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Electronic Music in 20th Century and the Revolution of Digital Synthesis

      At the beginning of 20th Century the crisis of tonal system had a big impact towards the development of new compositional techniques, first of all the birth of serialism and dodecaphony. In the first decades of the century many composers with a traditional music background started to write pieces using the new method. At the same time some composers and inventors produced sounds with new electric machines, sounds totally unknown to traditional musicians and in general unfamiliar to the listeners. Classic music instruments appeared to someone not more useful to satisfy the request of new timbres. There are many examples showing this tendency: in United States Thaddeaus Cahill built in 1897 a machine based on dynamos called Telharmonium or Dynamaphone, to generate hums at different pitches; Luigi Russolo, one of the main exponents of Futurism in Italy, in 1916 introduced the idea of a new music based on "the art of noises" and built some bizarre instruments to produce noise.

      In the 1920s also the French composer Edgar Varèse used instruments to produce noise in his piece Ionisation, and new electronic machines as Theremin (by Lev Termen, 1919) and Ondes Martenot (by Maurice Martenot, 1928) were invented to generate unknown sounds. Other composers like Paul Hindemit and Ernst Toch performed pieces in concert using phonographs with a variable speed. Such interest towards this new world of sounds probably could not be followed from further developments if the 20th Century music was not characterized by the possibility to record sounds. In the late decades of 19th Century Thomas Edison and Emile Berliner did the first experiments to record sounds mechanically on a wax cylinder, and this was the first time in history that music could be reproduced. This innovation influenced the music and the society itself, especially when the quality of recordings started to become acceptable to the listeners with the realization of magnetic tape in Germany, in the 1930s. In that period some composers, using tape recording, and manipulating the tape itself, could easily overcome not only the tonal system, but also the same tempered system, avoiding the limits imposed by the physical structure of traditional musical instruments.

 

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