History of electronic music: a quick rundown

Do you often enjoy listening to electronic music on the radio? Maybe you’re even wondering what some of the first electronic instruments were. Fortunately, we’re here to help you learn. Today, we’ll be taking a quick look at the history of electronic music.

The telharmonium

The first electronic instrument is called the telharmonium. It was invented in 1896 by Thaddeus Cahill. This was when the telephone was a new invention, too, and people were curious to find out what else one could do with it. Cahill wanted to be able to broadcast music through the telephone to people’s homes, restaurants, and theaters. His plan was to do this by sending electric signals via a telephone line.

The telharmonium is a massive instrument and took up the space of an entire room. The reason for this was mainly that the amplifier wasn’t invented yet. Hence, the instrument had to be big to play loud music. It was similar in size to the first computers (remember how gigantic they were?).

The theremin

The theremin is another early electronic instrument. It was patented in 1928 by Léon Theremin. This instrument is still used today. What is really cool about it is that you don’t need to touch it in order to play music. One hand determines the pitch and the other hand determines the volume. Two antennas sense where your hands are.

The theremin produces a futuristic sound that is characteristic of sci-fi music.

Musique concrète & elektronische musik

Fast forward to the 1950s when two separate, yet similar movements started in France and Germany. They are called Musique Concrète and Elektronische Musik. Composers started experimenting with electronic sounds. They sampled natural sounds, the human voice, and instruments that they used to create music montages that were more like sound art rather than regular music.

Karlheinz Stockhausen was one of the most important composers in Elektronische Musik.

These two movements are considered the forefathers of modern-day sampling. Nowadays, it’s very common to use samplers when composing. And especially when creating electronic music on a computer.

Doctor Who

In 1963, the very first electronic music signature tune for a TV series was produced in the UK for Doctor Who. If you’ve seen the modern version, you know what the melody sounds like!

There is a reason why this melody has stuck around for so long. It was a work of art when it was first produced. The synthesizer hadn’t been invented yet, so they had to craft every single note from scratch. They sped them up, slowed them down, spliced, and cut segments of analog tape that had recordings of white noise, a plucked string, and other things.

Want to learn more about the history of electronic music?

The history of electronic music is rich with interesting facts and milestones. So if you want to read more, feel free to check our brand new book on the History of Electronic Music. It’s packed with interesting information and facts, and it might just be the book for you!

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