Electronic Music

One of the things I'm discovering about this is how cumulative the data points are. You'd think it would be easy to pin down a technical innovation like the vacuum tube or transistor, but in reality, it isn't that simple. Each innovation is actually a combination or refinement of several previous discoveries. A question like "Who invented the modular synthesizer?" decays down to semantic hair splitting fairly rapidly.

1822-01-01 18:12:20

Babbage begins design of Difference Engine

He began in 1822 with what he called the difference engine, made to compute values of polynomial functions. Unlike similar efforts of the time, Babbage's difference engine was created to calculate a series of values automatically. By using the method of finite differences, it was possible to avoid the need for multiplication and division.

1857-01-01 01:52:59


The phonautograph, patented by Léon Scott in 1857, used a vibrating diaphragm and stylus to graphically record sound waves as tracings on sheets of paper, purely for visual analysis and without any idea of playing them back. These tracings can now be scanned and digitally converted into audible sound. Phonautograms of singing and speech made by Scott in 1860 were played back as sound for the first time in 2008. Along with a tuning fork tone and unintelligible snippets recorded as early as 1857, these are the earliest known recordings of sound.

1877-01-01 19:11:13


The phonograph, record player, or gramophone, is a device introduced in 1877 for the recording and reproduction of sound recordings. The recordings played on such a device generally consist of wavy lines that are either scratched, engraved, or grooved onto a rotating cylinder or disc. As the cylinder or disc rotates, a stylus or needle traces the wavy lines and vibrates to reproduce the recorded sound waves. Early recordings were made entirely acoustically, the sound being collected by a horn and piped to a diaphragm which vibrated the cutting stylus. Sensitivity and frequency range were poor, and frequency response was very irregular, giving acoustic recordings an instantly recognizable tonal quality. A singer practically had to put his face in the recording horn. Lower orchestral instruments such as cellos and double basses were often doubled (or replaced) by louder wind instruments, such as tubas. Standard violins in orchestral ensembles were commonly replaced by Stroh violins which became popular with recording studios. Contrary to popular belief, if placed properly and prepared-for, drums could be effectively used and heard on even the earliest jazz and military band recordings. The loudest instruments stood the farthest away from the collecting horn. Lillian Hardin Armstrong, a member of King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band that recorded at Gennett Records in 1923, remembered that at first Oliver and his young second trumpet, Louis Armstrong, stood next to each other and Oliver's horn couldn't be heard. "They put Louis about fifteen feet over in the corner, looking all sad."[9][10] For level fading instrumental parts in and out while recording, some performers were placed on a moveable platform, which could draw the performer(s) nearer or further away as required.

1897-01-01 00:00:00


Thaddeus Cahill develops the Teleharmonium, the first major electronic instrument. Before the 1920's there was no way to amplify electrical signals. So in order to hear sounds through the telephone, you had to put the receiver up to your ear. Cahill knew that if he could generate a large enough of an electrical signal, and if he stuck a cone on the telephone receiver (much like a gramophone cone) he could transmit music through the telephone that could be heard by an audience. Uses dynamos/tone wheels like the as yet un-invented Hammond. Each dynamo had to produce 12-15,000 watts of power. No surviving recordings. Weighed 200 tons. Touch sensitive keyboard. Cahil got the first patent for an electronic musical instrument entitled Art of and Apparatus for Generating and Distributing Music Electronically. 20 years before the amplifier. 1897 - patent 1898 - work began 1901 - inital fundting 1902 - leased a space in Holyoke MA 1904 - successful transmission 1906 - disassembled and moved to NYC 1908 - concerts stopped 1911 - new Telharmonium installed 1912 - new Telharmonium demoed 1914 - Telharmonic Company bankrupt

1907-11-01 00:24:30

Vacuum Tube

Although thermionic emission was originally reported in 1873 by Frederick Guthrie, it was Thomas Edison's 1884 investigation that spurred future research, the phenomenon thus becoming known as the "Edison effect". It wasn't until the early 20th century that the rectifying property of such a device was utilized, most notably by John Ambrose Fleming, who used the diode tube to detect (demodulate) radio signals.

1920-08-01 08:33:24

Leon Theremin demos the aetherphone

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1924-01-01 21:10:56

Ballet Mécanique

Used a airplane engine on stage

1926-01-17 06:24:19

Electrical Recordings

During the first half of the 1920s, engineers at Western Electric, as well as independent inventors such as Orlando Marsh, developed technology for capturing sound with a microphone, amplifying it with vacuum tubes, then using the amplified signal to drive an electromagnetic recording head. Western Electric's innovations resulted in a greatly expanded and more even frequency response, creating a dramatically fuller, clearer and more natural-sounding recording. Distant or feeble sounds that were impossible to record by the old method could now be captured. Volume was limited only by the groove spacing on the record and the limitations of the intended playback device. Victor and Columbia licensed the new system from Western Electric and began issuing electrically recorded discs in 1925.

1928-01-01 00:00:00


Léon Theremin, patents the device in 1928

1928-08-01 04:00:13

Ondes Martenot

invented in 1928

1929-01-01 17:25:36


Instead of a keyboard, its manual is made of a resistor wire over a metal plate which is pressed to create a sound. Expressive playing was possible with this wire by gliding on it, creating vibrato with small movements. Volume was controlled by the pressure of the finger on the wire and board. The first Trautoniums were marketed by Telefunken from 1933-35 (200 were made). The sounds were at first produced by neon-tube relaxation oscillators[3][4] (later, thyratrons, then transistors), which produced sawtooth-like waveforms.[5] The pitch was determined by the amount of resistive wire chosen by the performer (allowing vibrato, quarter-tones, and portamento). The oscillator output was fed into two parallel resonant filter circuits. A footpedal controlled the volume ratio of the output of the two filters, which was sent to an amplifier.

1934-01-01 00:00:00

Hammond Organ

Laurens Hammond invents the Hammond Organ, the first commercially-successful electronic instrument. In this instrument a synchronous motor drives a series of 91 tone generators of diminutive size through gears and pinions. These generators have frequencies exactly at or near those of the tempered scale. The amount of agreement and departure from this tempered scale of frequencies found in the Hammond organ have been listed in his patent No. 1,956,350. For the sake of simplification the partials for complex tones are all obtained from this series of alternators. There is some sacrifice in the precision or exactness of harmony between some of the partials due to this simplification, but this is hardly noticeable.

1935-01-01 03:57:47

First practical magnetic tape recording

Magnetic tape recording as we know it today was developed in Germany during the 1930s at BASF (then part of the chemical giant IG Farben) and AEG in cooperation with the RRG. This was based on Fritz Pfleumer's 1928 invention of paper tape with oxide powder lacquered to it. Engineers at AEG created the world's first practical magnetic tape recorder, the 'K1', and first demonstrated it in 1935. Eduard Schüller of AEG built the recorders and developed a ring shaped recording and playback head. It replaced the needle shaped head which tended to shred the tape. Friedrich Matthias of IG Farben/BASF developed the recording tape, including the oxide, the binder, and the backing material. Walter Weber, working for Hans Joachim von Braunmühl at the RRG, discovered the AC biasing technique, which radically improved sound quality.[2] During World War II, the Allies noticed that certain German officials were making radio broadcasts from multiple time zones almost simultaneously.[2] Analysts such as Richard H. Ranger believed that the broadcasts had to be transcriptions, but their audio quality was indistinguishable from that of a live broadcast[2] and their duration was far longer than was possible with 78 rpm discs. In the final stages of the war in Europe, the Allied capture of a number of German Magnetophon recorders from Radio Luxembourg aroused great interest. These recorders incorporated all of the key technological features of modern analog magnetic recording and were the basis for future developments in the field.

1938-01-01 00:15:14

Hammond Novachord

The Novachord is a gargantuan, all tube, 72 note polyphonic synthesizer with oscillators, filters, VCAs,envelope generators and even frequency dividers.

1947-01-01 04:40:57

3M Red Oxide Magnetic Tape

15kHz ƒ response @ 7.5ips 1948: Ampex 200 tape machine 1949: first commercial splicing block

1947-11-01 00:24:30

Transistor ( bipolar point-contact)

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1948-01-01 10:14:05

Musique concrète

Musique concrète (French for "real music", literally "concrete music"), which was coined by Schaeffer in 1948. etude aux chemins de fer first recorded assemblage of sounds

1951-01-01 10:14:05

Groupe de Recherche de Musique Concrète

Pierre Schaeffer founds Groupe de Recherche de Musique Concrète

1951-01-01 22:33:02


CSIR Mk 1, was Australia's first digital computer, and the fourth stored program computer in the world. It is the oldest surviving first-generation electronic computer and was the first in the world to play digital music.[

1952-01-01 04:40:57

Etude (Stockhausen)

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1952-01-01 04:40:57

Diamorphoses (Xenakis)

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1955-01-01 00:00:00

Forbidden Planet

Louis and Bebe Barron compose the Forbidden Planet film soundtrack using electronic sounds exclusively.

1957-01-01 22:33:02


MUSIC, a program written by Max Mathews in 1957

1957-11-01 00:24:30

RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer

The RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer (nicknamed Victor) was the first programmable electronic music synthesizer and the flagship piece of equipment at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. Designed by Herbert Belar and Harry Olson at RCA, it was installed at Columbia University in 1957. Consisting of a room-sized array of interconnected sound synthesis components, much of the design of the machine was contributed by Vladimir Ussachevsky and Peter Mauzey. The synthesizer was funded with a large grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.

1958-09-12 02:56:20

First Functional Integrated Circuit Demonstration

Newly employed by Texas Instruments, Kilby recorded his initial ideas concerning the integrated circuit in July 1958, successfully demonstrating the first working integrated example on 12 September 1958. In his patent application of 6 February 1959, Kilby described his new device as “a body of semiconductor material ... wherein all the components of the electronic circuit are completely integrated.” The first customer for the new invention was the US Air Force.

1961-01-01 13:52:48

Composition for Synthesizer

Milton Babbitt (RCA Mark II)

1961-12-01 00:00:00

Harold Bode introduces the idea of voltage control

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1963-01-01 13:52:48


Milton Babbitt (RCA Mark II)

1963-06-10 23:34:36

Buchla begins building devices for the SF Tape Music Center

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1964-10-01 10:14:05

Voltage-Controlled Electronic Music Modules

Moog presents Voltage Controlled Electronic Music Modules at the AES convention.

1965-01-01 00:00:00

Buchla 100 series

The original Buchla Music Box was the brainchild of Don Buchla and came from a commission by composers Ramon Sender and Morton Subotnick. First built in 1963, this synthesizer was composed of several "modules" that generated or modified a music event. Each box served a specific function: oscillator, filter, sample and hold, etc. This would have an effect on the pitch, timbre, amplitude and spatial location of the sound. The idea was to allow musicians and composers to create sounds suited to their own specifications. Previously, one had to utilize either discrete audio generators such as test oscillators or via musique concrète, recorded sounds from natural sources. Although it was a fresh and exciting idea and an excellent way to get new sounds, this was very time-consuming and arduous. The Buchla Box allowed musicians to bend and manipulate sound all in one device. This would lead to the many kinds of electronic instruments available today.

1966-01-01 00:00:00

Buchla builds a sequencer

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1967-01-01 01:52:59


GROOVE is a hybrid system that interposes a digital computer between a human composer-performer and an electronic sound synthesizer. Developed at Bell Labs by Max Mathews and F. Richard Moore. Also in 1970, Mathews and F. R. Moore developed the GROOVE (Generated Real-time Output Operations on Voltage-controlled Equipment) system,[3] a first fully developed music synthesis system for interactive composition and realtime performance, using 3C/Honeywell DDP-24 (or DDP-224) minicomputers. It equipped CRT display to simplify the management of music synthesis in realtime, 12bit D/A for realtime sound playback, interface for analog devices (may be CV/Gate interface for modular synthesizers), and even several controllers including musical keyboard, knobs and rotating joysticks, to capture realtime performance.

1968-01-01 15:06:40

Silver Apples of the Moon

Subotnick was among the first composers to work with electronic instrument designer Don Buchla. Buchla's modular voltage-controlled synthesizer, which he called the Electric Music Box.

1968-11-01 00:24:30

Switched On Bach

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1970-01-01 12:29:29

Buchla 200

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1973-09-01 01:52:59

The Synthesis of Complex Audio Spectra By Means of Frequency Modulation

John Chowning publishes paper on FM synthesis, published in the AES Journal

1974-01-01 15:06:40

Snowflakes are Dancing

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1978-01-01 03:06:49


First musical instrument with a microprocessor.

1979-01-01 00:00:00

Fairlight CMI

The digital sampler is born.

1979-01-01 12:54:44

Trapped in Convert

Richard Boulanger (Music 11) Became the first csound composition in 1986

1984-07-01 12:29:29

Sound Designer

Sound Designer was originally designed to edit sounds for samplers like the Prophet 2000, Ensoniq Mirage, Akai s900 and the E-MU Emulator sampling keyboard. Sounds would be sampled into the synth and transferred into the Mac where the user could manipulate the samples sound: EQ, amplitude, etc., as well as truncate to save memory or set loop points and then transfer back into the synth for playback. The software was originally written for editing drum samples and then burning new chips for the Linn Drum era drum machines.

1985-01-01 12:54:44


Miller Puckette originally wrote Max at IRCAM. It was first used by Philippe Manoury in 1988 to write a piano and computer piece called Pluton, which synchronized a computer to a piano and controlled a Sogitec 4X for audio processing.

1985-12-01 12:54:44

M and Jam Factory

Joel Chadabe and David Zicarelli provide a gestural environment for composing and performing with MIDI.

1986-03-01 12:54:44

Music Mouse

The "intelligentinstrument" name refers to the program's built-in knowledge of chord and scale convention and stylistic constraints. Automating these processes allows the user to focus on other aspects of the music in real time.

1990-03-01 12:54:44

Studio Vision

Studio Vision was the first-ever commercially available product integrating MIDI sequencing and digital audio editing and recording on a personal computer.

Electronic Music

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