Are Electro-Acoustics and the Vernacular the Largets Developments in 20th Century Music? Essay
EAMMON MSETFI Contextual studies (MU314) Convenor: Tim Howle Essay 1 Denis Smalley has suggested that the two most important musical developments in the 20th Century are the domains of the ‘electro-acoustic’ and the ‘vernacular’. To what extent is his assumption correct? This piece will demonstrate an understanding of the developments in 20th century music, with a detailed view on the path and expansion of electro-acoustic technology and of the vernacular. This will also be highlighting the theoretical ideas that made these large developments possible and the technological innovations that created the foundations for both these areas.
Total serialism After composers, Wagner and Brahms, who stretched the boundaries of tonality to breaking point (Wagner notably in, Tristan & Isolde, 1857), composers wanted to experiment with new ideas. Schoenberg was the first composer to approach composition with a completely new approach, not with typical tonality but with a ‘serial method’; this was later known as ‘12 tone’ music (all 12 tones of the chromatic scale are arranged in a fixed sequence know as a ‘tone row’, all 12 tones must be used in order for the piece to progress).
Webern was soon to follow Schoenberg and became a pupil of his; he soon adopted his 12-tone method and found his own individuality within the domain. For Webern this meant a focused contrapuntal style in which every element formed complex connections, with every tone having an equal importance. Although Schoenberg consciously created the method, his connection with the tonal world was never cut. On the contrary, Webern gazed openly into the future. Early Webern pieces (prior 12-tone) it is clearly apparent the influence of Schoenberg, notably Op10 (1911-1913), where he xploited his mentors use of klangfarbenmelodie (tone-colour melody), which involved splitting a melody between multiple instruments, rather than allocating it to just one instrument, as a result, adding colour (timbre) and texture to the melodic line; the use of this method can also be seen in, Five piece string quartet (1909), The four pieces for violin & piano (1910) and The six bagatelles for string quartet (1911-1913). Schoenberg created ‘12 tone’ to control pitch, Webern extended the method to determine, dynamics, tone colour and rhythm; this was later entitled ‘total serialism’.
As an alternative of using notes to generate a melody, he used them to create a colour. Webern’s melodic lines are atomized into two or three note fragments which are presented in frequently changing tone colour and register, this idea is used in modern vernacular music, many modern jazz musicians use his ideas on tone colouration as well as many electronic composers to this day. The mathematical similarities in Webern’s ‘total serialism’ helped the progression of electronic music and synthesized music.
Many of Webern’s followers tried to extend the idea of ‘tone colour’ and the 12-tone technique to electronic music, notably Stockhausen who was greatly influenced by Webern’s serial technique. How Stockhausen’s influenced an electronic generation. Stockhausen began studying under Messaian with the influence of serialism, early pieces the influence can be seen from both, his mentor and Webern, notably in Kreuzspiel (1951), and Spiel (1952); the opening of Klavierstucke (1952) also began with firm serial principles.
Stockhausen’s progression into electronic music began with his examination of acoustical sound, always committed to reconstructing sound synthetically by means of electro-acoustic equipment. Schaeffer allowed Stockhausen to work within the music concrete group in Paris, where he mainly recorded acoustical sounds then analysed them. After this analysis he discovered the relations of vibrations within sound, this innovation lead him to the idea of synthesized sound.
After working with Schaefer his idea was not to emulate acoustic sound, but to realize the new potential of synthetic production, as a result, a completely new array of timbres can be constructed; this was not conceivable with traditional acoustic instruments. Herbert Eimert stated in his classification of notes, “the pure tone (sine-wave tone), free of overtones, which never appears in traditional music (or nature). It issues from the electronic production of sound.
The sinusoidal tone system must therefore simply be a system of virtual relationship, from which a composer can create structures in the form of series, relationships, rows and other forms of organization” (P. 122 Karl H. Worner, 1973). Stockhausen’s first electronic compositions, Studie 1 (1953) being the first piece to be composed primarily with sinusoidal waves, utilizing an sine-wave generator he was able to construct complex timbres in mathematical series (the influence of integral serialism can be seen most here).
This early experiment of what we now know as, additive synthesis was extremely influential to electronic and synthesized music. Studie 2 (1954) was very similar but the spectra of pure tones were radiated into a resonance chamber and re-recorded. The original sine waves were distorted to generate a similarity to noise occurrences. The piece Gesang der junglinge (1955) was the first piece to combine music concrete with electronic music. Stockhausen practised in this what we now would consider, subtractive synthesis.
With the use of noise generators a full frequency spectrum can be achieved, for example white noise. The frequency bands can be filtered to produce a single band of frequency or even a single note, if precisely done. Stockhausen demanded that “electronic music should really be electronic music; its character is not to be found in imitating what already exists, but in lending itself to the discovery of completely new processes and facilitating their technical realization, so that with them can be achieved a synthesis of utterly new and unknown timbres” (P. 30 Karl H. Worner 1973). Stockhausen was a critic of popular music and its dependence on repetition, which he thought, was very predictably, although his work became very influential for popular musicians. His technique was most influential on popular musicians; he was amongst the first to implicate sampling and synthesized sound to compositions, the influence can be seen in Pop, rock and jazz in the 1960s notably on the Beatles Sgt Peppers (1967) album where an extensive use of magnetic tape sampling and tape delays were used.
Many popular musicians have credited Stockhausen, his use of sampling and synthesized sound inspired a generation of popular music, where his techniques have developed. How Post-war recording technologies gave birth to electro-acoustic technology and popular music During the war, a mass demand for technology was created, Eric Hobsbawm describes this period as a “technological earthquake” (P. 41 Timothy D. Taylor, 2001); this necessity for communications technology was vital for the war effort.
Throughout this period the Germans created Magnetic tape to send coded messages, as well as to record radio broadcasts (this was later used extensively in early electro-acoustic compositions). After the Americans seized the magnetic tape technology, it was developed with higher fidelity to be used in film and radio. Reproduction technologies had an impact on the evolution of electro-acoustic equipment. Schaeffer’s piece Etude aux Chemins (1948) was one of the first electronic compositions of the 20th century, which became very influential to modern day sampling.
Corporations responsible for the creation of musical instruments in early 20th century had “no vocation for economic suicide” (p. 7 Simon Emmerson, 1986), this led to them only adjusting existing instruments, therefore it was not viable for the creation of new inventions; it was not in their best interests. “Our civilization sees itself too smugly in the mirror of history; it is no longer creating the needs which would make renewal an economic necessity” (P. 7 Simon Emmerson, 1986). h The first half of the 20 century saw considerable progression within the domains of sound reproduction tools and the sizeable escalation of the recording industries; this developed electronic technology and in turn, developed new styles of vernacular music. This technological innovation laid the foundations for new vernacular music such genres as rock, hip-hop, etc. Due to this development, where the existence relied on electronics to produce the sound, musicians started to embrace technology. This combination of science and music started to form a complex connection.
Prior to first commercially available synthesizer, created by Robert moog, much electronic works were very much based in academia and research facilities (due to sheer size and cost), this soon lead to a shift in musical culture. The synthesizer produced sound by “vibrating objects that are positioned close to one or more electrical coils, in between a light source and a photoelectric cell or in direct contact with a piezoelectric crystal” (P. 47 Hans-Joachim Braun, 2002); this creation gave composers endless opportunities from complex timbres to the imitation of acoustical instruments.
It spread from being a specialist’s use to common use in many new style of music (as can be soon today with the thousands of bedroom studies, etc. ), this was due to the drop in price of the transistor in the 1960s. This revolutionized music, many popular musicians soon adopted the creation of the synthesizer, there generally wasn’t a ‘pop’ composition that didn’t contain some sort of electronic synthesizer in the 1980s; the Moog’s use can be seen in the production of Diana Ross and the rolling stones.
It is my personal feeling that recording technology was one of the largest developments of the 20th century; it provided the foundation for electro-acoustic technology, this new found knowledge also allowed the spread of diverse cultures to different places in the world and created new vernacular music. The development of popular music Some popular music was designed to appeal to a mass market, and a number of them were supposed to be very catchy and memorable. With the advent of recording technologies and radio of early 20th century, music could be shared with the masses, and all economic backgrounds.
In 1948 the first mass produced electric guitar was released. With the advent of the electric guitar came the creation rock and roll, (which heavily relied upon an electrical source) a mixture of rhythm and blues this new music hit the market, appealing to a mass audience; “To produce sound, an electric guitar senses the vibrations of the strings electronically and routes an electronic signal to an amplifier and speaker. The sensing occurs in a magnetic pickup mounted under the strings on the guitar’s body” (P1 Marshall Brain ).
This new development gave musicians more flexibility to affect the timbre of the instrument, with such electro-acoustic modules such as fuzz wah pedals and reverb. This change allowed musicians to have more control over their sound and how it was modulated, and consequently revolutionized music. The development of electronic equipment had great effect on music, the invention of these instruments developed a new popular market; it created a non-classical vernacular music which was aimed not at just a select demographic but a widespread audience. 950s saw the creation of the first ever ‘pop’ music charts; this saw Elvis become one of the first popular global sensations. The 1960s saw the Beatles became global, heavily influenced by such electro-acoustic composers as Stockhausen, set a popular music standard of writing their own lyrics and songs. Before the Beatles many pop artists were manufactured as a face instead of raw talent, (this is now becoming more apparent in 21st century music). The creation of transistor radios helped expand popular music, an individual now could listen to the radio and their favourite songs anywhere.
With the arrival of samplers a new style of popular music was created, hip-hop was the first genre to be made with the skill of sampling, using prior popular music styles such as jazz and funk as influence, this technique was created by Stockhausen and Schaefer but with the advent of the sampler, was developed to be used in the common home. The advent of Music channels such as MTV had great influence on the promotion of popular music, giving the artist great visual appeal to the demographic. Popular music takes many influences from several genres, jazz, gospel, classical etc. ut the technological growth excelled the development of what we now as mainstream music. Conclusion To conclude, Webern’s method of total serialism had great impact on the development of electro-acoustic equipment; his ideas of tone coloration were used in the development of electronic and synthesized music, which in turn developed new vernacular music. Stockhausen with the inspiration of total serialism, influenced a whole new generation of electronic music, his use of synthesized sounds and early forms of additive and subtractive synthesis shaped the electronic music era.
All of the technological and theoretical innovations in the 20th century music helped develop electro-acoustics and vernacular, without these advances the development of the two would not have existed. It is my thought that both these are the two largest developments in 20th century music but credit should also be given to the areas, which made these changes possible. Bibliography Arnold Whittall (2003). Exploring Twentieth-Century Music. New York: Cambridge University press. 21-26. Ben Kettlewell (2001). Electronic Music Pioneers.
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