Sunday, May 16, 2010

On the Avant Guarde and Electronic Music

I have about 1 hour before I begin my final push to begin vacation and I wanted to get this blog out because from time to time in my Twitter conversations I come across a topic that is worth posting here to the blog.

When I first got interested in synthesizers (and believe me, I love synthesizers!), I wantred to know where electronic music started, where its musical roots were. So I got this book which basically gave short essays on a number of avante guarde composers. I knew enough to believe that this was a good place to look for the musical roots of electronic music. I was right. I also had another great book (I don't have it here with me and can't recall the name or author) but it gave a beief but thorough history of synthesizers and their historical influence. What I found was that the early period of electronic music which really started with what was called "music concrete" (tape splicing, ect) was very closely tied with the musical avant guarde which was a certain branch, if yo will, of 20th century classical music. You can really follow electronic from Wagner alll the way to Karlheintz Stockhausen to provide a concrete example.

Composers such as John Cage, Karlheintz Stockhausen, Max Matthews, Oscar Sala, Pierre Shaeffer and many others came from this tradition.

One of the things that happened with synthesizers is that when Bob Moog made the Minimoog, electronic music became very accessible to popular music. Certainly the Melotron as well became to herald in a new age of electronic music and synthesizers when from the universities (probably because they were the only ones at first who could afford them) to the mainstream. Artists lke Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Richard Wright of Pink Floyd (may God rest his soul) (just to name a few) made synthesizers more accessible to the public. I also should mention Walter Carlos (Switched on Bach) which has a huge influence on the popularization of electronic music.

Now don't get me wrong, this popular influence is not a bad thing. I love Pink Floyd for the music myself although I don't like the drug connection (I deeply hate drugs), it took electronic music in another direction which moved away from being more on the cutting edge to being subordinated in many ways to the needs of the record companies and there artists who saw synthesizers as a way to sell a lot of records. The early Moog modulars and the VCS3 (which did not even have a keyboard) began to trasnition into what today dominated the market with sample based workstations which would offer the musician anything from symphonic instruments to the cliched collection of hip hop rhythms and sounds that seem to be standard on every keyboard.

So, to make a very long story short, the early experimental stage of electronic music for which great names like Karlheintz Stockhausen played such a wonderful role in, became popularized and the history became forgotten. I personally would like to see a return to the avant guarde where music becomes something we experiment with pushing envelopes. I do believe that indie music and all the new tools that are out there now like the Eigenharp and the Tenori-on and so many others that I could mention might move electronic music back to it's experimental and creative roots and perhaps, musical workstations will not longer carry a cliched set of hip hop sounds (sorry, I know that is to much to hope for).

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