| Zuzana Martináková

Abstract: Electronic and electroacoustic music has undergone since its beginnings in the late 19th century to the present major transformations. The emergence of new technologies enabled new musical forms and genres of electronic and/or electroacoustic music and combination with different media. The paper deals with development stages, typology, forms and transformations of electroacoustic music.

Resumé: Príspevok Formy a premeny elektroakustickej hudby pojednáva o stručnom vývoji technológií a zvukových zdrojov elektronickej a elektroakustickej hudby od prvých možností nahrávania zvuku a jeho reprodukcie až k novším technikám a možnostiam pomocou elektrických nástrojov, prístrojov a počítačových možností spracovania i generovania zvuku. Zároveň predstavuje pokus o možnú kategorizáciu pomocou systémovej teórie a synergetiky v procese kódovania (tvorby) a dekódovania (percepcie) elektroakustickej hudby.

Key words: Electronic music, Electroacoustic music, Sound resources, Sound art, Sonic art

All attempts to define music drive at the problem of narrow specification. In this contribution we focus our attention to the electroacoustic music. However, how can we define the electroacoustic music? Let us postulate some questions:
– Is it a music produced by electronic devices?
– Is it a music elaborated by electronic devices?
– Is it a music used electronic devices?
– Is it a music used electroacoustic resources?
– Is it a combination of acoustic and electronic resources?
– Is it an art used sounds produced by electronic devices?
– Is it a multimedia art uses electronic, acoustic or visual resources?

Iván Patachich - Funzione Acoustica (EXS Bratislava 1975)
Score – Iván Patachich – Funzione Acoustica (EXS Bratislava 1975)

We can continue and to add other questions, however the origin of electronic, later acousmatic and electroacoustic music is determined by the development of the new electronic technologies, electronic instruments and computer sciences. We try to show some aspects regarded the forms and transformation of this musical genre which we understand as a complex phenomenon.

In this contribution we don’t have a space for more detailed history of electronic and electroacoustic music, which however is already sufficiently elaborated and described.
We only briefly remind the most important events which determined the development in this field.

2.1 Sound recording and reproduction
The origin of the electronic music is closely related to the discovery of the sound recording (first analog than digital) and reproduction devices, which are electrical or mechanical inscriptions and re-creation of sound waves (spoken voice, singing, instrumental play, sound effects, etc.).
In 1857 was invented the phonautograph, the earliest known device for recording sound, by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville (1817–1879, a French printer and bookseller). The phonautograph only created visual images of the sound and did not have the ability to play back its recordings. It also initiated further research into tools able to image sound such as Koenig’s In 1862 the manometric flame apparatus (visualization of the sound waves) was invented by German physicist Rudolph Koenig which was the nearest equivalent of the modern oscilloscope in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
In 1876, American engineer Elisha Gray (1835–1901) filed a patent for the electromechanical oscillator called also Musical Telegraph for producing electronic sound.
In 1877 the phonograph was invented by Thomas Alva Edison (1847–1931, an American inventor and businessman) for the recording and reproduction of sound. Phonograph was the first to be able to reproduce the recorded sound from round cylinders. It was followed by graphophone invented in 1883 by Alexander Graham Bell (1847–1922) and in 1887 by gramophone invented by Emile Berliner (1851–1929).
In 1928 Fritz Pfleumer (1881–1945) has invented magnetic tape for recording sound and in 1932 he granted German electronics company AEG the right to use his invention where the magnetophon was developed by engineers of this company.

2.2 Electric and Electronical Musical Instruments
The development of the electroacoustic music was also determined by the development of the electric and above all the electronic musical instruments.
There are two categories of musical instruments using electric devices: 1. the electric musical instruments – the use of electric devices which determine or affect the sound produced by an instrument; they are also known as amplified musical instruments; 2. the electronic musical instruments – the use of entirely electronic means to both create and control sound.<
For the development of the electroacoustic music plays the second category more important role.
Already at the end of 19th century several discoveries were done. In 1876 Elisha Gray (1835–1901) has invented one of the earliest electric musical instruments the musical telegraph. He accidentally discovered the sound generation from a self-vibrating electromagnetic circuit. Gray has also invented a basic single-note oscillator and a simple loudspeaker device. In 1897 the early additive synthesizer Teleharmonium or Dynamophone was invented by Thaddeus Cahill (1867–1934).
These electronic instruments were further developed and we can say that in 1906 begun a huge revolution of electronics. The first amplifying vacuum tube called audion tube was invented by American engineer Lee De Forest (1873–1961) which led to new technologies also in music industry (radio and sound film). In the first decades of 20th century several electric instruments were invented: in 1915 the Audion Piano by Lee De Forest, in 1920 the Theremin by Léon Theremin (Lev Termen, 1896–1993), in 1928 the Ondes Martenot by Maurice Martenot (1898–1980), in 1929 the Trautonium by Friedrich Trautwein (1888–1956) and in 1935 the Hammond organ by Laurens Hammond (1895–1973) and John M Hanert (1909??–1962).
In 1937, a Russian optical engineer Evgeny Murzin (1914–1970) developed a different synthesizer that was photoelectrically operated which he named ANS after Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin. In 1939 the Novachord was put out by Hammond. It was the first polyphonic synthesizer using subtractive synthesis.

Juraj Ďuriš - Sny - The Dreams
Score – Juraj Ďuriš – Sny – The Dreams (EXS Bratislava 1987

Concerning the music of 20th century we speak about the plurality, multiplicity, diversity, etc. What we may consider to be the mutual property is the search for new sound possibilities. Electric and electronic instruments and devices enabled the new sound creation.

3.1 Noise and New Sound Textures
Ferruccio Busoni (1866–1924) already in the begin of 20th century has in his known treatise Entwurf einer neuen Ästhetik der Tonkunst (Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music) from 1907 criticized the traditional music “lawgivers” and compositional means and predicted a future music that included new instruments, the division of the octave into more than the traditional 12 degrees, new sound possibilities etc. Shortly before finishing his treatise he had read about the new instrument Dynamophon or Telharmonium invented by Thaddeus Cahill in an article New Music for an Old World published in McClur’s Magazine in 1906. Busoni was inspired by this instrument in which he saw a new source of sound materials as well as a source of just intonation. /1
In this treatise he wrote the visions which have predicted the musical development: “Plötzlich eines Tages, schien es mir klar geworden: daß die Entfaltung der Tonkunst an unseren Musikinstrumenten scheitert. […] Frei ist die Tonkunst geboren und frei zu werden ihre Bestimmung.“ /2
Russian Futurist Nikolai Kulbin (1867–1917) has written in his study Free Music (St. Petersburg, 1909) 3/ about the liberation of music and with Arthur Lourié he has developed the concept of microtonal music with quarter and eighth tones. Kulbin emphasized that music is created after the same laws as the music of nature, e.g. it is possible to use any natural sounds.
Several years later the Italian futurists came with new conception of the sound art. Painter and composer Luigi Russolo (1883–1947) has written in 1913 his manifesto L’Arte dei Rumori (Art of Noises) where he celebrated and preferred the noises, produced also by machines, cars and fabrics. He also suggested six categories of noises for a futurist orchestra and invented in 1913 acoustic noise generators Intonarumori that permitted to create and control in dynamic and pitch several different types of noises.
Dziga Vertov (1896–1954) has in 1916 created in St. Petersburg his Laboratory of Hearing where he made the early attempts with sound collages by means of a phonograph and pre-recorded sounds.
Arseny Avraamov (1886–1944) was a a pioneer in Russian sound on film techniques. He invented graphic and sonic music produced by drawing directly onto magnetic tape and ultrachromatic 48-tone microtonal system, presented in his thesis, The Universal System of Tones, in Berlin, Frankfurt, and Stuttgart in 1927. /4
In his article Gryadushchaya muzykal’naya nauka i novaya era istorii muzyki (Upcoming Science of Music and the New Era in the History of Music) 5/ already in 1916 he wrote about future methods of sound synthesis including the method of physical modelling, recording the most complex sound textures by means of a phonograph and after analysis of the curve structure of the sound groove about the possibility to create synthetically any, even most fantastic sound.
Further contribution to the development of new sound possibilities and textures were: the radio theatre and the early sound cinema in Russia in the late 1920s (Vladimir Popov and the new technologies of Noise) 6/, Yevgeny Murzin’s conception of a real-time additive synthesizer using optoelectronics in 1938, the first practical sound-on-film systems created almost simultaneously in the USSR, USA and Germany in 1926, Alexander Shorin and his shorinophone (1927) used for field and studio sound recording, Nikolai Krukov and his noise music for the early Russian sound movies ‘Dela i ludi’ (1932) and others.

Marek-Piaček-Flauto-Dolce-EXS Braislava 1991
Score – Marek-Piaček-Flauto-Dolce (EXS Braislava 1991)

To our interest belongs the electronic and electroacoustic music using electric sound production into compositional process and practice which is created by educated composers.

4.1 Musique concrète
To the firs attempts belongs the tape music created by Halim Abdul Messieh El-Dabh, known as an early pioneer of this genre for having composed in 1944 the first piece of electroacoustic tape music and later for his work in Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Centre from late 1950s to early 1960s.
Pierre Schaeffer since 1942 began his exploration of radiophony and experiment with creative radiophonic techniques using the sound technologies of the time. He joined the foundation of the Studio d’Essai de la Radiodiffusion Nationale, the centre for the Resistance movement in French radio. Schaeffer since 1949 used for his new compositional works the term musique concrète. He wanted to point out that instead of notating on paper with the symbols this kind of composing used collected and recorded concrete sounds, wherever they came from. In 1951 Pierre Schaeffer together with composer Pierre Henry and sound engineer Jacques Poullin established the Groupe de Recherche de Musique Concrète (GRMC), Club d ‘Essai de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française (RTF) which established the first purpose-built electroacoustic studio. Peignot and Schaeffer introduced in 1955 the term music acousmatique resulted from the listening experience of musique concrète. They have derived it from akousmatikoi, the outer circle of Pythagoras’ disciples who only heard their teacher speaking from behind a veil. Similarly the acousmatic music we can hear from behind the ‘veil’ of loudspeakers, without seeing the source of the sound.
After resignation of the GRMC (1958) Schaeffer created Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM) including new members: Luc Ferrari, François-Bernard Mâche, Iannis Xenakis, later Ivo Malec, Philippe Carson, François Bayle and others.
After 20 years of research in the field of musique concrete Schaeffer published the book Traité des objets musicaux (Treatise on Musical Objects, Paris 1966) which represented the very important source for understanding the principle of acousmatic music.

4.2 Electronic music
Electronic music on contrary to musique concrete is music using electronic musical instruments and electronic music technology in its production. Early electronic compositions were made and broadcast in 1951 in Cologne. The most famous electronic music studio in the world was officially opened at the radio studios of the NWDR in 1953 by the founders Werner Meyer-Eppler, Robert Beyer, and Herbert Eimert, later joined by Karlheinz Stockhausen and Gottfried Michael Koenig. Meyer-Eppler in his thesis Elektronische Klangerzeugung: Elektronische Musik und Synthetische Sprache (1949) described his idea to compose music entirely from electronically produced signals (elektronische Musik) in contrary to the French musique concrète, using the sounds recorded from acoustical sources.
In 1946 independently Toru Takemitsu and Minao Shibata (followers of the foundation of electronics company Sony, called Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo K.K.) wrote about using electronic technology in music production.

4.3 Live electronic music
The term Live electronic music refers to the use computers, electroacoustic instruments, sound generated electronic devices which is done and changed in real time on contrary to the fixed (prepared) electronic or electroacoustic compositions. Live electronics is very close connected with the electroacoustic improvisation during the performance. 7/ Other forms of live electronic music are e.g. laptronica or computer music (combination of two words laptop and electronica), live coding (improvised interaction programming). Live electronic music unlike the electroacoustic music is oriented to the visual moment and often combined with other artistic kinds (musicians on the stage, dancers, light and visual projections etc.

Alexander Mihalič -  Skladba pre klavír a mg. pásku
Score – Alexander Mihalič – Skladba pre klavír a mg. pásku (EXS Bratislava 1988)

We have seen that the term electroacoustic music is very wide and there are many possibilities of the categorization depending on different approaches. We try to use the methodology of system theory, which enables modelling of subsystems and investigation of structure, processes and functions with respect to the requirements of the environment. The central axiom of this approach is the assumption that also electroacoustic music (similar to language, music, fine art etc.) is a self-organising system, and other basic principles turned out to be at least compatible with concepts of synergetics. The system electroacoustic music can be considered as a dynamic, open (constantly changing) and emergent 8/ system, in which the forces, needs and order parameters operate. The polar pair of requirements of opposite effect is important: the requirement of coding (the process of creating new compositions) and the requirement of decoding (the process of perception). Both are functionally complementary (without requirement of decoding do not exist the requirement o coding and vice versa).
The categorization of electroacoustic music can be also done after genres and styles. These genres and styles relate to the functions and the functions to the requirements from the environment, e.g. the need of innovation effects the origin of new compositions and also of new styles and genres and the need of application leads to the use of existed compositions.
If there was a need for innovation (e.g. there was a lack of the visual elements), the new audio-visual forms were created: live electronics, electroacoustic improvisation, sound art, sonic art, electronic art music, sound sculpture etc.

5.1 Categorization in coding process
The categorization of electroacoustic music in the coding process, i.e. in the process of creation (compositional process) can be done after:

• Structural elements (used sound material)
– periodic – aperiodic sounds
– harmonic – inharmonic sounds
– simple – complex
– natural – artificial
– mechanical – electrical
– sounds, created by different methods (by voice, instruments, hand, body, using different materials as wood, iron, plastics, rubber, etc.)
Various combinations and transformations of the elements and the relation between them are possible inside the system which could be also influenced from the outside of system (environment).

• Form
– Prepared and fixed composition – no changes during performance
– Improvised composition – not prepared, created and improvised during performance
– Combination between both possibilities

• Using of sound sources
– Electronic sources
– Electro-acoustic sources
– Combination of electronic and electro-acoustic sources
– Combination with music instrument, voice, mechanically produced sounds etc.

• Elaboration of sound material
– Using classical compositional means
– Using new means enabled by new electronic devices
– Using of combination of classical and new compositional means
– Using other technological means of creation without using compositional means
– Combinations

• Using audio and visual sources
– Audio compositions – hearing without seeing performers
– Audio-visual composition – hearing and seeing (various possibilities)

• Author
– Professional composer or artist (e.g. musician, painter, film-maker, dancer etc.)
– Amateur composer or artist
– Dilettante in composition or art

5.2 Categorization in decoding process
The categorization of electroacoustic music in the decoding process, i.e. in the process of perception (decoding process) can be done after:

• Identification by audio productions
– Identified (known) sounds that I understand
– Unidentified (unknown) sounds that I don’t understand but I can learn to understand them
– Unidentified (unknown) sounds that I don’t understand and I can’t learn to understand them

• Identification by audio-visual productions
– I identify the sound after my ears and eyes (e.g. if I see to play the violin I hear the sound of violin)
– I am not able to identify the sound after my ears and eyes (psychological disruption, e.g. Laurie Andersson, Nicolas Collins etc.) but I can learn it to understand
– I am not able to identify the sound after my ears and eyes (psychological disruption) but I can’t learn it to understand

Now, we can say that the topic of our contribution is very bright and we can continue in description of other forms and transformations of electric or/and electroacoustic music. In this contribution we wanted to show the possible categorization which enables several approaches. Juraj Ďuriš in his study On the way to Art and Sound / SonicART wrote: “On the weight of information the number of new messages begins to predominate, the content of which is stronger than comments on them. The consequence of this is the fact that in 60s and 70s of 20th century the artistic concepts anticipated the realization. Today it is exactly the opposite. The realizations anticipate the conceptions. This is a consequence of comfort technologies and of sharing the common space in real time. A consequence of this is a semantic hole – we have to look for different outlets. Musicology has lost itself in this area. The individual may better shape their view of the problem that interests him. Therefore, it is important to constantly discuss the new and new models.” 9/
We can add, that not only “musicology has lost itself in this area” but also musicians, composers, artists and other creative people…

1/ Retrieved from:

2/ Retrieved from: (Suddenly, one day, it seemed clear to me that full flowering of music is frustrated by our instruments. […] Music was born free; and to win freedom is its destiny.). In:

3/ In 1912 it was published at the invitation of Wassily Kandinsky’s in the almanac Der Blaue Reiter under the title Die freie Musik.

4/ Arsenij Avraamov: Universelles Tonsystem (UTS), übersetzt von Hans-Joachim Schlegel, in: acoustic turn, hrsg. von Petra Maria Meyer. München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag 2008, S. 375-379 ISBN 978-3-7705-4389-2

5/ Gryadushchaya muzykal’naya nauka i novaya era istorii muzyki [Грядущая музыкальная наука и новая эра истории музыки; Upcoming Science of Music and the New Era in the History of Music], Muzikalni sovremennik [Музыкальный современник] 6 (February 1916), pp 84-86.
Retrieved from:

6/ Retrieved from:

7/ It is known already since 1930s with the early works of John Cage: Imaginary Landscape No. 1 (1939) .

8/ We speak about emergent systems if a higher form of system existence arises from a lower form and in the process of evolution new relations are acquired.

9/ Translation (ZM) from the original: „Na informačných váhach začína prevažovať množstvo nových správ, ktorých obsah je silnejší, než komentáre k nim. Dôsledkom toho je aj fakt, že v 60. a 70. rokoch umelecké koncepcie predbiehali realizácie. Dnes je tomu presne naopak. Realizácie predbiehajú koncepcie. Je to dôsledok komfortných technológií a zdieľania spoločného priestoru v reálnom čase. Vzniká sémantická diera, je potrebné hľadať odlišné východiská. Muzikológia sa v tomto priestore stratila. Indivíduum si môže lepšie formovať svoj pohľad na problém, ktorý ho zaujíma. Preto je dôležité neustále diskutovať o nových a nových modeloch.“ In: Ďuriš 2012, p. 39.

AVRAAMOV, Arsenij: Gryadushchaya muzykal’naya nauka i novaya era istorii muzyki [Грядущая музыкальная наука и новая эра истории музыки; Upcoming Science of Music and the New Era in the History of Music], Muzikalni sovremennik [Музыкальный современник] 6, February 1916, pp. 84–86. Retrieved from:

AVRAAMOV, Arsenij: Universelles Tonsystem (UTS), übersetzt von Hans-Joachim Schlegel, In: acoustic turn, hrsg. von Petra Maria Meyer. München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag 2008, pp. 375–379.

BUSONI, Ferruccio: Entwurf einer neuen Ästhetik der Tonkunst. Retrieved from:

ĎURIŠ, Juraj: Na ceste k umeniu zvuku / sonicART. In: ZVUK v súčasnej hudobnej kompozícii. Traja skladatelia – tri pohľady. Žilina 2012. Ed. Renáta Beličová 2012, pp. 281– 337.

KÖHLER, Reinhard & MARTINÁKOVÁ-RENDEKOVÁ, Zuzana: A systems theoretical approach to language and music. In: Altmann, Gabriel & Koch, Walter A. (eds.). Systems. A new paradigm for the human sciences. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1998, pp. 514–546.

MARTINÁKOVÁ-RENDEKOVÁ, Zuzana: Relationships between Functions of Music and Requirements of Environment. In: Dzielo Muzyczne 6: Musical Work and Its Functions Contexts, Bydgoszcz 2010, pp. 63–68.

PEIGNOT, Jérôme: De la musique concrète à l’acousmatique, Esprit, No. 280. Paris: Esprit: 1960, pp. 111–123.

SCHAEFFER, Pierre: Traité des objets musicaux (Treatise on Musical Objects). Paris, France: Le Seuil 1966.

SMIRNOV, Andrey: Sound in Z: Experiments in Sound and Electronic Music in Early 20th-century Russia. London: Koenig Books & Sound and Music 2013.

Soviet Music and Society under Lenin and Stalin: The Baton and the Sickle. Ed. by Neil Edmunds. RoutledgeCurzon, London, 2004, ISBN 0-415-30219-6.

Resumé: Príspevok Formy a premeny elektroakustickej hudby pojednáva o stručnom vývoji technológií a zvukových zdrojov elektronickej a elektroakustickej hudby od prvých možností nahrávania zvuku a jeho reprodukcie až k novším technikám a možnostiam pomocou elektrických nástrojov, prístrojov a počítačových možností spracovania i generovania zvuku. Zároveň predstavuje pokus o možnú kategorizáciu pomocou systémovej teórie a synergetiky v procese kódovania (tvorby) a dekódovania (percepcie) elektroakustickej hudby.

Prof. PhDr. Zuzana Martinkova, PhD. graduated Music Theory at the Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in Bratislava (1982) and doctor study at Institute of Musicology of the Slovak Academy of Sciences (1989) where she was the scientific researcher at till 1995. Since 1984-2003 she was a lecturer on music analysis, music theory, aesthetics and quantitative musicology at the Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in Bratislava. 1992–1994 she did the research in frame of scholarship by the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung in Freiburg and Bamberg. Since 1997 she is lecturing music analysis, music theory and 20th Century Music at at Academy of Arts in Banská Bystrica. In 2011 she created the private Jan Albrecht Academy of Music and Art Banska Štiavnica, where she is lecturing and directing the Scientific and artistic centre of research.
She has a numerous publications on the field of modality, 20th century music, quantitative musicology, application of systems theory and synergetics in music and analytical methods in music.


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