Electronic Music: books
Welcome to the section on electronic music books, that is, books on the subject of electronic and computer music. This is a very interesting area. Which are the stylistic origins of that trance-like nightclub music that we can hear when we’re out partying? And which are the origins of those origins? Electronic music has developed quite fast over the last 100 years! One of the earliest electronic music instruments – the telharmonium (built by Thaddeus Cahill in 1897) – actually weighed almost 200 tons! Today, some electronic instruments are smaller than your thumb.
In the history of electronic music, there are several milestones, including the invention of the telharmonium, the invention of the theremin, the works of Pierre Schaeffer and his musique concrète school, the early electroacoustic experiments of Karl-Heinz Stockhausen, the rise of the synthesizers thanks to Robert Moog in the 1960s, and so on. Why not find out more about them by doing some reading?
Please go ahead and use the Amazon links, should you want to purchase any of the following books!
List of books on electronic music
As of now, there are two books in this section.
Electronic and Experimental Music
Few authors cover the history and evolution of electronic music as well as Thom Holmes. The fourth edition of Electronic and Experimental Music was recently published by Routledge. I have read the third edition (2008) back to back and I found it very interesting and easy to read (at the time, I was a complete beginner in the field). The book covers the early history of electronic music, as well as technical aspects relating to instruments and analog synthesis. Moreover, there is a chapter on computer music and digital synthesis, and a more analytical section on the actual music. The chapter called Principles of Analog Synthesis and Voltage Control might be difficult to understand, unless you are into physics.
The fourth edition of this solid textbook is currently only sold in paperback. If this is still the case while you read this, you may want to consider purchasing the third edition in paperback. The links below, however, lead to the fourth edition.
The Cambridge Companion to Electronic Music
If compared with the above book, this Cambridge Companion, being an academic reader, is slightly less suited for general readers. However, if you want to really increase your understanding of the subject, it will come in handy. It was recommended to me by one of its editors – Nick Collins – whom I’ve had as a lecturer in electronic music. The Cambridge Companion to Electronic Music is divided into two sections – “Electronic Music in Context” and “Electronic Music in Practice”, both including chapters featuring artists’ statements. There is also a shorter third section on analysis and synthesis.
One of the most helpful features of this book is probably the chronology, which lists many of the inventions, events, and works in some way contributory to the development of electronic music, starting off with Pythagoras’ experiments in Ancient Greece! Very typical of Nick Collins.
The Language of Electroacoustic Music
A book on electronic music dating from 1986 might seem outdated, but one must not forget that the techniques and functions available in modern software are mere digitalizations of old inventions, ideas and discoveries. The Language of Electroacoustic Music is a reader, edited by Simon Emmerson. What primarily is in focus is the aesthetic of electroacoustic music, rather than technical developments. This makes it very relevant to students as well as enthusiasts in the field of electronic composition. It is easy to play around with electronic equipment, but how do you compose to get the most out of the medium? What kind of opportunities does electroacoustic music offer that traditional instrumental music does not have?
The Language of Electroacoustic Music has the most boring cover of all the books recommended on this site, but do try and get hold of it! It has really helped me, who is classically trained, to get an idea of how to make that Logic or Cubase interface turn into something else than just a playground.
Introduction to Computer Music
In all honesty, I have only gotten through a couple of chapters in this book. This is, however, not due to the book itself, but to me having to prioritize other reads. Nick Collins is very good at explaining things at a proper introductory level (a skill not shared by all doctors of music). As I mentioned before, I was taught by Collins in electronic music – also an introductory course. Music and computing can be intimately related phenomena, and this work does not only discuss different software. It properly defines the concept of computer music and some of the aeshetics revolving around the marriage of music and computing.
Moreover, Nick Collins is good at providing alternative pathways for those who would do anything to stay out of the math aspect of computing. Also, unlike some other books, this work is not dependent on any specific music software.
Book review page: 19. Published August 21, 2012 as Electronic Music: books.