Electroacoustic art music in Germany Research and progress

The most important innovations to which the Cologne Studio gave major impulses include multichannel composition.

Stockhausen gained acceptance for the idea of "spatial music” as an aesthetic paradigm with his four-track work Gesang der Jünglinge (Song of the Youths, 1955/56) and the spatially conceived orchestral piece Gruppen (Groups, 1955-57). The spherical auditorium created for the 1970 World Exhibition in Osaka gave him a concert hall specially tailored to this concept. Since then, "spatial music" has been a common compositional praxis, used for example in the 7-channel composition La légende d'Eer (The Legend of Eer, 1977) by Iannis Xenakis and the orchestral piece Quasi una fantasia (1988) by György Kurtág. Fifty years on, the idea is being popularised today as 5.1 Surround Sound, but more as a feature of the modern home packed with media technology than as a way of listening to electronic music.

Josef-Anton Riedl found his way to a synthesis between pure electronic music and "musique concrète" at an early stage in the sound laboratory set up in 1959 by Siemens. The Siemens studio may have failed in its attempts to commercially exploit electronic popular music, but a digital synthesis procedure, in which the individual parameters of a sound could be saved on punched tape and retrieved with the help of a tape reader, was soon developed at the generously equipped research department. Together with computer programs supplied by the US telephone company Bell, this procedure provided the foundations for one of the first computer-supported sound machines. The tape reader was used extensively by Riedl – most notably in his composition Nr. 2 (1963). Composers like John Cage and David Tudor travelled to Munich to study there on account of this apparatus.

Innovative potential of electroacoustic music

The genre of live electronic music that John Cage had called into life in 1960 with his was imported in 1964 by Stockhausen in Mikrofonie I für Tamtam, Mikrofone und Mischpulte (Microphony I for Tam-Tam, Microphones and Mixing Consoles). He pushed forward the live electronic transformation of sound in 1969 with Mantra für zwei Klaviere und einen Ringmodulator (Mantra for Two Pianos and a Ring Modulator) at the SWR in Freiburg. This production led to the founding of the Experimental Studio of the Heinrich Strobel Foundation of the SWR in 1971. It was in Freiburg that the studio’s director Hans-Peter Haller and the engineer Peter Lawo had built the first "fully electronic sound control device for the movement of a source of sound within a predetermined space" in 1970. This machine went down in history as "Haller’s Crazy Crate 4" and later the "halaphon”.

The "halaphon" was made famous by the ethereal, filigree sound that runs through all the later works of Luigi Nono. Nono created twelve works in Freiburg between 1980 and 1990, among them his epochal "tragedy of listening" Prometeo (Prometheus, 1981-1985). The Freiburg studio has always had a double role: as both an instrument and a laboratory. Today, historic works by Nono, Cristóbal Halffter and Pierre Boulez are maintained technically there and, where necessary, updated to ensure they can still be performed. Furthermore, many live electronic solutions for specific works have been developed jointly with composers in Freiburg: for the electroacoustic corset with which Brian Ferneyhough surrounds the instrumentalists in his Time and Motion Study II (1976/77), the spatial counterpoint that develops into a dialogue between the ensemble and the loudspeakers in Emmanuel Nunes’s Wandlungen (Changes, 1985/86) and the complex mirroring process conceived by Isabel Mundry for her piece Gesichter (Faces, 1997).

This appears to have exhausted the innovative potential of electroacoustic music in Germany for the time being. Pioneering innovations such as voltage control, which is the basis of the "Moog and Buchla synthesisers", were invented in the USA. The revolutionary FM synthesis technology was also discovered in the CCRMA studio at Stanford University before going on to dominate 1980s pop music – from Michael Jackson to Front 242 – in the shape of Yamaha’s DX-7 synthesiser. While granular synthesis, "physical modelling” and standard software such as "Max/MSP", "SuperCollider" and the programs created by IRCAM in Paris have all been developed outside Germany as well.