Music Docs and Video Ephemera That Capture the History of Electronic Music


Open Culture shared a music documentary this week that features music by Jean-Claude Risset, Douglas Leedy, F.R. Moore, Stephan Soomil, Rory Kaplan, Geral Strang, and “more forgotten geniuses of early electronic music.”

The 1983 film Discovering Electronic Music, which we feature below, offers a solid introduction to the beginnings and basics of the genre. We dug up several other videos that feature the innovators and experimental artists of electronic music, highlighting the artists at work in their studios and more.

This 1983 documentary film Discovering Electronic Music by director and writer Bernard Wilets examines analog synthesis, digital sampling, and sequencing. From Open Culture:

With an understated, pedagogical tone, Discovering Electronic Music gently leads its viewers through a thoughtful introduction to electronic music itself—what it consists of, how it differs from acoustic music, what kind of equipment produces it, and how that equipment works. There are many musicians featured here, but none of them stars. They demonstrate, with competency and professionalism, the ways various electronic instruments and (now seemingly prehistoric) computer systems work.

Pioneering artist Suzanne Ciani develops the moaning and groaning audio effects for the pinball game Xenon, which features Ciani’s voice and became the first human female voice in a game.

“I don’t like to perform live,” legendary Italian producer Giorgio Moroder tells us in this vintage clip showing the artist in his studio. Moroder, who has worked with everyone from David Bowie to Janet Jackson, demonstrates how the vocoder worked for his song “Baby Blue,” from his 1979 album E=MC². Bonus: cheesy narration, plus mustache and oversized ’70s shades for days.

The Delian Mode is a 2009 documentary about electronic music pioneer Delia Derbyshire, who is known for her work with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, the sound effects units of the BBC, where she created the memorable theme to Doctor Who. The clip features Derbyshire at work.

The 1984 doc Beat This: A Hip-Hop History features Bronx-born artist Afrika Bambaataa whose pioneering electro beats had a notable influence on the development of hip-hop music. Forgive the rhyme-heavy narration for footage of early B-boys and young Bambaataa in Zulu Nation garb.

Robert Moog, the “father of the modern synthesizer,” demonstrates his Minimoog, the first widely available, affordable, and compact synthesizer that started life as the little sibling of the large modular synthesizer and became a phenomenon of its own.

Here’s Daphne Oram at work in the studio. The pioneering BBC producer created the “Oramics” sound technique by drawing onto film strips. From the Guardian:

Oram was one of the first British composers to produce electronic sound, a pioneer of what became “musique concrete” – music made with sounds recorded on tape, the ancestor of today’s electronic music. Her story makes for fascinating reading. She was born in 1925 when Britain was between two world wars. She was extremely bright, and studied music and electronics – unusual at the time not only because electronics was an exciting new industry, but also because it was a man’s world.

Computer scientist and composer Barry Vercoe, who is a pioneer in the field of digital audio processing, demonstrates how the computer can be “a synthetic performer, accompanying a live instrument” in this 1984 video. More on Vercoe’s significant achievements:

During the ’70’s and early 80’s he pioneered the composition of works combining computers and live instruments. Then on a Guggenheim Fellowship in Paris in 1983 he developed a Synthetic Performer — a computer that could listen to other performers and play its own part in musical sync, even learning from rehearsals. In 1992 he won the Computer World / Smithsonian Award in Media Arts and Entertainment, and recently gained the 2004 SEAMUS Lifetime Achievement Award. Professor Vercoe was a founding member of the MIT Media Laboratory in 1984, where he has pursued research in Music Cognition and Machine Understanding. His several Music Synthesis languages are used around the world, and a variant of his Csound and NetSound languages has recently been adopted as the core of MPEG-4 audio — an international standard that enables efficient transmission of audio over the Internet.