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German electronic music from the 60s and 70s

The foundations of the electronic music scene in Germany was formed in the early 1950s in Cologne with composers such as Stockhausen and Goeyvaerts. In 1955 Stockhausen and Eimert released their first compilation Elektronische Musique.

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The German electronic music scene of the 1960s and 70s was largely driven by a principle of withdrawing from American and British pop and rock music.

While some German speakers adopted existing styles through their language, others created entirely new genres. Krautrock, a minimalistic form of electronic music, emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s. As the name might imply, this moniker was coined by the English-speaking world. While many krautrock bands gravitated towards similar styles and aesthetics, there was no single defining feature. Krautrock was also known as kosmische musik, and was a broad experimental rock scene mixing elements from psychedelic rock, avantgarde and electronic tape music.

German musicians who imitated New Wave's sound helped to create Neue Deutsche Welle, also known as the New German Wave, as the genre gained popularity in the English-speaking world. The musical influences and styles were similar, at least on the surface, but NDW included German lyrics, which distinguished the genre due to the sound of the German language.

Some of the most famous bands from this period are Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, NEU! And Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft.

Ticket for a concert of Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschaft in the Ratinger Hof, a punk location in Düsseldorf, Germany. Author: Richard Gleim

Instruments & Technology

A lot of the music was created on tape machines and synthesizers. Some of the essential elements of a synthesizer include oscillators, filters and amplitude envelopes.

Two of the early engineers of synthesizers were Don Buchla and Roberg Moog, both starting in the 1960s. Where Moog synthesizers were controlled with a traditional keyboard, the Buchla systems employed more experimental interfaces. The most well known synthesizers are the ones controlled with a keyboard. A synthesizer can produce a wide range of sounds and noises.The sound is generated by various oscillators, filters and electronic circuits.
Suzanne Ciani explaining sound synthesis

RCA Mark 1
The term ‘synthesizer’ was introduced in 1956 with the RCA electronic music synthesizer Mark 1. In the 1960s the synthesizers became part of popular music for those who could afford it. The Beatles was one of the first pop-bands to introduce a synthesizer, on the album Abbey road from 1969.

Harry Olson, Director of the RCA Acoustics Laboratory early 1930s developed the velocity microphone, which became the standard for studio recording, since it was very directional. Herbert Belar, an acoustics engineer, entertained the idea of being able to synthesize music. The idea of being able to forego hiring expensive session musicians and instead hire just one person to compose on a machine was incredibly attractive. Early synthesizers had no keyboards, instead they used paper tape with holes punched into them. The music would be recorded directly onto a master record.

In the 1950s, RCA (Radio Corporation of America) was a leading entertainment company in the United States. They were involved in various aspects of the entertainment industry, including manufacturing record players, radio and electronic equipment, recording music, and producing records. One of their unique endeavors in the early 50s was a research project aimed at creating hit pop songs by analyzing thousands of music recordings. The goal was to understand the formula behind hit songs and use it to generate their own hit music. Additionally, the project aimed to cut costs by automating music arrangements and using electronic sounds rather than costly orchestras. The ultimate goal was to create music directly from score to disc without errors or re-takes.

RCA released a set of four EPs with narration detailing the basic features of the synthesizer. Along with electronic renditions of a few well-known pieces of classical music.

Invented by Dr. Robert “Bob” Moog in 1964, the Moog synthesizer was a technical marvel, bringing musicians the key to an entirely new array of sounds.

Among the earliest adopters of the Moog synthesizer are The Monkees with the song Daily Nightly (1967) played on the Moog IIIP, The Doors on chart-topping Strange Days (1967) from the album of the same name and The Beatles’ John Lennon putting down a wall of noise on I Want You (She’s So Heavy), from the iconic album Abbey Road (1969).

In the examples above the Moog synthesizer is mostly used to add background sounds. Wendy Carlos’ Switched-on Bach from 1968 was a truly groundbreaking album, bringing the Moog front and center as the star of the show. Many years after its release, Switched-on Bach still remained the best-selling classical album. Wendy Carlos won two Grammy awards with the album and it stands as a prime example of innovative use of early synthesizer technology.

For more in-depth information on the technical aspects of the Moog synthesizer, check out this video with Wendy Carlos showing the BBC her Moog Synthesizer.

Buchla Model 100
Donald Buchla built his first synthesizer in 1963. With help from a $500 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Model 100 Series’ Electronic Music System was created. Despite being contemporaries, Buchla’s system was vastly different from Bob Moog’s creations. Buchla was much more interested in innovative sound design and experimental music; this was apparent in the steep learning curve and complexity of the Model 100. The 50s had been a decade of exploration into the field of electronic music composition, but due to the cumbersome and unwieldy nature of tape-based methods, it was also incredibly slow. While seeming far too complex and devoid of user-friendliness, Buchla’s system was a massive step forward in the tools available to composers. Buchla played a huge role in allowing real-time control of sounds, connection of external devices and audio reproduction with as much consistency as possible.

Suzanne Ciani on the Buchla | Red Bull Music Academy

Here you can find an interesting podcast describing the synth war between the east and the west coast in the US.
Synth War — Twenty Thousand Hertz - The stories behind the world's most recognizable and interesting sounds.

CAN - Paperhouse (1971)
Hoffnung & Psyche - Sie bleibt kalt (HQ)
First Techno (Kraftwerk 1970)
Kraftwerk mit "Tanzmusik" 1973 im ZDF-aspekte-Studio


A Short History of German Music: From Bach to Die Toten Hosen (deutschland.de. 2018)

The ‘RCA Synthesiser I & II’ Harry Olson & Herbert Belar, USA, 1951 (Crab, Simon. 2014)
Five of The Earliest Artists and Bands To Embrace The Moog Synthesizer | Vintage Synth Explorer (Bolton, Naomi. 2020)
Bob Moog: An Inspired Life in Sound — Google Arts & Culture (Bob Moog Foundation, The. 2021)
Buchla 200e: Part 1 (Reid, Gordon. 2005)
Remembering Synthesizer Innovator Don Buchla (1937-2016) - (Bob Moog Foundation, The. 2016)