Electronic Sound

Electronic Sound

Even 100 Years History of Electronic Instruments
before the turn of the century, when the electronic age was still in its
infancy, the first attempts to generate sound from electricity had begun.

By 1901, Thaddeus Cadhill had already manufactured the Telharmonium, an
electric organ, powered by dynamos and designed to send sound down telephone
lines. The Telharmonium proved to be the first of several forward-thinking
electronic instruments to be developed in the early part of the century,
the most important of which was the Theramin.

Named after its Russian inventor Leon Theramin
and consisting of a box with two ariels sticking out to control volume
and pitch, the Theramin was the favorite instrument of Russian revolutionary
leader Lenin. It was also manufactured for a short time in the United

States, and although Theramin\'s ideas proved too progressive for the American
public, they would later inspire Robert Moog to develop his first synths.

Other electronic instruments, like the
rautonium, the Odnes Martenot and the first mass-market electronic instrument,
the Hammond Organ, continued to pop up through the 20\'s and 30\'s.

It was with the arrival of magnetic tape, developed around the same period
and perfected during World War II, that the next major innovation in electronic
music occurred, as the use of found-sound opened a new world of musical
possibilities. Steve Reich experimented with manipulating tape to
affect pitch or speed. Although tape editing was a difficult process
that involved physically cutting and splicing the different sections together,
tape continued to be used by anyone wishing to manipulate recorded sound
until samplers were introduced in the 1980s.

At the same time as tape was being used
to unlock the world of found-sound, the development of electronically generated
or synthesized sound was continuing apace. American Hugh Le Caine
developed a proto-type synth (short for synthesizer) with his \'electronic
sackbut\' in 1948. The room-sized RCA synthesizer was active throughout
the 50\'s and others continued to work on the idea of electronic synthesis.

Finally, in the early 60\'s Robert Moog expanded the idea of the Theramin
into what would become the first ever commercially available synth, the

Moog. The first synth\'s were clumsy modular systems the size of sideboards
and changing sound on them meant negotiating a mass of wires or \'patch-chords\'.

However, they did allow users to sculpt their own sounds and provided the
blue print for every synth that had come after.

From the late 60\'s onwards, electronic
instruments, effects and production techniques became an increasingly familiar
feature of popular music. The arrival of psychedelic rock had a big
impact. Artists like The Beatles and the Beach Boys experimented
with tape loops, over-dubs and other studio trickery. Others like

Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd fed guitars through layers of
effects to create powerful, strange and fiercly electronic new sounds.

At the same time as electronic sound was
being incorporated into a traditional rock blueprint, others were using
similar technology to create radically different forms of music.

Perhaps the most obvious example are the German bands Can, Kraftwerk and

Tangerine Dream. These bands blended the futurism of their avante
garde classical backgrounds with a pop aesthetic for incredible results.

Kraftwerk in particular must go down as perhaps the single-most influential
act in the history of dance music. Techno visionaries who used modified
synths, Kraftwerk self-designed sequencers and improved drum pads to create
a radical sound that spawned a string of US dancefloor hits throughout
the 70\'s and early 80\'s.

Important and certainly commercially successful
pioneers were the many funk and soul artists to notice the potential of
electronic sound at an early stage. Stevie Wonder was an early Moog
client, while George Clinton\'s P-Funk mob used synths and outboard effects
to add weight to their bass-lines and create unusual dancefloor sounds.

With a space-age sound to match their sci-fi image, P-Funk laid-out a blueprint
that would be picked up by generations of dance producers.

The release of the Sequential Circuits

Prophet 5 in 1978 saw the next big step in synth design since the Mini-Moog.

It offered polyphonic sound, which meant that you could play more than
one note at a time. It was the beginning of a particularly fertile
period in the growth of electronic music technology, with samplers, digital
synths, sequencers and programmable drum machines all becoming commercially
available within the next few years. Midi became a standard in 1983
and companies like EMU, Roland, Akai and Ensoniq took over the market.

The new technology became affordable to musicians and producers working
on a budget. When the first Fairlight samplers were sold in 1978
they were priced at $25,000, in 1981 EMU\'s Emulator 1 was selling for $10,000
and by 1985 the Ensoniq