The 19th Century saw some initial experimentation in the design of electronic instruments with varying degress of success. It was in the 20th century when things began to accelerate. One of the first electronic instruments to make a lasting impression on the industry was the Theremin, initially called the "Thereminvox" invented by Leon Theremin (an anglicised version of his Russian name Lev Sergeivitich Termen) in 1917. This has no keyboard but translates hand movement near its two antenae into sounds, so the player might appear to be waving their hands or "conducting" the music. It is a difficult instrument to master but is capable of subtle musical expression. The inventor moved to the US in 1927 for a period before returning to Russia in 1938. His promotion of the instrument kept it in the public consciousness and its unusual sounds caught the attention of composers looking to exploit those qualities in their works, particularly during the 1950s when Science Fiction film music utilised its other-worldly atmospherics. Due to renewed interest in this type of instrument it is still manufactured and available to purchase - e.g. check out the Moog Etherwave.
The Ondes Martenot was invented in 1928 by Maurice Martenot in France. This was basically a keyboard instrument but had a number of adaptations making it capable of some unusual effects such as vibrato, portamento, glissando and timbre controls. It caught the attention of some of the avant-garde classical composers of the day (including Olivier Messiaen for example) who used this instrument in some of their works. One of the foremost artists on the Ondes Martenot was the sister of its inventor, Ginette Martenot. Apart from Classical music, the Ondes Martenot still makes an occasional appearance in some pop music and Barry Gray used the instrument in some of his music for the Gerry Anderson puppet series such as Thunderbirds. Laurens Hammond developed his first Hammond Organ in 1935. Its low price allowed it to enter the mainstream, becoming a huge commercial success in the process with various versions of the instrument appearing in live music venues and in homes.
The original Moog Synthesiser appeared in 1964 but it was a huge room-sized beast with great musical potential but limited to music studios by virtue of its size. The inventor Robert Moog brought out the Mini Moog in 1970 which overcame those limitations. Since it was capable of a far richer variety of sounds than the electronic organs of the day yet still of comparable size, it became a big commercial and artistic success. The term "synthesiser" (to describe this type of musical instrument) came into general use around 1967. It consists of one or more generators (or oscillators) which create the basic signal, and then a variety of controls to modify that signal or add effects. Frequently (although not always) a keyboard is used to trigger the signal, and a variety of knobs and sliders used to configure the sound. Electronic Music and its application
Bernard Herrmann - The Day the Earth Stood Still soundtrack CD cover The creative potential of electronic instruments has attracted a great number of composers, and those composers have exploited that potential in a large number of different ways. It's perhaps unsurprising that the group of composers known as experimentalists have sought to use electronics in weird and wonderful ways. Among composers to take this route are Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage and Steve Reich, and often their approach was to find novel uses for common pieces of electronic equipment such as microphones, speakers and tape recorders. Among the regular electronic instruments, the Ondes Martenot has come particularly close to acceptance as an instrument for the concert hall. Its invention in France saw its early adoption by composers such as Olivier Messiaen, Darius Milhaut and Pierre Boulez. Increasingly however, electronic instruments are used to create recorded rather than live music.
Louis and Bebe Barron - Forbidden Planet soundtrack CD cover Film Composers initially sought to use electronic instruments for their unusual sound effects, which would help to emphasise otherworldly experiences. The Theremin was a favourite instrument in this respect. Miklos Rozsa used a Theremin in his music for the dream sequence (designed by the surrealist artist Salvadore Dali) in the Alfred Hitchcock film "Spellbound" in 1945, Dimitri Tiomkin used one on the original version of "The Thing" in 1951 and Bernard Herrmann used two Theremins on his soundtrack to The Day the Earth Stood Still also in 1951. The soundtrack to the movie "Forbidden Planet" in 1956 consisted of truly out of this world electronic effects created by Louis and Bebe Barron (a husband and wife team) using custom-built circuits. Herrmann also acted as a consultant when Oskar Sala used a Mixtur-Trautonium (an enhanced version of an instrument called the Trautonium) to create the eerie sound effects for the Hitchcock thriller "The Birds" in 1963. Similarly in television, Delia Derbyshire manipulated recorded sounds and pieced them together to create the broadcast version of Ron Grainer's theme tune for "Doctor Who" in 1963. She was the youngest member of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop which went on to create music and sound effects for this series and many other television programmes.
Electronic instruments and sounds have also been sought out by creative popular artists. Brian Wilson of "The Beach Boys" used the unique sound of the Theremin on the band's appropriately named "Good Vibrations" single. The Beatles used a Mellotron on their "Strawberry Fields Forever" and a Moog synthesiser on the track "Because" on their Abbey Road album. Pink Floyd used the ubiquitous Moog synthesisers in a number of places as did Keith Emerson of "Emerson, Lake and Palmer" on their "Lucky Man" single. Gary Numan frequently used synthesiser sounds, such as on "Cars", and other artists too numerous to mention have also followed a similar path. The Artists - Electronic Composers and Arrangers
Wendy Carlos - Switched on Bach album cover It wasn't long before a new breed of composers emerged who specialised in using electronic instruments almost exclusively. Wendy Carlos was among these early pioneers who showed what Moog Synthesisers were capable of. She produced the album "Switched On Bach" in 1969 which took Bach's music from the 18th century and gave it a 20th century spin and demonstrated the expressive potential of these instruments. Her discussions with Robert Moog about the instrument and its usability shaped the development of later versions of his synthesiser range. Carlos west on to create electronic versions of Beethoven's music in the film "A Clockwork Orange" for Stanley Kubrick in 1971. Following her lead the Japanese composer Isao Tomita also used Moog synthesisers and other electronic equipment to create superb realisations of well-known Classical works in a series of albums beginning in the 1970s, including "Snowflakes are Dancing" (1974) based on the piano music of Claude Debussy and "The Planets" (1977) based on Gustav Holst's "The Planet Suite".
Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells album cover Rather than re-visiting existing classical music, other artists created their own original music solely for electronic instruments. Mike Oldfield created his "Tubular Bells" (1973) whose title track was used on the film "The Exorcist". Jean Michel Jarre released a number of albums including "Oxygene" in 1976 and "Equinoxe" in 1978. The composer Vangelis also specialised in the creation of electronic music and released a number of albums throughout the 1970s and composed electronic soundtracks for the films "Chariots of Fire" (1981) and "BladeRunner" (1982). In Germany groups such as Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream were taking electronic music in new and different directions. Artists including Rick Wakeman occasionally of Yes, Brian Eno initially of Roxy Music, and Enya initially of Clannad have also relied heavily on electronic sounds, and synthesisers were increasingly seen not as a specialist sound but as just another instrumental texture to add to the overall sound pallet. Electronic Music Today
Electronic music has now largely moved from the analogue into the digital realm, and is frequestly recorded onto hard disk (or CD) rather than magnetic tape or vinyl. Instead of creating sounds directly using electronic circuitry, the value of every "sample" of a sound can be rapidly calculated using the power of a desktop computer. This shift from hardware to software has given electronic music even greater freedom, and has further reduced production costs and enabled many more artists to participate in the revolution. Electronic music has become mainstream now and is seemlessly integrated with acoustic recordings on film and television. Through the increasing use and manipulation of digital "samples", many software instruments can emulate orchestral instruments with increasing realism and indeed many of the pioneering synthesisers of Moog and other engineers have now been digitally recreated in software.
Popular music has been exploiting electronic instruments for many years now, and many styles rely heavily on electronic instruments. Modern Dance Music has split into a bewildering variety of genres (including "Techno", "House", and "Trance" sometimes collectively called Electronica) and many tracks from these styles are built in software using virtual instruments, with electronic effects processing. Every step from recording through to mixing and mastering is performed in the digital domain. Even the vocal line may be heavily processed electronically before the track is finalised. Sometimes this might be simply to enhance the vocals by removing any small imperfections, but at other times the voice may be altered to create an effect such as with a "vocoder". This kind of effect was also used by Wendy Carlos for the choral parts from Beethoven's 9th Symphony in "A Clockwork Orange". One thing is certain - Electronic Music is here to stay and it will continue to evolve in new directions in the years to come.
HIGH TECH SOUL is the first documentary to tackle the deep roots of techno music alongside the cultural history of Detroit, its birthplace. From the race riots of 1967 to the underground party scene of the late 1980s, Detroit's economic downturn didn't stop the invention of a new kind of music that brought international attention to its producers and their hometown.
Featuring in-depth interviews with many of the world's best exponents of the artform, High Tech Soul focuses on the creators of the genre -- Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson -- and looks at the relationships and personal struggles behind the music. Artists like Richie Hawtin, Jeff Mills, Carl Craig, Eddie Fowlkes and a host of others explain why techno, with its abrasive tones and resonating basslines, could not have come from anywhere but Detroit.
With classic anthems such as Rhythim Is Rhythim's "Strings of Life" and Inner City's "Good Life," High Tech Soul celebrates the pioneers, the promoters and the city that spawned a global phenomenon.
The film features: Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Eddie (Flashin) Fowlkes, Richie Hawtin, Jeff Mills, John Acquaviva, Carl Cox, Carl Craig, Blake Baxter, Stacey Pullen, Thomas Barnett, Matthew Dear, Anthony "Shake" Shakir, Keith Tucker, Delano Smith, Mike Archer, Derrick Thompson, Mike Clark, Alan Oldham, Laura Gavoor, Himawari, Scan 7, Kenny Larkin, Stacey "Hotwax" Hale, Claus Bachor, Electrifying Mojo, Niko Marks, Barbara Deyo, Dan Sordyl, Sam Valenti, Ron Murphy, George Baker, and Kwame Kilpatrick.
The film's soundtrack includes: Aux 88, Cybotron, Inner City, Juan Atkins, Mayday, Model 500, Plastikman, Rhythim Is Rhythim, and more.
"Bredow's cast of alumni -- the holy trinity of Atkins, May & Saunderson at the front -- fill out this tale with passion, pride and, oddly for music of the future, nostalgia too." - Dazed and Confused
"An enjoyable education into the music, the city and the main players past, present and future." -DJ Magazine
"Defines the myths and the magic of Detroit techno from its beginnings right up to how it has evolved to become High Tech Soul." -Derrick May
"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face-forever." – George Orwell, 1984
From your Detroit story I know Juan Atkins, Jeff Mills, Carl Craig, Kenny Larkin, Inner City, Model 500 and Plastikman. I liked Techno and electronic music from three American cities; Chicago, Detroit and New York.
And I remember this disco song from the first time I went to a Discotheque in 1987 as a 17 year old boy. This resembles my disco feeling. Disco balls, black light, smoke machines, green laser lights, pretty girls, Bar stools at long bars, lots of beers, sigarettes, Martini's, Cuba Libre (we Dutch call Baco; a mix of bacardi and cola.), Piña colada, rum, whiskey, wodka and other drinks. I only drank beer and smoked Lucky Strikes back then. The first song I asked for a girl I liked was this Guns 'N Roses song.
"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face-forever." – George Orwell, 1984