Vol. 8: Material Culture and Electronic Sound

WE INHABIT a sound world radically distinct from that of our forebears. .The instruments and devices we use to originate, record, and reproduce music have changed what we hear and how we hear it, to the extent that what counts as music now effectively knows no sonic bounds. Both the forms of music and where we can expect to hear it have been transformed. This is a fundamental revolu­tion that can be traced to the specific forms of musical instruments and audio devices. The Artefacts series is devoted to research into the material culture of science, technol­ogy, and medicine. Music is an especially potent subject for the series because the cultural product-the music we hear-has been so dramatically affected by technology. Accord­ingly, the chapters that follow have a particular focus on the instruments and devices themselves; using examples from museum collections, the authors investigate questions about the relationship between the specific forms of musical instruments-and other devices implicated in its production and distribution-and the musical possibilities actu­alized by performers. The chapters also demonstrate how close examination of objects and detailed attention to museum collections can pose new questions and encourage new perspectives.

Musicology and the history of technology have often been perceived as separate fields. However, there has been an increased interest within both disciplines in study­ing the relationship between music and technology, and in particular the relationship between music and the development of electronic musical instruments and devices. In addition to some broader works,[1] a number of monographs has also been published.[2] To varying degrees, these works have been preoccupied with objects as material expressions of human culture. But there is still a real need for studies that go beyond strict technical descriptions on the one hand and an overly broad social history on the other. Here we aim to make a distinctive museological contribution, joining Trevor Pinch and Karin new territory of "Sound Studies," which they eloquently laid out in 2004.[3] The chapters in this volume focus on the musical instruments and devices them­selves (their origin, mode of operation, use, reception, and so on), so as to communicate new insights about the relationship between music and technology, and also to map social and cultural change in a broader perspective.

Much of the revolution that has occurred in music since the turn of the twentieth century has been related to the application of electricity and electronics. This volume's major concern is the extent to which this marks a distinct phase in the development of music, or whether the application of these new technologies has merely exaggerated exist­ing tendencies or simply multiplied musical choices for both performers and listeners. The chapters in this volume show that in music, as in all areas of culture, there is conti­nuity as well as change, and electronics may not have been the first means to a particular sonic effect. In particular, Aleksander Kolkowski and Alison Rabinovici in their detailed exploration of Parsons and Short's Auxetophone show not only how amplification ante­dated the electronic valve but also how its application prefigured some later debates. In a counterfactual world, would Bob Dylan's adoption of compressed air amplification have been as scandalous as his "going electric"? Quite possibly. The power of this chapter is to show that those intent on illuminating the interaction of culture and technology should be wary of assigning simple cause and effect. Equally, the interactions between old and new technologies provide rich ground for new work that illuminates these same relations. Katy Price demonstrates how artifacts used in performances can enrich audi­ence awareness of the history of technology. By analyzing the use of Stroh instruments, a pianola, and an iPhone in two different performances, she also illuminates whether the application of electronics does mark a distinct phase in the development of music. In counterpoint to Brian Eno's point in our foreword, where he argues that electricity has changed music "in every sense except for the fact that it enters your sensorium via your ears," Price's chapter suggests that the transition has not been linear, but rather should be understood as complex and multifactorial.

The slow revolution that has transformed music undoubtedly seems profound to us because we are living through its cultural consequences. This is clear with wholly electronic musical genres such as techno and electro pop. Other kinds of music have been stamped more tangentially, but nonetheless significantly; it is impossible to imag­ine dub reggae without the use of tape echo, for example. But this electronic revolution is not the only transformation in the history of music to be linked to the emergence of new instrumentation; both the efflorescence of the Baroque period and the stabi­lization of the symphony orchestra, for example, qualify to be considered similarly revolutionary.

For all that instrumental and musical novelty is much older than the electronic valve and transistor, there is scarcely a type of music that has not been affected by electronics, including the ostensibly least electronic of musical forms, the "classical" concert--even where amplification is not used, its audience reach is enormously extended by broadcasts that today rely on microphones, microelectronics, and analog-to-digital conversion. Recording allows for repeated listening and thereby enables new kinds of discernment. Technology may also suggest new compositional technique, as is clear in the example of contemporary classical composer Steve Reich, in which phase shifting commenced with tape pieces such as It's Gonna Rain (1965), was transferred to human performers in Piano Phase (1967) and on into the fabric of much of his later work, which for many years eschewed electronic means.[4] In general, there has been a technologization of music, including "classical music," or at least a shifting of its specific cultural form under the influence of technology.

An enduring theme in the history of electronic musical devices is the dialectic between imitation and novelty. This dialectic reached an unstable early resolution with the first electronic instruments, including the Theremin; despite their potential for creating new sounds, these were often used to imitate traditional instruments, including the cello. The same can even be said of today's computers/software.[5] The point of departure for Frode Weium's chapter is that new music technologies have always sparked debate and that they have often been rejected on account of their artificiality. His chapter examines the recep­tion of the electromechanical Hammond organ in Norway from the mid-1930s up to the 1960s. Some of the first imported organs have been traced and are used to illustrate how the instrument was adapted to different environments, including churches. Weium dis­cusses the notion of the instrument as an artificial surrogate for the pipe organ and shows how early enthusiasm turned to hostility. Other devices, such as string synthesizers, have been made and sold on the basis that they can replace the function of conventional musicians. Sarah Angliss's wide-ranging chapter shows how key new imitative musical technologies-notably drum machines and samplers-were received by musicians and organizations, provoking debates about authenticity and threatening to replay arguments about automation and unemployment. She shows how rich the interaction of musicians and machines became as some musicians came to favor nonimitative aspects of these devices-at one extreme, the robotic character of drum machines, and at the other, types of complexity that machines offered that humans could not easily replicate.

By contrast with imitative devices, there is the creation of sounds that have never been heard before, whether that has been achieved with great difficulty by tape splic­ing and varispeed playback, as practiced in the early days of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, or with comparative ease using voltage-controlled synthesizers.[6] The mag­netic tape recorder had a profound impact on music in the twentieth century. While some used it in similar ways as earlier recording devices, others took advantage of the changes it enabled. Ragnhild Brövig-Hanssen argues that it represents an important shift to what she, following R. Murray Schafer, calls a new era of "schizophonia," where
multitracking extended the ability to manipulate the space and time component of recorded music. Using examples including a tape recorder and loops from the Hugh Davies collection at the Science Museum in London, she identifies alternative recording paradigms. Here again we find devices created for one purpose being pressed into new kinds of musical service. Sean Williams, in his dose examination of the use of filters by two music makers as different as Karlheinz Stockhausen and King Tubby, documents how these technical devices-just as the magnetic tape recorder-were used as dynamic musical instruments, quite differently from their original intended purpose. Noises and environmental sounds emphasized the physicality of the performance and the mate­rial nature of music making. As Williams writes, "This kind of material research can provide a solid phenomenological foundation for further musicological, sociological, or anthropological studies."

Technology museum curators often worry about the problems of displaying elec­tronic devices in a compelling way, compared with the "brass and glass" of older scien­tific instruments that convey their function more directly. One black box looks much like another, whether it is a DNA synthesizer or a rack-mounted music studio periph­eral device. It may be that paying attention to musical devices is fertile territory for the exploration of these issues. The design of a Minimoog, for example, in the design of its circuits-voltage-controlled oscillators, filters, and amplifiers-embodies a set of propositions about the characteristics of natural sounds and how they may be artificially produced. When rendered virtually in "soft synthesizer" programs, the original analo­gies carryover. In other words, electronic musical devices are highly legible as embod­ied analogies. The Oramics Machine from the Science Museum's collection provides a special case of this argument, as Mick Grierson and Tim Boon show. Daphne Oram's unique device controlled compositional elements, pitches, and timbre using a unique interface-ten synchronized strips of 35 mm cinema film on which she drew. The link between vision and sound, which you might expect to be direct, is here obscured by the very idiosyncrasy of the instrument's design, which is now the subject of a joint research project between Goldsmiths College and the Science Museum.

This is just one instance of how electronic music provides dear examples of path dependency in technological/cultural change. This can also be seen in the development of novel musical forms: the BBC Radiophonic Workshop? and Terry Riley and Brian Eno working with Robert Fripp separately invented a new kind of music when they discovered they could create complex canonical soundscapes duetting with themselves when they ran the same piece of quarter-inch tape between two tape recorders, recording on the first and playing back on the second. The digital delay has replaced the reel-to-reel tape machine, and now this form of music is so familiar that a "loop pedal" is a stan­dard guitar effects device, and "tape delay" is reproduced in digital audio workstations (DAWs) such as Ableton Live.

Path dependency also provides a valuable way of thinking about the "interfaces" of musical instruments, an important topic that is discussed in several chapters. Were new technical sound possibilities limited by conventional interfaces? How did the developers of new electronic instruments cope with this? Today we take it for granted that a syn­thesizer must have a keyboard, but Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco have shown that this wasn't originally the case, and they explain how and why Robert Moog ended up with a keyboard for his synthesizers.8 The broader picture is explored by Tellef Kvifte in this volume, as he looks at similarities and differences in the development of "user interfaces" of acoustic and electronic instruments, comparing the technology of the nineteenth cen­tury and the second half of the twentieth century. Using examples from the collection of Ringve Museum in Norway, he finds that in both periods, several new interfaces were developed. But while the first period had a strong focus on pitch control, the develop­ment in the second period was mainly concerned with timbral qualities.

If today all music is to some extent electronic, it is debatable whether the electronic revolution has been as rapid as it might have been if technology simply determined music. What we see in the history of music is a complex interplay among cultural forms, aesthetics, technical devices, and economics. The importance of electronic studios from the mid-twentieth century within the avant-garde should not be underestimated. Yet the comparatively late dominance of popular music by electronic devices may owe as much to the dramatic reductions in the cost of microelectronic devices over the last three decades as to any compelling aesthetic motivation. Perhaps, when Roland, Casio and Yamaha realized the potential of electronic keyboards to be viable consumer products, they kick-started the electronic revolution in popular music. Certainly, the availability of inexpensive digital synthesizers made it as cheap for amateurs to form an electropop band (two keyboards and a drum machine), as the conventional rock band (two guitars, a bass, and drums). This raises another enduring dynamic in the history of music, its instruments, and its technologies; namely, the relationship between amateur and profes­sional musical activity. Here again, new technologies have consistently remapped this most permeable of distinctions. The player piano might have promised to replace the amateur pianist with the ghostly presence of a Liszt or an Elgar, but equally the 45 rpm single encouraged teenagers to buy an electric guitar and try their hand at skiffle or punk. Similarly, digital distribution of music via the Internet has provided opportunities as much for laptop-wielding bedroom electronic musicians as for sourcing that rare and forbidding masterpiece of the postserial avant-garde.

Examples such as these are explored in the chapters that follow. Some authors here show how particular localities produced particular technological and musical phenom­ena. Peter Donhauser introduces the reader to the musical collection of the Vienna Museum of Technology as he outlines the development of electronic musical instru­ments in Austria between 1920 and the late 1950s. Based on extensive documentation, he describes the construction, reception, and fate of instruments such as the Superpiano and the Magneton. However, the instruments are also examples of how the vast major­ity of early electronic instruments remained prototypes and never achieved commercial success. Finally, in the last chapter of this volume, David Toop treats another flourishing milieu during a different period; London's emergent improvised music and sound art scenes in the 1970s. In revisiting the circumstances of his 1974 text New/Rediscovered Musical Instruments, he traces connections between experiments in live electronic music, improvization, and the parallel growth among the musicians of that period of interest in ethnomusicology and the study of musical instruments. He shows links to museum culture that may well be unexpected to today's music enthusiasts.

In total, by showing the different contexts in which musicians, technicians, and con­sumers have adapted-and adapted to-changing musical instrumentation technolo­gies, and by close examination of the instruments and devices themselves, these chapters help the listener to hear different musics afresh, the scholar to see music as a prime site for unraveling technology and culture, and the museum visitor to validate their own expenence.

1. For example: Elena Ungeheuer (ed.), Elektroakustische Musik. Handbuch der Musik im 20.
Jahrhundert. Band 5 (Laaber, Germany: Laaber-Verlag, 2002); Hans-Joachim Braun (ed.), Music and Technology in the Twentieth Century (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002); Peter Donhauser, Elektrische Klangmaschinen: Die Pionierzeit in Deutschland und Osterreich (Vienna: Bohlau, 2007); lMA Institut fur Medienarchaologie, Zauberhafte Klangmaschinen. Vim der Sprechmaschine bis zur Soundkarte (Hainburg, Germany: Schott, 2008).
2. Including: Albert Glinsky, Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2005); Jean Laurendeau, Maurice Martenot: Luthier de L'Electronique (Croissy­Beaubourg, France: Dervy- Livres, 1990); Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco, Analog Days: The Inven­tion and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002); Gayle Young, The Sackbut Blues: Hugh Le Caine, Pioneer in Electronic Music (Ottawa: National Museum of Science and Technology, 1989).
3. Trevor Pinch and Karin Bijsterveld, "Sound Studies: New Technologies and Music," Social Studies of Science 34(5) (2004): 635--48. Trevor Pinch and Karin Bijsterveld, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies (New York: Oxford University Press, 201l).
4. Steve Reich and Paul Hillier (eds.), Writings on Music 1965-2000 (New York: Oxford
University Press, 2004).
5. Ungeheuer, "Imitative Instrumente und innovative Maschinen?" in lMA Institut für
Medienarchaologie, Zauberhafte Klangmaschinen, 45-59.
6. Louis Niebur, Special Sound. The Creation and Legacy of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
(Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010).
7. F. C. Brooker, Radiophonics in the BBC (BBC Engineering Division Monograph 51) (Lon­don: BBC, 1963),7.
8. Pinch and Trocco, Analog Days, 58-62.

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