The History of Electronic Music in 476 Tracks (1937-2001)


Photo of Karlheinz Stockhausen by Kathinka Pasveer via Wikimedia Commons

You may hear the phrase “electronic music” and think of superstar dubstep DJs in funny helmets at beachside celebrity parties. Alternately, you may think of the mercurial compositions of Karlheinz Stockhausen, the musique concrete of Pierre Henry, or the otherworldly experimentalism of François Bayle. If you’re in that latter camp of music nerd, then this post may bring you very glad tidings indeed. Ubuweb—that stalwart repository of all things 20th-century avant-garde—now hosts an extraordinary compilation: the 476-song History of Electronic/Electroacoustic Music, originally a 62 CD set. (Hear below Stockhausen’s “Kontact,” Henry’s “Astrologie,” and Bayles’ spare “Theatre d’Ombres” further down.)

Spanning the years 1937-2001, the collection should especially appeal to those with an avant-garde or musicological bent. In fact, the original uploader of this archive of experimental sound, Caio Barros, put these tracks online in 2009 while a student of composition at Brazil’s State University of São Paulo. Barrios’ “initiative,” as he writes at Ubuweb, “became some sort of legend” among musicophiles in the know.

And yet, Ubuweb reposts this phenomenal collection with a disclaimer: “It’s a clearly flawed selection,” they write:

There’s few women and almost no one working outside of the Western tradition (where are the Japanese? Chinese? etc.). However, as an effort, it’s admirable and contains a ton of great stuff.

Take it with a grain of salt, or perhaps use it as a provocation to curate a more intelligent, inclusive, and comprehensive selection

It’s a fair critique, though Barrios points out that the exclusions mostly have to do with “the way our society and the tradition this music represent works” (sic). And yet, as disciplinary boundaries expand all the time, and histories broaden along with them, that description no longer holds. It would be a fascinating exercise, for example, to listen to these tracks alongside the history of women in electronic music, 1938-2014 that we posted recently, for example.

Also, there’s clearly much more to electronic music than either celebrity DJs or obscure avant-garde composers. Many hundreds of popular electronic composers and musicians—like Brian Eno, Kraftwerk, Bruce Haack, or Clara Rockmore—fall somewhere in-between the worlds of pop/dance/performance and serious composition, and their contributions deserve representation alongside more experimental or classical artists.

All that said, however, there’s no reason you can’t curate your own playlist of the history of electronic music as you see it—drawing from the astounding wealth of music available free at The History of Electroacoustic Music. Or consider this collection a fully immersive course in “traditional, western avant-garde electronic music” from “the area of Europe-America,” as Barrios puts it. As that, it succeeds admirably.

Related Content:

Hear Seven Hours of Women Making Electronic Music (1938- 2014)

Pioneering Electronic Composer Karlheinz Stockhausen Presents “Four Criteria of Electronic Music” & Other Lectures in English (1972)

The Fascinating Story of How Delia Derbyshire Created the Original Doctor Who Theme

Two Documentaries Introduce Delia Derbyshire, the Pioneer in Electronic Music

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Comments (18)
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  • Shaun says:

    “tradition this music represents works”*

  • Wortgefecht says:

    Ubiweb is such a great place! Oh, there’s also a great Youtube playlist of 391 tracks called “Electronic/Musique Concrète/Tape Music/Minimal/Abstract/Ambient (10’s – 70’s)” by user guernica0206:

  • Jon Appleton says:

    A valuable but extraordinarily geographically narrow selection.

  • Kevin Nolan says:

    An amazing track list – thank you.

    But surely – this is NOT electronic music. It’s Electro-Acoustic music in the Contemporary-Classical Genre – surely?

  • Jean-François Denis says: has catalogued the original 62-CD set to somewhat set the record “straighter” with more accurate spelling of the works’ titles and, in some cases, the creators’ names. To also connect the dots by trying to match these works with (once and often still) available recordings.

  • Jez riley French says:

    ok, firstly there’s the obvious & still unacceptable lack of significant female composers / artists in this list. Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram, Norma Beecroft, Bebe Baron etc etc – the list would run to 100’s of names of course. There are also significant omissions of important males such as Raymond Scott, Toru Takemitsu. I know all such compilations will miss more than they include but I do feel that at this time the importance of this particular compilations is as a reflection of the problems it illustrates.

  • Rance says:

    “…476 song…”

    Song? Srsly? Song? What the hell is wrong with you? Song?!?!?!?!?!?

  • Patrick says:

    If it was a torrent, why not making it available as a torrent?

  • manysounds says:

    The playlist fails for skipping Walter/Wendy Carlos entirely. Beyond the Switched on Bach stuff, Carlos composed and recorded some amazing music. Timesteps from A Clockwork Orange, Sonic Seasonings, The Shining, Beauty in the Beast, Tron. -Nevermind her contributions to the development of the Moog synthesizers.

  • Randy says:

    File “Cage, John – Imaginary Landscape No. 5 – 1952” is incorrectly linked. If you fix the extension to mp3, it works fine.

  • Darvek says:

    All these sites – and the internet in general – should absolutely refrain from using the term “song” as a generic for any/all musical works. Here, 99% of the compositions are not songs at all, and in fact, have no singing. It is just blindly ignorant to call them “Songs”. I compose works myself, some of which are 30+ minute instrumental/electronic soundscapes, and yet these stupid online platforms for music management still pursue the use of this erroneous term! Just take Beethoven as an example: He composed symphonies, concertos, incidental orchestral music, overtures, an opera, masses, sonatas, variations, music for wind band, string quartets and other chamber works, and… yes, he also wrote a few songs; but are you going to refer to all his works as “songs”??? That’s just plain idiotic!

  • Darvek says:

    No! I do not think of fucking dubstep DJ’s when I hear the phrase “Electronic Music”!

  • Darvek says:

    Even calling Stockhausen’s ‘Gesang der Jünglinge’ a song is a bit of a stretch.

  • António Oliveira says:

    Please, stop trying to FORCE “diversity” in everything. The uploader choose excellence, instead.

  • Toad says:

    António–If you could see through your blind rage, you’d be able to read, and you’d know that it was the uploader who raised the issue of inclusiveness.

  • Andreas G says:

    A tip of the hat to the 7 volume, 15 CD “Anthology of Noise and Electronic Music” on the Sub-Rosa label. Really excellent. Volume 1 is a great place to start delving into this stuff.

  • Al de Baran says:

    @ Toad:

    If you could see through your blind PC Pavlovian reactions, then you’d be able to click links and read. Then you would know that the note about the collection’s being unrepresentative was by UbuWeb, whereas António was referring to the *original* uploader of the material–i.e., the Brazilian student, who did not post such a note.

  • Al de Baran says:

    And by the way, no, the “woke” affirmative action” drivel from UbuWeb is *not* a fair critique. It is yet another symptom of our ludicrous, thought-policed society, which prizes alleged diversity over quality. As on commentator states, accurately, “the uploader chose excellence, instead”. He chose historical importance and influence, as well.

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