By Amirose Eisenbach
The variances that exist in sound are astonishing and infinite. Sound can be as abrupt and easily recognizable as a car alarm or a child’s scream. It can be elusive, like a soft breeze or the extremely light frequency of a humming television. The sounds of speech, music, and nature infiltrate and affect our everyday lives more than we may even realize. They each compose their own stories and create rhythmic memories for us through an auditory landscape.
The merging of technology with music has created a new genre that is difficult to define, but prevalent in countless compositions. Electronic music can draw upon the natural and generic sounds that are in our lives, and they can be used to reveal an innate harmony and rhythm. The emergence of electronic music has given many the ability to create insightful, innovative music in the privacy of their own homes.
Modern DJs have this musical world at their fingertips. They possess the ability to dub live instrument samples with digital technology, blending and splicing genres together and moving audiences like never before. By fusing original sounds we’ve never heard with something more tangible, like vocals or seductive notes from a saxophone, and you have a perfect example of what modern technology is capable of.
"Electronic music doesn’t discriminate against any kind of musician," Santa Cruz DJ Pete Reilly said. "It allows the countless randoms in their bedrooms making music to share their creations and get their music out there."
Reilly’s electronic influences include Funky Porcini, Kid Kuala, Fat John and Bonobo. "Electronic music is a place where I always felt like I was free to experiment with any style that I wanted to," Reilly said.
The definition of electronic music may vary from person to person due to its extremely diverse and multifaceted nature. The textbook definition states that electronic music is a term for compositions that utilize the capacities of electronic media for creating and altering sounds. Electronic music has become a growing epidemic of resonance and emotion, with continuing technological advancements.
Ben Stratton, a construction project manager from Los Gatos has been listening to electronic for over a decade.
"It’s a mood evoker for me," said Stratton, who lists DJ Shadow, The Crystal Method and DJ Krush among his favorite artists within the electronic music genre. "Electronic music is the only type of music that I listen to that can quickly and easily change my rhythm, heartbeat, and energy level."
Technological innovation has played a huge role in the growing popularity of electronic music. Turntables, Macintosh computers, and programs like Pro-Tools have been pretty typical mediums for DJs today. The future of technology is already upon us, says Eric Tandoc, a grad student studying Social Documentation at UC Santa Cruz. Tandoc is a DJ for Mass Movement, a hip-hop crew from Long Beach, and he also raps and DJs for another hip-hop collective called The Committee, based out of Los Angeles. Tandoc colorfully described a new technological advance: Serato Scratch Live.
"It’s a computer program that has an interface to connect to your turntables and uses two vinyl control records," Tandoc said. "You can control, manipulate, and scratch the mp3’s on your laptop just like vinyl records."
This development is economically more favorable than lugging around tons of vinyl records, and gives DJs a new sense of control when it comes to producing and creating music.
"There are features with Serato that really allow you to use your laptop and records like musical instruments," Tandoc continued. "That’s just insane for producers and DJs. I never even thought about such a thing being invented."
Though electronic music has only gained popularity in the last 20 or 25 years, important technological innovations dating all the way back to the turn of the century have played key roles in the development of the genre. As new instruments that enabled the diversity of playing with sound and sundry frequencies began to emerge, a different musical avenue was on the threshold.
Imaginative developments in machinery first materialized with Thaddeus Cahill’s Telharmonium in 1906. The Telharmonium’s sounds were shaped by fusing sine-waves whose outputs were allied with an intricate switching system. The sounds produced by the Telharmonium were soft, sweet, and melodic. This new idea of controlling waves marked the beginning of a fresh age in technological expansion and enhancement.
Another novel invention emerged in Moscow in 1920, when Leon Theremin created an instrument called the Aetherphone, later known as the Theremin. With this complex device, you could control the softness or intensity of a musical frequency with a pitch antenna. The Theremin creates a sound mimicking a resonance between a viola and a clarinet, and it often resembles aesthetics of the human voice.
In the 1950s, perhaps the most innovative medium that essentially allowed the rise of electronic music to commence was born. The synthesizer opened new and colorful segue ways for composers, songwriters, and musicians.
"It allows you to become a whole orchestra by yourself," said David Kimber, a songwriter and trained expert of the Synthesizer. Kimber, who used to work at the original Guitar Center on the Sunset Strip in the 1970s, was the single working specialist knowledgeable of the Synthesizer in Hollywood at the time.
His proficiency and passion for music and electronics enabled Kimber to work with artists including Frank Zappa, Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, and Stevie Wonder, as they experimented with synthesizers to enhance their music with a new sound and layered dimension.
By the 1980s, a new type of synthesizer was born. The vibrant pace of technology discarded analog synthesizers and replaced them with digital. Despite its apparent efficiency and accuracy, Kimber expressed people’s distaste for the quicker technology.
"A lot of people didn’t like the digital synthesizers at first because they felt like it wasn’t as warm as the analog," Kimber explained. Like any fresh advancement, people quickly adapted to the new creation and it soon became the standard.
"Inventors keep giving sound more clarity with every new invention that is created," said Kimber, addressing what he sees as the remarkable progression of depth and clarity since the 1950s.
Alison Cail, a fifth-year philosophy student at UCSC, is familiar with the electronic frontier, but finds that many have yet to catch on to the genre. "I can feel electronic music pulsating through my veins," Cail said. "Electronic music seems to be so much bigger in other places in the world and I feel like it hasn’t been fully embraced here."
Margaretha Haughwout is a DANM (Digital Arts and New Media) grad student and TA for the History of Electronic Music at UCSC. She is most concerned with new media and its various origins from diverse disciplines.
"Electronic music is one of the strongest informers in terms of technological development, theory, and practice," Haughwout said. Haughwout considers John Cage, an early guru of electronic music, as one of the most influential experimentalists of the twentieth century.
"John Cage introduced a new model of art-making that remains very relevant and inspiring in certain new media practices," Haughwout said. "The models that he created can often illuminate modes of increasing complexity."
UCSC fourth-year student Matt Holker attempted to define the attraction of many to electronic music. "Electronic music is an amazing tool for the outreach of the imagination," Holker said. "You can clarify exactly what you want to be told and you can be so specific with what you create. It’s a huge development in music."