ) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {kapimi}> on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @07:10PM (#11612481) Homepage Journal
    Was Delia Derbyshire [], who pioneered much of the early work in the 1960s in Britain. Her creations include the realization of Rob Grainer's infamous da-da-da-dum of Doctor Who, and much of the work on synthesizers in Britain can be credited (or blamed) on her.

    There are numerous fan pages [] for her, which is truly remarkable for a person who barely got any mention before her death from cancer in her early 60s. Of course, now she's dead and can't enjoy her fame, she's a celebrity. There was even a play [] written with her as the focus.

    I think it fair to say that electronic music has been born and reborn many times, but has yet to really reach the heights the true visionaries expected of it. Like NASA, electronic music has been mostly promise and far too little creative genius.

  • Bull. (Score:4, Informative)

    by alhaz ( 11039 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @07:10PM (#11612485) Homepage
    Oliver Messiaen recorded 'Oraison" in 1937, 10 years before these guys. It's quite nice, actually.

    They were important and all, but they were hardly the first.

    Heck, Lev Termin patented the Theremin in 1927, when the Barrons were little kids.

    You can find a lot of this stuff on a 3-disc set called "OHM" variously "Early Gurus of Electronic Music" or "History of Electronic Music" but always OHM, afaik.

    Here's a shameless plug for EAR-Rational Music, the guys i bought my copy from. google for 'em.
  • John Cage [] {1912-1995) was another pioneer of electronic music. Interestingly his estate sued [] another composer, Mike Batt, claiming that his piece, one minutes silence, infringed on John Cages copyright for 4'33", another totally silent track.
  • by simpl3x ( 238301 )
    You can find their music, as well as a host of others, on OHM: The Early Gurus Of Electronic Music... I'm sure that this available at your favorite place of purchase. I bought it a year or two ago.
    Uneven but pretty interesting.
  • I'm still laughing at the Stereo Review cartoon ca. 1975 with a radio announcer introducing a performance of a Stockhausen piece, performed on the original transistors, resistors and capacitors.
  • by sixpaw ( 648825 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @07:21PM (#11612621) aware that the linked-to NPR story says nothing about the Barrons being 'the first' or any such nonsense; it only calls them 'pioneers', which seems a fair claim. They do say that Forbidden Planet was the first major motion picture with an all-electronic score, which is a more plausible and defensible claim, but the line about the Barrons being first is strictly the submitter's and not NPR's.
  • There are two fine anthologies on noise & electronic music, check it out: - Hubert
  • I believe the "first" that Louis and Bebe Barron hold is that they composed the first completely electronic film score. The theremin was widely used in film previously, probably most notably in The Lost Weekend, but the biggest sensation Forbidden Planet caused, was on Vine at the AFofM offices. Bebe told us this story several years ago, and its a fascinating chapter in how the unions stifled progress and ultimately won an agreement that exclusively electronic music would be a "one time only" exception. I
  • the true origins (Score:3, Informative)

    by sklib ( 26440 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @07:31PM (#11612725)
    Ishkur's guide to electronic music [] recently added a funny but informative little section about the history of electronic music.

    The page has samples from dozens of different genres, so if you've ever wondered about the difference between goa and psy-trance, it'll help you figure it out too.
  • Does anyone have one of the first electronic music online to listen to? I wonder what they were like then back in the old days.
  • It should be noted that the article doesn't say the Barrons were the first musicians to compose electronic music, just that they were electronic music pioneers, and that Forbidden Planet was the first film to feature an all-electronic score. In fact, the article links to an earlier NPR piece about the invention of the trautonium [] in 1929, an electronic instrument that clearly predates the Barrons.
  • Not to forget... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Gleepy ( 16226 )
    The work of Jacob Markowitz at Allen Organ Company in 1939, the first electronic organ. See here [] for more. I always liked how they were using digital sampled sounds back in 1971.
  • by onetruedabe ( 116148 ) on Tuesday February 08, 2005 @07:58PM (#11613027) Homepage
    If you RTFA (or Hear it on the Radio, as the case may be) you'd know that the NPR piece claimed "Forbidden Planet" as the first FEATURE LENGTH MOVIE to feature an all-electronic score.

    As others have, and will continue to point out, electronic music is as old as electronics itself.

    (Of course, determining what you call "music" is still very subjective...)

  • We all know that Strong Bad [] is the creator of Electronic music. (Or at least great Techno...)
  • Anyone who's interested in a sampling from the history of electronic music should check out a CD set called Ohm: The early gurus of electronic music.
    Well worth the price, I think.

    Review here: html []

  • As noted above, the Theremin was invented in the early 1920s. Before that there was Thaddeus Cahill and his Teleharmonium from the 1890s. Sure - it was the size of a railroad car - but it came MANY years before, and it was completely electronic.

    And before that there was Elisha Gray's Singing Telegraph of 1876 (IIRC).

    The person who posted the article should have done a little bit of research on he subject...


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