Robert Moog at his home outside of Asheville, North Carolina, in March 1989.
These pages are addenda to a course at NYU in the history of electronic music. The course tells the stories of composers of electronic music, inventors of electronic instruments, and entrepreneurs who opened music up to new sounds, new ideas of composition, and new musical instruments between 1900 and the beginning of the 21st century. The following recordings are synchronized with class discussion.
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The Early Instruments
Clara Rockmore plays Camille Saint-Saëns' The Swan, Nadia Reisenberg, pianist.
1928. Ondes Martenot.
Genevieve Grenier performs Maurice Ravel's Pavanne for a Dead Princess.
1928. Ondes Martenot.
Genevieve Grenier performs Erik Satie's Gymnopedie.
Paul Hindemith performs his Langsames Stuck Und Rondo.
Hugh Le Caine plays George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.
Luis and Bebe Barron play Love at the Swimming Hole, number 11 from Forbidden Planet.
Luis and Bebe Barron play Giant Footprints in the Sand, number 16 from Forbidden Planet.
A few summary remarks. The theremin has remained popular because of its method of performance — i.e. waving our hands in the air — and the possible nuances in sound that can be controlled even if there are only two variables that can be controlled by a performer. For the most part, these instruments, including the theremin, were motivated by novel sounds and/or making music available to a non-exclusive and large public. Luis and Bebe Barron were exceptional because of their interest in exploring new musical possibilities with electronics.
The Great Opening Up of Music to All Sounds
Jan Williams conducts Maelstrom in performing John Cage's Imaginary Landscape #1.
Pierre Schaeffer composes Etude aux Chemin de Fer.
John Cage and David Tudor begin work on Williams Mix, then Tudor leaves and Earle Brown continues with Cage.
Karlheinz Stockhausen composes Gesang der Junglinge at the WDR studio in Cologne.
Luciano Berio composes Thema—Omaggio a Joyce, using a recitation by Cathy Berberian of Chapter 11 of James Joyce's Ulysses.
Iannis Xenakis composes Concrète PH for the Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World Fair in 1958.
Edgard Varèse composes Poème Electronique for the Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World Fair in 1958.
The Idea Spreads Out
Iannis Xenakis composes Diamorphoses in Pierre Schaeffer's studio in Paris in 1957.
John Cage records Indeterminacy with David Tudor performing in another room.
Pauline Oliveros composes Bye Bye Butterfly in a tape studio.
Steve Reich composes It's Gonna Rain in his studio in San Francisco.
Alvin Lucier performs I am Sitting in a Room.
François Bayle composes Toupie Dans Le Ciel at the GRM in Paris.
Digital technology and synthesizer concepts come together
Newman Guttman composed In the Silver Scale at Bell Labs. Max Mathews said, "It was terrible."
James Tenney composes Collage #1 (Blue Suede) at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey.
Jean-Claude Risset composes Flight & Countdown at Bell Labs as part of his Computer Suite Little Boy.
John Chowning composes Stria at CCRMA, Stanford University. This is an excerpt.
Jean-Claude Risset composes Sud based on recording the sea near Marseille.
1961. RCA Mark II Electronic Music Synthesizer.
Milton Babbitt uses the RCA Mark II to compose Vision and Prayer, sung by Bethany Beardslee, based on a poem by Dylan Thomas.
1964. RCA Mark II Electronic Music Synthesizer.
Milton Babbitt uses the RCA Mark II to compose Philomel, sung by Bethany Beardslee, based on a libretto by John Hollander..
Note: The following synthesizers are voltage-controlled.
John Eaton performs Songs for RPB with Michiko Hirayama, soprano, at the American Academy in Rome.
1966. Moog synthesizer.
Joel Chadabe performs Blues Mix, an experiment with an early Moog synthesizer, this one powered by a car battery.
1967. Buchla synthesizer.
Morton Subotnick performs Silver Apples of the Moon.
1968. Moog synthesizer.
Wendy Carlos performs Switched on Bach.
1969. Moog synthesizer.
Keith Emerson of Emerson Lake & Palmer performs Lucky Man.
1996. Emulator E-muSystems.
Billy Strayhorn's hit Take the A Train.
Process and Interaction
Note: This music, based on creating processes rather than fixed structures in composing, represents a major change in the way that music was heard and understood.
Joel Chadabe performs an excerpt from Ideas of Movement at Bolton Landing.
1972. SalMar Construction.
Salvatore Martirano improvises with the SalMar Construction.
Joel Chadabe improvises with a custom-designed Synclavier, the first commercially-available digital synthesizer.
John Cage's Birdcage was composed using the CEMS System in Albany and performed with random gestures.
1988. M (Intelligent Music), Macintosh computer, and Yamaha Rack (8 DX-7s in a rack).
Joel Chadabe performs Echoes of Brazil, a salute to Antonio Carlos Jobim's Corcovado. And this is an example of MIDI controls.
1996. Talk Is Cheap.
This Australian group of performers is Machine for Making Sense.
Music About Things
Bernie Krause recorded this in the Amazon Basin.
2006. Whales, Seagulls.
Bernie Krause recorded this in Glacier Bay.
2006. Dzanga Saline.
David Monacchi composed this based on sounds in Central African Republic.
2006. Stati d'Acqua.
David Monacchi composed this based on the sounds of the Tiber River in Italy.
2006. Phil Dadson.
Phil Dadson performs Songs of Stones.