An overview of the periods of electronic music development in the 20th and 21st centuries is essential to understand how strongly electronic music has evolved from the very beginning to the present day, and to present the significant changes in contemporary music history that have led to the most important electronic music instruments.
Music technology provides developers with new tools that sound, design, and operating principles can prompt creative solutions. With the emergence of new tools and software, the creative process itself has been also changed. For example, rhythm machines designed to simulate acoustic percussion instruments have, over time, been used to create music that is impossible for performers to play, using new compositional principles and techniques. The timbres of synthesizers, which attempt to reproduce the sound of acoustic instruments, have become characteristic of popular music, and perform a different function in their compositions than the instruments they imitate.
The first works of electronic music were created by composers H. Eimert, R. Byer, physicist W. Meyer-Eppler and sound engineer F. Enkel at the Cologne Radio Studio in the early 1960s. A little later in this studio some different sounds were created by K. Stockhausen.
The origins of electronic music can be traced back to the work of Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz (1821–1894), author of the German physicist, mathematician, and author of the TON SENSATIONS: Psychological Foundations of Music Theory (1860). Helmholtz built an electronically controlled machine called a Helmholtz resonator to analyze the tonal combinations used by electromagnetically vibrating metal rods and glass or metal resonant spheres, so that the machine can be used to analyze the constituent tones that make up complex natural sounds. Helmholtz was concerned only with the scientific analysis of sound and was not interested in the direct possibilities of the art of music.
Theoretical musical ideas of Helmholtz were tried practically by the Italian composer and pianist Ferruccio Busoni, who wrote an influential essay A Sketch of the Aesthetics of New Music, inspired by the Thaddeus Cahillo Telharmonium.
The First Musical Instruments
In 1897, when even cars were rare things, Thaddeus Cahill came up with the idea to register his first instrument. The purpose of this instrument was to broadcast music to homes, restaurants, hotels over telephone lines so that people could listen to it on the handset. Thus, in 1906, the first electromechanical instrument called the Telharmonium appeared.
The first electronic instruments, built between 1870 and 1915, used a variety of sound extraction techniques. One of them were rotors that were metal discs rotating in a magnetic field, causing fluctuations in the electrical signal, an electronic spark causing direct air fluctuations (uniquely used in William Duddell’s Singing Arc in 1899). Another instrument was Elisho Gray’s self-oscillating electromagnetic current, a derivative discovery in the development of telephone technology. The rotors ‘survived’ until the 1950s, when the Hammond organ was constructed, but experiments with self-fluctuating electric current and electric sparks were discontinued with the advent of vacuum lamp technology.