Electro-acoustic History – Theremins and moogs.

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So in my posts I am going to jump around a bit and as a result chronologically these posts probably wont make make sense. However what I am looking to cover is the broad strokes of how various developments came to be.

In that sense what II am going to delve into today is Synthesis.

The Theremin

1928 – The Theremin, patented by the Russian engineer Léon Theremin… funnily enough, was a device that while no great synthetic masterpiece was one of the first to really start breaking the box on interactive methods. Up until then people where plugging in weird instruments to weird electrical amps and getting weird results but Léon broke the mold by devising a way that a performer could interact via the two major properties of sound. Frequency and Amplitude.
Interestingly Leon was an engineer and not a performer so he sucked at playing it. I have embedded a link below to show someone who could play it. A lady by the name of Clara Rockmore. Pretty virtuoso huh… 🙂

Anyways, It is a pretty cool instrument and these days you can pick up one (or a kit) for very little. It is a fun instrument I can assure you.

 

The Moog

ah… the Moog. Arguably the most famous synth brand in the world, named after Robert Moog (pronounced “Mohg”) – although I often slip up and say it phonetically. oops
Anyway Mr Robert Moog started out making Theremins… funnily enough and then decided to get a bit more into the synthesis game.
Around the 50’s he started making the moog modular. A (possibly) gigantic room filling thing that was awesome for many reasons. The first reason (that is especially important to those who use Propellorhead’s Reason) is the idea of patching cables.

Moog_Modular_55_img1

The Moogs were giant things that sometimes filled rooms. 

The second reason – These modular synths (and others like them) Introduced discrete sections such as Generators, Filters, and Envelopes. In fact any time you look at your Soft Synth plugins within a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), you will see a layout that was standardized back in the 50’s. Pretty cool huh. 🙂

It was pretty cool and all the experimentalists loved it. Up until these modular systems you really needed an engineering degree to make electronic music and this system put the music in the hand of musicians. However there was a problem. Because of its size there was an inability to perform with it. Musicians could not take it on stage. At the same time, Electronica was a pretty new genre and people thought it was all very weird! So as a result the most common use for Electronica was Sci-Fi movies.

Now. Next time I will talk about portable synthesis and how that drove electronic music into the mainstream.

Stay Tuned…

Electro-acoustic History – Futurism

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So, one of the  great things about a formal education in electronic/electro-acoustic  music is the background history you get. Behind every filter, every synth, every piano roll is hours, days, years of experimentation in which that particular style was conceived to be the best. This EA history series will look at some of the Major contributors to synthesis, DAWs and the roots of Electronic music starting in the 20th century. Hopefully I will be able to make it interesting, unlike any history class… ever.  🙂

 

So this journey begins in the earliest moments of the 20th century. As Orchestral music hits its peak and blues and roots music starts to take… root? *facepalm*  in America. Half way across the world, a small collective of mostly visual and (a few) musical artists smoke pipes, drink a suitably cheap alchoholic beverage in great quantity and most of all, consider loftily the world which they lived in. They took note of the fact that as the Industrial Revolution took hold, the natural world is being replaced by machinery and noise, sharp edges and grime. They (being a bunch of alchoholic artists… not much has changed, right???) go on a bender one night and think outloud.. very out loudly to themselves… Why is it that the music of the day reflects a natural environment rather than the mechanical and edgy world of the industrial landscape. Then they crash their car. This has no relevance. They are just that drunk.

In some ways you could say they created the first truly “urban” music. 😉 no. Actually. You can’t. But you are welcome to think it.

What they created was well… awful. It was an instrument called the “Intonarumori”

check it out here if you like ->
http://www.thereminvox.com/article/articleview/116/1/31/

if you don’t like, (many didn’t) please sit back and use your mind to imagine this picture that I will paint with less than one thousand words.
Imagine an electric grinder, or drill, or a circular saw. (sounds lovely right?) It is next to a string strung horizontally front to back in a box (this string vibrates with sympathetic resonance when the circular saw turns. Then the string is connected to an old school horn speaker. It has a lever on the side of the box which can be set to two speeds. It sounds terrible. It was terrible. check it out here if you like, or more to the point.. you hate your ears.

Now, All aesthetic considerations aside it was a monumental moment in Electro-Acoustic music and one that should not be missed as it set up the ideas later expressed by the likes of John Cage or even Mr Bill. It is the idea that a sound can be harsh and yet be musical, it can not be derived from a string or a stretched hide and can be musical.. It can not be a specific “pitch’ AND STILL BE MUSICAL. From this we can see Electro-Acoustic music begin to define itself, especially once brilliant and slightly less “sauced” musicians start to explore the rich tapestry of sound that we now take for granted on a daily basis.

Yep. And there you go. Lesson 1 over. I hope you enjoyed my rambling recollections…

Hungee