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Instruments for New Music

Instruments for New Music: Sound, Technology, and Modernism OPEN ACCESS

Thomas Patteson
Copyright Date: 2016
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    Instruments for New Music
    Book Description:

    Player pianos, radio-electric circuits, gramophone records, and optical sound film-these were the cutting-edge acoustic technologies of the early twentieth century, and for many musicians and artists of the time, these devices were also the implements of a musical revolution.Instruments for New Musictraces a diffuse network of cultural agents who shared the belief that a truly modern music could be attained only through a radical challenge to the technological foundations of the art. Centered in Germany during the 1920s and 1930s, the movement to create new instruments encompassed a broad spectrum of experiments, from the exploration of microtonal tunings and exotic tone colors to the ability to compose directly for automatic musical machines. This movement comprised composers, inventors, and visual artists, including Paul Hindemith, Ernst Toch, Jörg Mager, Friedrich Trautwein, László Moholy-Nagy, Walter Ruttmann, and Oskar Fischinger. Patteson's fascinating study combines an artifact-oriented history of new music in the early twentieth century with an astute revisiting of still-relevant debates about the relationship between technology and the arts.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96312-2
    Subjects: Music
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Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 1-17)

    The demand for new instruments resounded at the dawn of the twentieth century. “Suddenly,” Ferruccio Busoni declared in his 1907Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music,“one day it became clear to me: the development of music is impeded by our instruments. [. . .] In their scope, their sound, and their performative possibilities, our instruments are constrained, and their hundred chains shackle the would-be creator as well.”² In his Art of Noises manifesto of 1913, Luigi Russolo denounced the symphony orchestra as a “hospital for anemic sounds” and called for new ways of exploring the unlimited domain of...

  2. (pp. 18-51)

    On the evening of July 25, 1926, an unusual concert took place in the small Black Forest town of Donaueschingen, Germany. Presented as “original compositions for mechanical instruments,” the event featured three pieces by Ernst Toch, six “Polyphonic Études” by Gerhart Münch, and two works by Paul Hindemith, all written especially for a model of piano called the Welte-Mignon, which played automatically by means of a pneumatic mechanism activated by a spinning paper roll. The finale was an experimental stage performance called theTriadic Ballet,with costumes and choreography by the Bauhaus teacher Oskar Schlemmer and accompaniment for mechanical organ...

  3. (pp. 52-81)

    During the same July 1926 festival in Donaueschingen where the sounds of “mechanical music” were unleashed upon the world, an inventor named Jörg Mager demonstrated a remarkable new instrument. He played a curious device consisting of an L-shaped handle that he turned on its axis around a semicircular metal panel; as the handle moved, a connected loudspeaker emitted a keening, disembodied tone that glided and swooped, sounding either out of tune or otherworldly. This device—the Spherophone—was intended to usher in a new kind of music based on microtonal pitch increments discernable to the ear but unattainable by most...

  4. (pp. 82-113)

    By the end of the 1920s, two waves of technological activity had swept across the musical culture of the Weimar Republic. First, automatic instruments such as the Welte-Mignon mechanical piano offered composers a means of transmitting their work directly to a machine, bypassing the variability and physiological limitations of human performers. Second, electrophonic instruments such as Jörg Mager’s Spherophone expanded the possibilities of musical expression through new, ultrasensitive playing interfaces and sound circuitry that enabled the discovery of hitherto unknown sonic phenomena. For the champions of the quest for new instruments, it was a small and self-evident step to seek...

  5. (pp. 114-151)

    In 1933, the last year of the Weimar Republic, the German engineer and erstwhile instrument builder Peter Lertes published a book calledElektrische Musik.Bearing the elaborate subtitle “An accessible survey of its foundations, the present state of technology, and its possibilities for future development,” Lertes’s study was the first of its kind: a systematic overview of the new field of electric musical instruments, covering everything from the technical fundamentals of electroacoustics to a survey of the most important inventions of the time. Although the book was written for the most part in the sober and scientific tone of an...

  6. (pp. 152-168)

    In the twenty-six years between Busoni’sSketch of a New Aesthetic of Musicand the fall of the Weimar Republic, the technological situation of European music had undergone radical changes. The musty late-romantic orchestra lampooned by Busoni and Russolo now coexisted with a bewildering array of new instruments. There reigned a spirit of technological triumphalism. In 1932, after a decade that saw the emergence of such radical new currents as Gebrauchsmusik, neoclassicism, and the twelve-tone technique, the composer Walter Gronostay proclaimed that “the technification of musical sound sources is the one genuine novelty that has taken place in the last...