Electronic and Computer Music

Electronic and Computer Music

Electronic and Computer Music

Electronic and Computer Music

Synopsis

This is a revised and expanded edition of Peter Manning's classic introduction to electronic and computer music, dealing with the development of electronic and computer music from its birth to the present day. After an introductory chapter concerned with the antecedents of electronic music from the turn of the century to the Second World War, the book continues with the birth and development of the early "classical" studios of the 1950s, examined both in terms of their design philosophy and also their compositional output. A chapter devoted to the characteristics of voltage control technology leads to a study of the subsequent upsurge of creative activity, considered under three headings: tape works, live electronic music, and the early use of electronics in rock and pop music. Attention is then turned to the sphere of computer music and its evolution from the early experiments with large commercial computers to the advanced music workstations of today. This section has been significantly expanded from the first edition to take account of the rapid development of this technology since the early 1980s, in particular the introduction of MIDI and the increasing use of the personal computer as a music tool. A bibliography and an extensive discography are included. The primary objective throughout is to provide the reader with a critical perspective of the medium both in terms of its musical output and the philosophical and technical features which have shaped its growth.

Excerpt

Buried amongst the records of the United States patent office for the year 1897 is a rather unusual entry, no. 580.035, registered in the name of Thaddeus Cahill. The invention described has long since passed into obscurity, but in several respects it was to prove as significant a landmark for electronic music as the more celebrated phonograph patents of Edison and Berliner registered some twenty years previously.

Cahill's entry described an electrically based sound-generation system, subsequently known as his Dynamophone or Telharmonium, the first fully developed model being presented to the public early in 1906 at Holyoke, Massachusetts. As the former title suggests, the machine was essentially a modified electrical dynamo, employing a number of specially geared shafts and associated inductors to produce alternating currents of different audio frequencies. These signals passed via a polyphonic keyboard and associated bank of controls to a series of telephone receivers fitted with special acoustic horns.

The Dynamophone was a formidable construction, about 200 tons in weight and some 60 feet in length, assuming the proportions of a power-station generator. The quoted cost, some $200 000, provides another startling statistic. For all its excessive proportions and eccentricities the machine offered sound-production features which were both new and flexible to a degree not to be emulated by subsequent designs for some considerable time. Cahill saw his invention not merely as a substitute for a conventional keyboard instrument but as a powerful tool for exploring an enlarged world of pitched sounds, where it would become possible 'to produce the notes and chords of a musical composition with any timbre desired out of their electrical elements'. This claim highlighted the ability of the performer to vary the musical quality of the selected sounds in terms of the relative strengths of each of the primary harmonics associated with a particular note. Such a facility necessitated the use of separate inductors for each overtone, adding greatly to the complexity of the system.

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