Contemporary Music and the Journey of EDM



In late 1800s to early 1900s there was a significant shift in aural culture and awareness, there was a social reform taking place. People were beginning to question the world around them and no longer accepting conformities set upon them, such as the twelve notes to an octave system that was the notation that underpinned classical music. Musicians appeared to be frustrated with the structured musical code of communication that would be the language spoken between an orchestra and composers.

In 1907 the pianist-composer Ferruccio Busoni would publicly express his frustration of the structured codes of music theory and released an essay called Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music. Busoni was aware that society was conditioned to only accept what they were taught in musical notation as correct and anything other was classed as incorrect. He was frustrated with the limitations of the twelve notes to an octave tuning system and could see that there was an opportunity that new technology could expand on the notation and improve this system, bringing new possibilities to the music world.
Composer Arnold Schoenburg wrote a piece which consisted of a single chord only changing in timbre and colouration. He was challenging this musical structure, that so many had followed for hundreds of years.
In 1913 Luigi Russolo created a composition consisting of sounds that were excluded from musical tradition and called it The Art of Noise. Russolo was challenging the sonic awareness of his listeners and opening up new possibilities of what would later become called Music Concrete, Sonic Art, Art Design, Electro Music, and Sound Design.


It is recorded that as early as 1916 Edgard Varsese the french Composer would express his desire for new musical mediums. He was looking for new sound textures that could not be replicated through the acoustic instruments of his time. It wasn’t until late 1950s that Varsese obtained exactly what he was looking for which would create a path for Brian Eno, Jean Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, Apex Twin, Auchetre and the more popular Orbital, KLF, Daft Punk, Zero 7, Air and many other contemporary musicians to expand on his techniques.

In the late 1893 Tesla acquired a patent for his alternating currents and Eddison created direct current, this era was known as the battle of the currents. Without the creation and accessibility that we have to electricity today, many of Daphne Orams, echnologies and new inventions would have failed to take place.

In 1895 Guglielmo Marconi first used his system The Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company which later became what we now call the radio. In 1962 Daphne Oram received a grant to build her oscillator machine which she called the Oramics machine, this was one of the building blocks in what today we call synthesisers and digital pianos.


The development and progress of these technologies has given todays musicians the tools and freedom to create any sound their ears can image. There are so many new sounds, electronic instruments, sound production programs and apps to choose from. Sounds and music can now be disseminated, processed and manipulated. This new technological approach to music is still so new and unguided, the rules are being written as the situations presents itself to the environment.


It is an exciting time to be a musician, programmer or sound artists but at the same time very daunting. They are the ones doing this for the first time, so should they be responsible for creating documentation and guidelines for future contemporary musicians to follow.


There was a time in history when music was ephemeral, a moment in time that could not be repeated. Almost all of the instruments used were acoustic, there were however, a few instrumental designers creating very original and unique instruments.
In the 16th Century in Italy a man called Don Nicola Vicentino built the Archicembalo, this was a Harpsichord with thirty one tones to an octave and six banks of keys.
In 1759 Jean Baptiste De La Borde developed the Clavencin Electrique in Paris. This instrument was similar to a keyboard, it consisted of suspended bells which were struck by clappers charged with static electricity.
In 1918 the Russian Composer Nikolay Obukhov created an instrument called Ether, in theory this instrument was capable of producing five octaves above and five octaves below the audible frequency range.
As far back as the twenty seventh century B.C there were technological advancements being made when China devised the tuning of the pentatonic and chromatic scales.

One of the biggest advancements to contemporary music has been developing the ability to transmit and record music. The earliest recordable device was invented in 1877 by Elisha Gray and Graham Bell this was to be called the Telephone Transmitter. A frenchman called Charles Cros invented a


similar device to the Phonograph slightly earlier than the recorded 1877, although Eddison would later become the known inventor for this device.
In 1887 Emile Berliner patented the Phonograph system and renamed it The Gramophone. In the earlier years records were made with Shellac but in 1943 they began to produce them in Polyvinyl Chloride which is what we now call PVC, and still today they are being manufactured in PVC.

There is trend that is growing in popularity at the moment where DJs are requesting music in record form. Most of the record pressing companies have closed down but recently there was an article written for PRS publication where there is a back log of records waiting for press because the request for records has increased dramatically.

Thadeus Cahill invented an electrical instrument in 1899 that had the ability to transmit the music it played, this was called Telharmonium. By 1901 the Telharmonium was transmitting its music via telephone lines throughout Washington D.C. In 1907 The Telharmonium Hall was set up on 39th Street, Broadway, New York and it began to transmit concerts through external loud speakers and also transmitted through the telephone wire to hotels, homes, and other live establishments. This was to become the beginning of telephone and also radio transmission.

It wasn’t until 1933 that FM radio transmission became possible.

In Denmark 1898 Valdemar Poulsen invented something very similar to the Telephone Transmitter this was a device which recorded sound magnetically onto a steel wire. In 1903 Poulsen began marketing his device, it gained interest from magazines such as Scientific America, The Electrician, and Annalen der Physik. but failed to become popular due its ugly exterior, its difficulty in use and the expense. In 1900 at The Worlds Fair in Paris Poulsen recorded Emperor Franz Josef of Austria


on his device, this is believed to be the oldest surviving magnetic recording in existence. In 1935 AEG had developed an improved design on the tape which they presented to the market called Magnetophone. It was the first example of plastic tape which was lighter and cheaper than steel tape but unfortunately it was floored in its design and created dust clouds as it was recording. A company called 3M had developed and improved the design and they were coating the tape with red oxide. In 1948 the company 3M began distribution of the new Ampex 200 tape machine. This machine became very popular and was easy to use and affordable. In 1949 two major advancements in relation to recordable music took place, Magnecord presented the first stereo tape machine, and the first commercial splicing block became available to market.

In the late 1950s Daphne Oram took a job as a junior programmer engineer for the BBC. At night she would create an Electronic Music Studio where she would compose, she created a composition called Amphitryon 38 which was described as distinguished Music Concrete. At the BBC she worked on what she called Oramics. Oram was composing electronic music by drawing graphs, the same as musicians do with computer sequencers today. In her compositions she was using basil electronic oscillators.

In the early 1950s to 80s electronic music audiences consisted of academics and people who were practicing this new style of musical sounds. It was thought that it was only for the elite, academics and intellectual communities. One of the first popular bands to bring new technology and electronic music into the world of contemporary music was The Beach Boys on their album pet Sounds in 1966 by using Synthesisers and Oscillators similar to the one created by Daphne Oram.

By the mid 1960s you could multi track compositions, cut and splice recordable tape, pitch shift, and manipulate sounds, create sounds and draw sounds with Oscillators. Keyboards and Organs


had been developed and a few effect machines for vocals and guitars, these were basic effects such as reverb and echo.
In 1974 a group called Tangerine Dream released an album Phaedra, they were using Sequencers and Synthesisers. It was one of the most important electronic compilations of its time, gaining the attention of the non academic circles. electronic music was beginning to become popular.

In the early 1980s Keyboards and Synths were being designed smaller and lighter making them more portable, this helped in the popularity of electronic dance music EDM and underground dance clubs and raves began emerging. Sequencers and Samplers were becoming more main stream and you could hear the influence of these machines in popular music from 1980s onwards. The repetition of the same sound, sometimes played as part of the rhythm. Samplers gave the tools to producers that enabled them to use parts of other songs and create new compositions from them, with a Sampler you could time stretch and pitch shift anything that you sampled. A classic song of its time to demonstrate this technique would be 19 Paul Hardcastle 1985.
With this new technology came some legal issues, producers were using vocal samples, other songs, other artists material to create their own and the registered songwriters were not receiving payment for the use. PRS and other music licensing companies finally became involved and the guidelines of reproduction royalties were put into place.

Since the invention of the records there have been many recordable sound devices and forms invented. In 1948 we were presented with the improved plastic tape, tape recorder with a frequency response 50-10,000khz and 10db. In 1982 came the compact Disk with 20Hz-20khz freq. response 0.5db it was crystal clear sound quality compared to analog tape and record but proved a test to keep them from scratching. The introduction to CD created a decline in sales for tape in 1989 and


production on taped music slowly stopped. In 1989 the digital revolution took place and we were presented with the Digital Audio Tape DAT player with 48khz frequency response, it was high sound quality and had a robust casing, this made the DAT the perfect tool to use for gigging artists and producers. not long after the DAT came the Magneto Optical Disk MD with 20-20,000 hz and +3db the sound quality was amazing, although the casing on the MD was not as robust as DAT and MD was soon taken over by the MP3. MP3 is still one of the most popular forms of reproducing and copying music today. Even though MP3 is of high sound quality when music is played via MP3 it is mainly played through an iPad, Ipod, Computer, Phone or blue tooth speaker, through these devices sound quality is lost and you do not experience the full stereo and production of the composition. It is a great invention that you can store 20,000 songs onto one device but here is a fear that sound systems are becoming smaller and sound quality is lost. In the era of Record Sleeves and Cd cases contemporary musicians would create exciting creative artwork for their sleeves and covers. Many people would buy the album for this reason alone.


It is without doubt that the advancement of music reproduction throughout the years moving from records through to MP3 has had significant effects on contemporary music. It has helped many musicians become popular, but it has also helped with the collapse of record sales and many record companies closing down. In early 1900s there was a boom in popular music production and a law was set up so that the publishers and musicians would receive royalties for their compositions reproduction and transmission.


It is very easy in todays social networking culture to be able to share an MP3 or a youtube video via the numerous social networking sites available to us, but the musician and composition will not receive royalties when its played. Recently Youtube and the governing music societies such as MCPS and PRS has organised a payment scheme to the musicians for plays via youtube. Before the Internet, iTunes, Napster and Youtube musicians would receive a large quantity from the sale of their album price, but now they will sell a 10th of the record sales expected before the invention of the Internet and receive .020% instead of 20%. The main income for a musician in todays climate will be from concerts and merchandise.

The invention and development of the computer has had an influence on how contemporary music is produced today. In early 1960s musicians and songwriters would rely on a producer, band members and a studio to enable them to create their compositions but in the late 80s early 90s this was about to change. Steinburg created music production software called Cubase that was compatible with Atari even though the software was expensive the Atari was affordable and most teenagers owned one. The Cubase software enable you to record analog sounds, connect midi, samplers, and sequencers, you could cut, paste, edit, effect any sound on this software. Music production software has continued to progress, we can now use computers, laptops, smart phones and ipads with apps and many other editing software packages to edit music on the move. This new technology opened up the possibility of making music to the non musician. There were young and old people everywhere creating music in their homes and bedrooms. The accessibility of this technology allowed many groups of young people come together to create music within their communities, and gave them a positive focus . Community Music Groups and Government Music Programs were being set up such as New Deal for Musicians which was a program created by Labour party to help young people develop their music skills.


The word wide web has opened up possibilities of collaboration, learning tools, open source projects, forums, and groups to share and exchange knowledge and interests, some of these groups and forums are creating movements within themselves.

The influence of technology in contemporary music can be heard in every genre of music you hear. Every sound you hear can be recorded, manipulated, dissected and effected, you can even create sounds with only software and no instruments. Making music today requires the musician to be able to use many music production programs, play many instruments, be computer literate, and have the ability to market their music via social networking sites.

The contemporary music that is transmitted via radio, tv or social networking sites has no social, cultural, or aural constraints set upon it. It is very different to what would have been allowed to be transmitted back in the early 1900s.





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