photo: Hannes Grobe

Tape Jam Session: 1944 to 1959

In 1932 the German-Austrian engineer Fritz Pfleumer invented the magnetic tape. Now it was possible to edit, cut, loop and mix and easier to change speed and pitch of recorded sounds – a breeding ground for artists who looked for new compositional techniques and who wanted to have the sound production entirely in their hands. But the pioneers of electronic music not only pressed and turned the buttons in the commonly known avantgarde-centres like Cologne and Paris. An insightful selection from 1944 to 1959, on the occasion of the 80th birthday of the tape.


CAIRO 1944

Maybe the earliest piece of electroacoustic tape music: The 23-years-old student Halim El-Dabh composed «The Expression of Zaar» with equipment borrowed from Middle East Radio in Cairo. He edited and modified chants of an ancient Egyptian «Zaar» ceremony recorded before and presented the 25 minutes long piece in an art gallery (here: a 2 minute sample).


PARIS 1948

Pierre Schaeffer's «Etude aux chemins de fer», the arranged trains-sounds that later became the first movement of his «Cinq études de bruits». The new technique for composition he called Musique concréte in contrast to abstract music.

Video not available anymore.

In 1949, Schaeffer met the composer Pierre Henry, here with the 45-minutes-long piece «Le microphone bien tempéré» for tape composed 1950/1951. They collaborated and founded 1951 the Groupe de Recherche de Musique Concrète (GRMC) in the Studio d'essai de la Radiodiffusion-télévision française.


TOKYO 1951

Video not available anymore.

The composers Toru Takemitsu and Minao Shibata had the same idea at the same time as Pierre Schaeffer. With Sony's magnetic tape recorder G-Type developed in 1949 tape compositions could reach a higher level of knowledge and expertise. These became institutionalized In 1950, when a group of musicians founded the Jikken Kobo electronic music studio. The first electronic tape music by this group: «Toraware no Onna» and «Piece B», completed in 1951 by Kuniharu Akiyama. YouTube as source is disappointing, but you can listen here to an example from much later: Toshiro Mayuzumi with «Mandara» (1970), from Electronic Panorama: Paris, Tokyo, Utrecht, Warszawa.



Video not available anymore.

The Studio für elektronische Musik of the radio station WDR in Cologne was inititiated by composer and musicologist Herbert Eimert and is the first of its kind. With Karlheinz Stockhausen's increasing popularity the studio became a prominent meeting point for international composers. In his work «Studie 1» from 1953 Stockhausen recorded and manipulated sinus tones on tape-recorders.

Watch trailer of the documentary Ton Band Maschine about electronic music in Germany

Dr. Werner Kaegi explains: Vom Sinuston zur elektronischen Musik



After experiments by John Cage, Morton Feldman and other members of the New York School from 1948 on, in 1952 the first Tape Music concert in the United States was presented by Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luening. It included Luening's «Fantasy in Space» using manipulated recordings of flute—and Low Speed. Later, the ampex tape recorder was purchased at the Columbia-University, where Ussachevsky and Luening founded the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in 1955 (?).


MILAN 1955

In these fantastic, nearly surreal videos, composer Luciano Berio demonstrates the Studio di fonologia Milano. This oasis of sound-experiments was founded in 1955 by Bruna Maderna and Luciano Berio, following the example of Cologne. With nine oscillators, various filters and other equipment, the presence of the technician Marino Zuccheri, the studio was the best equipped in the world at that time. Berio and Maderna introduced a new approach: they worked with both, concrete and synthetically produced sound material.

«Ritratto di Città» by Luciano Berio and Bruno Maderna, text by Roberto Leydi, Voices: Nando Gazzolo and Ottavio Fanfani.



Kid Baltan and Tom Dissevelt in the Sound Laboratory in the famous room 30 of Philips Natuurkundig Laboratorium or NatLab in 1959, explaining how electronic tape music is made. The studio moved to the University of Utrecht at the Institute of Sonology in 1960.

(1907-1997) «Drei Schwärmereien» by Henk Badings for mixed choir and electronic music 1964



Else Marie Pade, active in the resistance during World War II, was one of the first women in electronic music. Inspired by Pierre Schaeffer she studied electronic music on the music acadamy. She and Holger Laurdsen organised an electronic sound studio at Radio Denmark, where she first realized the soundtrack for the radio drama «Looking for a ghost» and then in 1958 «Syv Circler», the first electronic composition in Denmark ever, and «Glasperlespillet»



Josef Tal at the Electronic Music Studio in Jerusalem 1965 (photo: Etan Tal)

Inspired by the studio in Cologne and the sound work by the New York School, Josef Tal in 1959 started to establish the Centre for Electronic Music in Israel at the Hebrew University. In 1961 his studio came up with a Multi-track, a new invention by Hugh Le Caine from the Columbia-Princeton Center For Electronic Music. There is unfortunately no music example.

Published on November 12, 2012

Last updated on February 26, 2020


Theresa Beyer gehört seit 2011 als Editorin, Kuratorin und Mitherausgeberin des Buches «Seismographic Sounds – Visions of a New World» zum Kernteam von Norient und beschäftigt sich mit Themen wie Queeren Musikkulturen, experimenteller Musik in Städten wie Belgrad oder Neu Delhi, und reflektiert in Vorträgen über die Chancen des multilokalen Kuratierens. Neben ihrer Norient-Identität ist sie Musikredaktorin bei Radio SRF 2 Kultur.
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