History of Electronic Music

OBJECTIVE:  In this unit you will be introduced to a brief history of the major developments in electronic music in addition to the major contributors and terminology related to electronic music.  Terminology and concepts learned will be enhanced through a unit activity, quiz and project.

The Telharmonium

One of the first electronic instruments was built in 1897-1906 By Thadeus Cahill.

Called the Tellharmonium.

Immense structure weighing about 200 tons.

Extremely expensive to produce (approximately $200,000 in the late 1800s - 1900s).

It occupied the entire floor of "Telharmonic Hall" in New York City for about twenty years.

A "portable" version took up thirty railroad boxcars.

It consisted of a series of specially geared shafts connected to electric inductors (devices that produce electricity) which produced various alternating currents whose frequencies were set to match the desired pitches.

The instrument was polyphonic (capable of playing multiple notes simultaneously) and was controlled by a set of velocity-sensitive keyboards.

The actual sound was produced by a series of telephone receivers fitted with special acoustic horns.

Thaddeus Cahill....

The Demise of the Telharmonium

Cahill envisioned a plan to transmit music from the Telharmonium through the telephone network to hotels, restaurants, and private homes.

Immense size, weight and power consumption caused obvious problems.

Telephone broadcasts of Telharmonium music were subject to crosstalk (when a signal transmitted on one circuit or channel of a transmission system such as a phone line, creates interference or an undesired effect on another channel.

This "Muzak" as we know it today and is heard in elevators, unsuspecting telephone users in Cahill's time would be interrupted by strange electronic music.

Cahill’s company eventually went bankrupt in 1912 after interest wore off.

One of the rotors from the Telharmonium....


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