Electronic Music

This lesson describes the term “electronic music” and gives examples of different instruments, styles and artists that fall under this umbrella. We will also look at how technology has affected music production in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

What is electronic music and how does it work?

Electronic music is ubiquitous in twenty-first century America. It can be seen at multi-day festivals such as the Electric Daisy Carnival, on top 40 radio and in a variety of advertisements. Electronic music has a long and complicated history, ranging from obscure avant-garde experimental music to glittering disco ballrooms.

Electronic music is, as the name suggests, music created using electronic instruments. Electronic music is better understood in comparison to acoustic or traditional music categories such as classical, jazz or folk music. However, in the twenty-first century, it can be difficult to distinguish between electronic and non-electronic music, as musical styles such as classical, jazz, and folk are often recorded using digital technology, amplified with microphones, and transmitted via the Internet.

With this in mind, we can see how electronic music emerged from the extraordinary revolutions in computers, electronics and digital technology that occurred in the 20th century. Pioneering architects, inventors and musicians designed devices that could create music in previously unimaginable forms during the 20th century.

Electronic music from the beginning

Leon Theremin, a Russian guitarist and inventor, invented the theremin in 1920. When a musician moves his hands around the theremin, electromagnetic fields are generated that produce sounds of different pitches. Theremins produce a loud, rolling sound that was popularized in horror and science fiction films in the 1950s.

Several inventors worked on various models of what would become synthetics during the 1930s and 1940s. These electronic instruments were designed to imitate the sound of organs and other traditional instruments, but they quickly became recognized as distinct musical instruments in their own right. During the 1940s, the avant-garde music movement known as musique concréte used electronic instruments in a way that influenced later forms of electronic music.

Bruce Haack, a highly imaginative Canadian musician who performed many times on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood TV with its various sets in the 1950s and 1960s, began creating electronic music originally intended for children. Robert Moog began creating his popular line of synthesizers in the 1960s, and they would revolutionize the world of electronic music. Today, Moog synthesizers are still in use.

The beginning of disco and music machines

Electronic music experienced an explosion of innovation, technological development and success beginning in the late 1960s. In many ways, this era of progress will parallel technological advances in other technological fields, such as personal computers and video games. Giorgio Moroder, an Italian-born musician, became a key figure in the development of electronic dance music, particularly the Italo disco subgenre, after moving to Germany. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Germany was a hotbed of musical experimentation, especially in electronic music. Groups used synthesizers and other electronic instruments including Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, May and Suicide to transform rock music into new forms, encouraging many people around the world to experiment with electronic music.