Exhibit: Oscillators, Resonators, & Tape, Oh(m) My!

December 15, 2023

Oscillators, Resonators, & Tape, Oh(m) My!
Experimental Electronic Music Materials in Mills Music Library
November 6, 2023 – February 23, 2024
Memorial Library Lobby
728 State Street
Free and open to the public

We invite you to come take in this exhibit in the Memorial Library Lobby of materials from our collections, curated by Tom Caw, Music Public Services Librarian, and Steve Meyer, Data Strategist, UW–Madison Libraries.

The exhibit is arranged in a loose chronology, spanning from the 1940s until the present. The modifier “Experimental” is interpreted loosely as well, as is the designation “Electronic Music.” The materials represent music composed and created by experiments with various technologies that push the boundaries of what is considered music to music that employs those same technologies yet hews to more traditional forms and elements. It is by no means an exhaustive survey of all that’s been done by humans using electronics and machines to make music.

Caw and Meyer appeared on the Monday 8 O’Clock Buzz program on WORT 89.9FM to discuss the exhibit and share selections from it with host Brian Standing on January 22, 2024.

Display cases in the Memorial Library lobby containing LPs, CDs, tapes, books, and journals from the exhibit Oscillators, Resonators,
& Tape, Oh(m) My!
Oscillators, Resonators, & Tape, Oh(m) My! exhibit in Memorial Library Lobby

Significant Sites & Inventive Innovators Included:

  • Pierre Schaeffer (1910-1995) creates musique concrète in 1948. Pierre Henry (1927-2017) joins him in his efforts and they establish Groupe de Recherches de Musique Concrète in 1951 in Paris. This organization becomes Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM) in 1958, part of Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française (ORTF).
  • Werner Meyer-Eppler (1913-1960), Robert Beyer (1901-1981), and Herbert Eimert (1897-1972) establish the Studio für elektronische Musik at Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) in Cologne in 1951. Their conception of “elektronische Musik” is music recorded on magnetic tape consisting of sounds generated electronically—by means of oscillators, for example. Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) realizes his works Elektronische Studien (1953–54) and Gesang der Jünglinge (1955–56) there, and succeeds Eimert as director in 1962.
  • Raymond Scott (1908-1994) founds Manhattan Research, Inc. in 1946 to design and manufacture electronic music devices and systems. He invents and patents early multitrack tape recorders, synthesizers, sequencers, and drum machines, using these to create electronic music for commercials, films, and his own amusement.
  • Daphne Oram (1925-2003) co-founds the BBC Radiophonic Workshop with Desmond Briscoe in 1958 following a visit to the ORTF studios in Paris. She uses musique concrète techniques and composes music using oscillators and filters she designs. She leaves the BBC in 1959 and sets up the Oramics Studios for Electronic Composition, where she develops Oramics, a technique of drawing shapes and designs directly onto 35mm film stock that are transformed into sounds.
  • Delia Derbyshire (1937-2001) joins the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in 1960. Her most famous work is her 1963 electronic realization of a score by Ron Grainer for the Doctor Who theme music.
  • Vladimir Ussachevsky (1911-1990) and Otto Luening (1900-1996) found the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center at Columbia University in 1959, after connecting with Milton Babbitt (1916-2011) at Princeton University and securing a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. The list of composers who created music there includes Jon Appleton, Bülent Arel, Luciano Berio, Wendy Carlos, Charles Dodge, Halim El-Dabh, Daria Semegen, Alice Shields, Pril Smiley, Edgard Varèse, and Charles Wuorinen.
  • Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016), Ramón Sender (b. 1934), and Morton Subotnick (b. 1933) generate the idea for the San Francisco Tape Music Center in 1960, then realize it in 1961. A grant from the Rockefeller Foundation it receives in 1966 requires affiliation with an academic institution for administrative purposes, so the center moves to Mills College in Oakland, California, where it becomes the Mills Tape Music Center under the direction of Oliveros, and is later renamed the Center for Contemporary Music.
  • Tod Dockstader (1932-2015), a pioneer of musique concrète and electronically generated “Organized Sound,” an expression Edgard Varèse coined that Dockstader used to describe his own work, develops skills as a self-taught sound engineer in the late 1950s and as an apprentice in the early 1960s at Gotham Recording Studios in New York. Using studios after hours, Dockstader develops his first compositions using magnetic tape by employing editing, splicing, and manipulation techniques alongside rudimentary synthesis using sine wave test tone generators.