When Electronic Music Started

Electronic music first emerged around the turn of the 20th century, when experimental electronic instruments first gained popularity.

These innovations included the Hammond organ (1934) and Novachord (in 1938).

In the 1940s, magnetic tape allowed musicians to easily modify its speed for music creation, leading composers such as John Cage to use two variable-speed phonographs, frequency recordings, muted piano and cymbals in his composition called Imaginary Landscape No.1.


Electronic music first emerged during the 1940s with pioneers like Egypt’s Halim El-Dabh and France’s Edgard Varese pioneering electroacoustic tape music techniques to layer recorded sounds such as instruments or vocals played at different speeds to form pieces called electroacoustic tape music.

In the 1950s, magnetic tape recorders became more practical for musicians, enabling them to edit recordings in various ways such as changing speed or direction. Furthermore, this technology led to electronic keyboards such as Robert Moog’s iconic Moog synthesizer from the 1960s which revolutionized music production by enabling musicians to create and manipulate sounds using modules and components within it.

By the 1970s, electronic music had begun to make waves in mainstream culture. Bands such as Ultravox, Yellow Magic Orchestra and Gary Numan helped develop synthpop as well as other genres with strong electronic elements like industrial and new age music.

In the 1980s, drum machines and synthesizers became more widely utilized. This gave rise to new subgenres like dance music and electro, along with innovations such as MIDI which revolutionized how electronic instruments communicated between one another.

The 2000s witnessed an explosion of large-scale commercial electronic music festivals throughout Europe and North America. This trend can be partly attributed to DJs such as Tiesto, Daft Punk and Skrillex receiving international acclaim for their work, leading to new genres being formed such as dubstep, house and techno – with ambient and space music also becoming popular choices today.


At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, advances in electrical sound production had greatly advanced, permitting experimentation with sound production instruments such as Thaddeus Cahill’s telharmonium which transmitted pitched hums over telephone lines, as well as instruments like Hammond organ, Ondes Martenot, and Trautonium to emerge.

Electronic music evolved out of early inspirations and experiments, gradually taking on many styles. Artists like Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen used recorded sounds derived both from electronic laboratory equipment as well as non-electronic sources to compose new compositions using this technique, later known as musique concrete or electronic art music.

In the 1950s, audio tape technology first made its debut, enabling musicians to record and manipulate individual sounds before combining them together into new compositions. This technique became extremely popular across Europe and is credited with contributing significantly towards techno and house music’s emergence.

John Cage made an early example of electroacoustic music by manipulating the speed of recorded sound to create his signature style of electronic music – known as variable speed turntable music or electroacoustic music – known as Imaginary Landscape No. 1. Amongst others, this composition used two variable speed turntables, frequency recordings, muted piano, and cymbal.

In the 1970s, synthesizers became increasingly popular. Artists such as Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis and Isao Tomita used them to pioneer new genres of electronic rock called krautrock; this led into disco and other dance styles which also utilized synthesizers. Furthermore, this era gave birth to synth-pop; Pet Shop Boys and Erasure became known for popularizing this style of music with records featuring this sound.


As electronic music developed, various new instruments were invented. These included tone wheels, tape recorders and pure electronic devices like the Theremin. These instruments provided greater pitch resources, with avant-garde composers like Edgard Varese exploiting them expressively for compositions such as The Day the Earth Stood Still by Bernard Herrmann featuring its use prominently. The Theremin was also widely utilized by film soundtrack composers; Bernard Herrmann famously used one in scoring The Day the Earth Stood Still soundtrack using it extensively.

An important breakthrough was achieved with the invention of practical audio tape in 1939, leading to new innovations such as sound speed adjustment and graphical sound. These innovations paved the way for genres such as musique concrete where sounds recorded onto magnetic tape were then altered for various effects; similarly, artists such as Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen used these techniques in popular music compositions such as sound collages or improvisations pieces using this revolutionary medium.

After World War II, the Moog synthesizer was introduced and musicians such as Wendy Carlos and Kraftwerk helped popularize electronic music by using electronic instruments like the Theremin and Mellotron in their performances – precursors to genres such as krautrock and disco. Many rock bands also began using such instruments even if it wasn’t technically considered electronic at that point in time.

Kraftwerk was one of the first electronic rock groups to emerge in the 1970s and is widely credited with pioneering genres such as new wave and synthpop. Their 1974 album Autobahn marked an early example of synth melodies combined with vocals – this trend has since been followed by artists such as Jean-Michel Jarre and Yellow Magic Orchestra from Japan, while The Beatles experimented with electronic instruments such as the Moog synth and Mellotron on their albums.


Audio tape technology was a revolutionary development during the 1940s, enabling musicians to record sounds and then replay them back at different speeds for composition purposes. Artists such as Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen utilized this form of recording sound layered onto itself – known as electroacoustic music – as a form of composition; this was precursory of using electronic instruments or synthesizers in music production.

Electronic Dance Music (EDM) experienced tremendous growth during the 1980s. This genre combined disco’s beats with steady 4/4 rhythms to make club dancing possible, along with techniques developed by hip hop and turntablist DJs such as using recorded samples as samples of recorded sounds; further developing into a style heavily influenced by synths and drum machines (particularly Roland TB-303 bass synth and TR-808 programmable drum machine) that has since given birth to industrial, techno and trance music genres.

At this time, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop composed the theme to popular science-fiction TV series Doctor Who and was known for their expertise with electronic instruments and synthesizers such as theremin (see Theremin World). Also during this period was when the Moog synthesizer was first developed; musicians such as Wendy Carlos used this instrument to compose Switched-On Bach, considered by some as being electronically synthesised classical music.

The 2000s witnessed the rapid expansion of large-scale commercial EDM festivals and artists like Skrillex. Since their introduction, EDM genre has become highly diverse – from hardcore breakbeat to progressive dubstep and ambient jungle; modern new ambient has developed from early works of artists such as Eno using modern production techniques and synths to further their ideas.


Electronic music’s founders can often be considered its fathers; yet magnetic tape technology was crucial in shaping this genre. Edgard Varese and Karlheinz Stockhausen utilized tape stuido technology during the 1940s to record sounds from various sources (some electronic, others non-electronic) before mixing them together into compositions using tape stuido technology; then pitch and timbre adjustments could then be used to produce new sounds.

By the 1960s, musicians such as Wendy Carlos were using the monophonic Moog synthesizer to record Bach pieces and create new sounds through its analog synthesis technology. This revolutionized rock music, giving rise to new wave and synth pop. Both this and ARP Odyssey became mass produced, making this once expensive technology accessible to more performers.

Other developments that influenced electronic music during this era included Pierre Schaeffer’s invention of an electrical organ called Telharmonium; Leon Theremin’s creation of the theremin; Maurice Martenot’s Ondes martenot; and Maurice Martenot’s development of Ondes martenot. Additionally, phonographs were introduced around this same period allowing people to play back recordings.

Paul Hindemith and Ernst Toch had already adopted techniques from Edgard Varese and Karlheinz Stockhausen’s work by layering recorded instruments and vocals, using techniques influenced by Edgard Varese and Karlheinz Stockhausen, to form electroacoustic composition, which later came to be known as musique concrete. Additionally, electronic drum machines and synthesizers such as those produced by Korg, Yamaha, AceTone Matsushita Roland became widespread during this decade.