Lentis/Electronic Inventions that Shaped Popular Music
Developments in electronic music allowed for greater fidelity and diversity/scope of sound creating more textured and sophisticated popular music from 1950–1970, still enjoyed to this day.
Super Amp (1947)
The Fender Super Amp came out in 1947 and is known for its overdrive capabilities and for being the first "twin-speaker amplifier." Overdrive is done by increasing the gain of a signal until the sound becomes fuzzy or distorted. The Fender Super Amp was produced until 1963 with changes in between to the circuitry.
Fender 6 String Electric Guitar (1951)
The electric guitar was developed prior to the 50s as guitars needed to be louder to compete with other instruments as well as perform for larger audiences. The solid body electric guitar which became widely used in the 60s and 70s is entirely electrically amplified and provides no additional sounds from the body unlike an acoustic guitar. Gibson Guitars and Fender came out with the first modern looking solid body guitars in the late 1940s and early 50s. Fender's Stratocaster in 1954 became very popular in the following decades and has been used in a wide array of music genres. The Fender Stratocaster is still produced today. The "Strat" allowed a wider range of sound to be accessed with three independent pickups and added indents higher up the neck of the guitar, adopted both by showmen such as Chuck Berry and those who preferred to let the music speak for itself like Buddy Holly, the guitar was a necessary staple for every rock musician, and made the electric guitarist a staple of the band paradigm.
Electro - Theremin (late 1950s)
The electro-theremin was developed by Paul Tanner, whom wanted to have more control over sound produced by the traditional theremin. The 'tannerin' works using a slide and knob to control pitch and volume. Tanner's theremin appears most notably on the Beach Boys hit "Good Vibrations" though it was also used in "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" and "Wild Honey." The electro-theremin produced a sound similar to the traditional theremin while giving musicians more tactile control over the pitch and frequency of the instrument.
Gibson Amp with Spring Reverb (1961)
Also known as the Gibson GA-79RVT, this amp was one of the first stereo amplifiers made exclusively for electric guitars. The amp could accommodate two guitarists playing mono for both channels or one guitarist playing in stereo. The construction of the amp and its chosen components gave it a signature reverb producing a sound unique to this amplifier.
Moog Synthesizer (1964)
Developed by Robert Moog, the Moog synthesizer was initially only used in universities in avant-garde productions seeking to explore what sounds could be made electronically with little recognition for how pleasing or popular these sounds would be. By 1968 the Moog was being incorporated into popular music among some of the most popular artists of the time: the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Frank Zappa, the Doors, the Byrds, and Stevie Wonder. The Moog synthesizer became instrumental in fostering the genre of electronic music and is arguably still the standard in analog synthesizers due to its modular nature, and the unparalleled control it afforded artists in crafting the exact sound they had in their mind.
Multitracking was popularized by Les Paul and Mary Ford in 1951 with their song "How High the moon". This song not only introduced multitracking but showed its dominance over single track takes. It was such a superior recording technique, that the Beatles and the Beach Boys used it to make the best production sound of the 1960s. The Beatles stopped touring in the 1960s because they realized their live sound could not compare to the multitrack sound. Multitracking gave musicians the ability to overdub, record two tracks at once, record different parts at different times and have each track manipulated individually. This technology allowed musicians to create sounds not limited by their instruments.
Dolby Noise Reduction Systems
Dolby A came out in 1965 and became popular in use with multi-track recording. It divided the sound into four frequency bands using filters and the regions with the noise were processed more heavily. Dolby B came out in 1968 and was used in cassette recorders (non-professional use) and didn't divide the sound into bands like Dolby A. Dolby B was not as effective at attenuating noise as Dolby A but it was easier and much cheaper to implement.
Composers of Electronic Music and Early Adoption
Pierre Schaeffer developed Musique concrète in the early 40s which uses recorded sounds to compose music. He used pitch shifting and splicing of tapes to produce his pieces. Both Gershon Kingsley and Wendy Carlos were some of the first to compose entirely electronic music using the Moog Synthesizer. Kingsley's album titled "Music to Moog By" and Carlos's album "Switched on Bach" used the Moog as the primary instrument working to showcase its versatility in music production. Carlos's album was premiered at the New York Audio Engineering Society in October 1968 to a standing ovation.
Bands and Popularization
Electronics began to be incorporated into popular music shortly after their invention, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Frank Zappa, the Doors, the Byrds, and Stevie Wonder had used the Moog in their production by the late 1960s. The success of this incorporation can be seen with the Beach Boys song "Good Vibrations." The use of electro-theremin, and reverb to create a washed out sound clearly identifiable as "beach music" made the song not only an instant success but one that stood the test of time as well. The Beach Boys were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1994 for the song, which is also recognized by the Rolling Stones as #6 in their "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" list.
In the beginning, economic use of electronics in music was necessary. The start of Kraftwerk, a German electronic music band, shows that exclusive use of electronics lead to a stale reception, seen in their early concert in Soest in 1970. Initially, venue was important, it was easier to accept strictly electronic music as background music in dance halls and clubs versus something to see in concert; seen with the reception of Gershon Kingsley's song "Popcorn" made using the Moog Sysnthesizer.
From 1950 to 1953 the tops charts in America consisted of Smooth Jazz, easy listening, and Jazz music. The general feel of the music was more lounge type. Full orchestras and big voices dominated the charts in music. The popular artists were the Nat Kings and Jimmy Boyds. This music feels as if it's for a live dinner audience or a small theater. As tape recording is utilized Motown hits the scene. Doo-wop tops the charts in 1954 with Mister Sandman. The Jazz and lounge presence is still strong but more upbeat music is introduced. In 1955 Tutti Frutti tops the charts, and Rock and Roll are introduced. The Fender six-string guitar, produced in 1950, became popular five years later in 1955, with Chuck Berry. In 1956, Elvis begins to dominate the charts with iconic songs like "Jailhouse Rock". In 1957, "Jonny B Good", by Chuck Berry hits the top of the Charts and Rock and Roll establish itself as more than just "electronic noise." in the music industry. With the invention of the super amp in 1947 paired with the electric, Rock and Roll became huge in live audiences. Huge music venues were played by artists for large live audiences.
In the mid-1960s the British invasion happened. The Rolling Stones topped the charts with "Satisfaction", and the Beatles came crashing in with hits like "Help" and "A Hard Days Night". These bands sold out stadiums. They played in live venues all across the country. The Beatles began to start to use technology to ease the recording effort during this time. They started double tracking to speed up recording time and dubbing to aid Harrison in a tricky rift in "Help".
The next major shift in music came with the two albums "Pet Sounds" by the Beach Boys and "Sargent Peppers Lonely Club Band" by the Beatles. These albums utilized the full production values. The production quality was so good for the songs, that the Beatles stopped touring. They thought they sounded terrible live compared to their recorded sound. The songs "Yellow Submarine" and "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" are great examples of the high production quality. The Beachboys used "wet reverb" or "spring reverb" in their music to imitate and convey an ocean feel. If you listen to "Pet Sounds" the crashing feel of the spring verb will be stick out. Gibson added the spring reverb to their amps in 1961. The spring reverb was essiental to create the surf music genre. For future albums, both the Beatles and the Beach Boys began to use Moog Synthesizers, which was also invented in 1961.
The advances in technology changed the landscape of music. Multitracking and magnetic tape recordings allowed for more upbeat music and smaller ensembles. As the electric guitar and the super amp were used, it gave way to larger live venues and Rock and Roll music. As overdubbing, Moog synthesizing and different reverb became more popular, artists shifted from playing live to increasing production quality.
Changes in music from the 1950 to the 1970 were impacted by changes in technology related to music making. Artists were given more freedom to express themselves and could do so with added nuance. This led to the creation of new musical genres, as seen with Kraftwerk, and more attention to the production side of music making, as seen with the Beatles; albums were made to be listened to, not simply performed live. This pattern of advancing technology giving more control to the artist whom then creates something exciting can be seen outside of music as well.
Entire industries have opened to people, previously closed out due to barriers to entry. With Adobe Photoshop and After Effects anyone can become a professional photographer or director. With YouTube and Twitch, anyone can become their own broadcasting company. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have allowed people to become their own advertising company. Souncloud, Kindle, Depop, Unity and the AppStore one can make becoming a musician, a novelist, a fashion designer, or a game designer a reality for everyone with an internet connection. Advancements in technology have simplified self-branding and because of it there is more innovation in these creative spaces.
This is the link between advancements today and advancements half a century ago, to increase innovation increase accessibility. Creators of technology may underestimate its impact. Like the Moog synthesizer, creators of the AppStore, did not expect it to be as prolific as it has become. Additionally, technology is only as good as what is done with it and this mantra must be kept in mind when creating new technology.
- Hunter, Dave (July 2012). "The Fender 5F4 Super Amp". Vintage Guitar. pp. 50–52.
- The History of Electric Guitar
- Carvalho, A. (2016, Nov). History of Gibson Amplfiershttp. Retrieved December 11, 2017, form http://www.som-magazine.com/historia-dos-amplificadores-gibson/?lang=en
- "Musique Concrete was created in Paris in 1948 from edited collages of everyday noise" (Lebrecht 1996, p. 107).
- McDonald, G. Every Noise At Once. Retrieved December 11, 2017 from http://everynoise.com/engenremap.html
- Playback Fm. Retrieved December 11, 2017 from https://playback.fm/charts/top-100-songs/1955