Early Pioneers of Electronic Music

From Russolo and Stockhausen to Wendy Carlos

By Google Arts & Culture

Heiko Hoffmann (Text) + Dorothy (Visual)

A brief history of early electronic music pioneers - from Luigi Russolo and his noise generating machines in the early 20th century to Karlheinz Stockhausen's 1950s electronic compositions and Wendy Carlos' groundbreaking score for A Clockwork Orange (1971).

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Luigi Russolo

(April 30, 1885 – February 6, 1947) was an Italian Futurist artist. His 1913 manifesto The Art of Noises argues that the human ear has become accustomed to the noise of the urban industrial soundscape and that this new source of sound requires a new approach to music making. He constructed a number of noise-generating devices called Intonarumori and is considered to be the first experimental noise music artist. The 80s synth-pop group Art of Noise named themselves after his manifesto.


Luigi Russolo - Intonarumoris

Halim El-Dabh

(March 4, 1921 – September 2, 2017) was an Egyptian American composer and pioneer of electroacoustic music. In 1944 he composed one of the first works of tape music in Cairo exploring the possibilities of manipulating recorded sound. After moving to the US he became one of the most influential composers at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center combining spoken word, percussion sounds with electronic processing and making use of the center’s RCA synthesizer.


Halim El-Dab - Crossing Into The Electric Magnetic

Pierre Schaeffer

(August 14, 1910 – August 19, 1995) was a French composer and engineer. In the 1940s he developed musique concrète, a type of composition that uses recorded sounds as source material which are then modified with audio effects and tape manipulation. Schaeffer established the GRMC a platform that attracted musicians such as Pierre Henry, Edgar Varèse and Iannis Xenaxis. He was among the first musicians to use various recording and sampling techniques that are commonplace today.


Pierre Schaeffer - Études de bruits 

Karlheinz Stockhausen

(August 22, 1928 – December 5, 2007) was German composer known for his groundbreaking work in electronic music. In 1953 he started working at the Studio for Electronic Music in Cologne where he realized electronic works such as Elektronische Studien and Gesang der Jünglinge - the later also being noted for its early use of spatialization. Can’s Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt later studied with Stockhausen and musicians such as Kraftwerk and Björk cite him as an influence.


Karlheinz Stockhausen - Studie I

Raymond Scott

(born Harry Warnow; September 10, 1908 – February 8, 1998) was a US composer and inventor. In 1946 Scott established Manhattan Research manufacturing early electronic instruments such as the Clavivox and Electronium. He used these instruments in his own electronic compositions for use in tv and radio commercials. Scott’s music can be heard in hundreds of Looney Tunes cartoons, his series Soothing Sounds for Baby (1962) is an early example of electronic ambient music.


Raymond Scott - Electronic Music

Daphne Oram

(December 31, 1925 – January 5, 2003) was a British composer. In 1958 she became a co-founder of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop creating sound effects and theme music. Oram also provided electronic soundtracks for movies such as the James Bond films Dr. No and Goldfinger. Setting up her own Oramics studio she explored new production techniques including “drawn sound” transforming drawings directly onto film stock into sounds.


Daphne Oram on BBC Four

Morton Subotnick

(born April 14, 1933) is a US composer. In 1962 he co-founded the San Francisco Tape Music Center. He commissioned Don Buchla to create an electronic instrument for live performance – the Buchla 100, the first voltage controlled modular synthesizer along with The Moog. Subotnick’s best known work is Silver Apples of the Moon (1967). The album showcased the Buchla 100, its sequenced rhythms anticipating electronic dance music.


Morton Subotnick: The Mad Scientist in the Laboratory of the Ecstatic Moment

Wendy Carlos

(born Walter Carlos; November 14, 1939) is a US musician. Working at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center she also helped in the development of the Moog synthesizer. She popularized this first commercial synth through the critical and commercial success of her album Switched-On Bach (1968), followed by a pioneering ambient album Sonic Seasonings in 1972. Her scores for the movies A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Tron (1982) are considered key works in the history of electronic music.


Wendy Carlos on BBC Two

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Music Makers & Machines - Electric Love Blueprint (2021) by Dorothy

Credits: Story

Text: Heiko Hoffmann
Visual: Dorothy

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