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 (19)
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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.

  • Tay says:

    The ori­gins of Elec­tron­ic music were very influ­enced by clas­si­cal music, yes.

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