A Brief History of Electronic Music

Raymond Scott
Raymond Scott

1992 found me studying Music Information Technology at City University under Jim Grant and Simon Emmerson. As part of my dissertation I wrote a long piece on the history of electronic music. It sat around on the old paulhazel.com for a while, but I recently revised it and updated it for my own students, and, for those who are interested in such things, I’m including it here.

I think it remains useful. It is only a brief history but it covers a lot of ground, technological, artistic and political. It finishes around the time synthesizers entered the mass-market and just before MIDI, but it goes right back to the medium’s real beginning. Contrary to what most people think, “music technology” didn’t begin in the late 1960s with Bob Moog: as far back as 1906 Thaddeus Cahill had a working polyphonic additive synthesizer that transmitted pure electronic music over a telephone network. Talk about being ahead of your time…

The Telharmonium
The Telharmonium

A Brief History of Electronic Music (372kB .pdf)

Quote of the Month

One late evening, about 10pm London time, I was sitting on the crew bus with the rest of my crew. We had just arrived home from the States on an unusual schedule: normally the flights from there come in overnight and arrive in the morning.

Anyway, it was a nasty night with drizzle and occasional heavy rain. The bus had to stop at a control point before crossing an active taxiway. As usual at that time of night the taxiways were busy, and on this particular evening we sat in the stopped bus beneath the wingtip of a 747-200!

We sat there with the airport lights shining at us through the rain, the bus wipers swishing, the traffic lights illuminating the interior, and this enormous aeroplane just next to us with its large engines humming at idle. I looked up at the cockpit but was unable to see anyone because of the dimmed lights I knew they’d be running. I thought: there are just three men sitting there listening and alert who would be flying this lovely aeroplane all night to Africa.

It was one of the most impressive visions I’ve had of the 747 and what it was like to operate it, despite all the training, walking through it and around it, and knowing in detail how it works. I just wish I could have a picture, somehow with the sound, to show you and to keep myself. Obviously I will always remember it, but the thrumming and gentle rocking of this monster almost at rest, itching to go into the night when it was given full power—oh boy! I’m glad I don’t have to do it now.

Just a memory, from me to you. Keep well please.

Edwin Hazel 1933-2009