Electroacoustic music

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The terms Electroacoustics and its sub-discipline Electroacoustic music have been used to describe several different sonic and musical genres or musical techniques.


Many date the formal birth of electroacoustic music to the late 1940s and early 1950s, and in particular to the work of two groups of composers whose aesthetic orientations were radically opposed. The Musique concrète group was centered in Paris and was pioneered by Pierre Schaeffer; their music was based on the juxtaposition and transformation of natural sounds (meaning real, recorded sounds, not necessarily those made by natural forces) recorded to tape or disc. In Cologne, elektronische Musik, pioneered in 1949–51 by the composer Herbert Eimert and the physicist Werner Meyer-Eppler, was based solely on electronically generated (synthetic) sounds, particularly sine waves. The precise control afforded by the studio allowed for what Eimert considered to be an electronic extension and perfection of serialism; in the studio, serial operations could be applied to elements such as timbre and dynamics. The common link between the two schools is that the music is recorded and performed through loudspeakers, without a human performer. While serialism has been largely abandoned in electroacoustic circles, the majority of electroacoustic pieces use a combination of recorded sound and synthesized or processed sounds, and the schism between Schaeffer's and Eimert's approaches has been overcome, the first major example being Karlheinz Stockhausen's Gesang der Jünglinge of 1955–56.

Isolated examples of the use of electroacoustic and prerecorded music exist that predate Schaeffer’s first experiments in 1948. Ottorino Respighi used an (acoustical) phonograph recording of a nightingale’s song in his orchestral work The Pines of Rome in 1924, before the introduction of electrical record players; experimental filmmaker Walter Ruttmann created Weekend, a sound collage on an optical soundtrack in 1930; and John Cage used phonograph recordings of test tones mixed with live instruments in Imaginary Landscape no. 1 (1939), among other examples. In the first half of the Twentieth Century, a number of writers also advocated the use of electronic sound sources for composition, notably Ferruccio Busoni, Luigi Russolo, and Edgard Varèse, and electronic performing instruments were invented, such as the Theremin in 1919, and the Ondes Martenot in 1928.

Composers, studios, events[edit]

Further notable electroacoustic-music composers


National associations[edit]

  • GRMGroupe de recherches musicales / Musical Research Group, based in the National Audiovisual Institute (INA) (Paris)
  • CEC — Canadian Electroacoustic Community / Communauté électroacoustique canadienne
  • SAN — Sonic Arts Network is a UK-based organisation that promotes and explores the art of sound
  • SEAMA — The Society for Electroacoustic Music in Australasia
  • HELMCA – Hellenic Electroacoustic Music Composers Association
  • SEAMS — Society for Electro Acoustic Music in Sweden
  • SEAMUS — Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States
  • DEGEM — German Association of Electro-Acoustic Music

Other institutions[edit]

  • IRCAMInstitut de recherche et coordination acoustique/musique / Acoustic/Music Research and Coordination Institute (Paris)
  • CECH — Electroacoustic Community of Chile
  • empreintes DIGITALes — Montréal-based label for recordings of musique concrète, acousmatic music, electroacoustic music
  • EMS — Electroacoustic Music in Sweden
  • Musiques & Recherches — Belgian association dedicated to the development of electroacoustic music
  • CCRMA — Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (Stanford CA USA)




  • International Electronic Music Catalog, ed. Hugh Davies, Paris: Le Groupe de Recherches Musicales de l'O.R.T.F. (GRM), and New York: Independent Electronic Music Center, 1967, xxx+330 pp, IA. Special issue of Electronic Music Review 2/3, Apr/July 1967. (English),(French)
  • Enore Zaffiri, Due scuole di musica elettronica in Italia, Milan: Silva, 1968, 137 pp. (Italian)
  • Peter Manning, Electronic and Computer Music, New York: Oxford University Press, 1985, 291+[8] pp; 2nd ed., 1993, viii+399 pp; rev. & exp. ed., 2004, x+474 pp; 4th ed., 2013, xii+543 pp.
  • Marietta Morawska-Büngeler, Schwingende Elektronen: Eine Dokumentation über das Studio für Elektronische Musik des Westdeutschen Rundfunk in Köln 1951-1986, Cologne-Rodenkirchen: P. J. Tonger Musikverlag, 1988, 160+[24] pp. (German)
  • Robin Julian Heifetz (ed.), On the Wires of Our Nerves: The Art of Electroacoustic Music, Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1989, OL.
  • Thomas Licata (ed.), Electroacoustic Music: Analytical Perspectives, forew. Jean-Claude Risset, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002, xxiv+242 pp. TOC.
  • Kees Tazelaar, On the Threshold of Beauty: Philips and the Origins of Electronic Music in the Netherlands, 1925-1965, Rotterdam: V2_, 2013, 316 pp; rev ed., Rotterdam: V2_, 2020, 314 pp.
  • Rüdiger Esch, Electri_City: elektronische Musik aus Düsseldorf 1970-1986, Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2014, 459 pp. Publisher. (German)
    • Electri_City: The Düsseldorf School of Electronic Music, trans. Rudi Esch with Rob Keane, London: Overlook Press, 2016, 415 pp. Publisher.
  • François J. Bonnet, Bartolomé Sanson (eds.), Spectres: Composer l'écoute / Composing Listening, Rennes: Shelter Press, 2019, 228 pp. [7] [8] [9] (French),(English)
  • Jøran Rudi, Elektrisk lyd i Norge fra 1930 til 2005, Oslo: Novus, 2019, 299 pp. [10] (Norwegian)


  • E. Ungeheuer, "Wie die elektronische Musik “erfunden” wurde…: Quellenstudie zu Werner Meyer-Epplers musikalische Entwurf zwischen 1949 und 1953", Kölner Schriften zur Neuen Musik 2, eds. Johannes Fritsch and Dieter Kämper, Mainz: B. Schott’s Söhne, 1992. (German)


See also[edit]