The greatest electronic albums of the 1950s and 1960s

Originally published by FACT

The great electronic albums of the 1970s get plenty of kudos – but what of their predecessors?

Casual accounts of the history of electronic music tend to point back to familiar sources: Suicide’s babble’n’hum; Cluster, Klaus Schulze and the rest of the Krautrock squad; the stygian mulch-music of early Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle; and of course Kraftwerk’s meticulous robot pop. Further back? Well, that’s when things tend to get a little foggy.

Experiments with recorded electronic music actually date back to the 1940s (hell, depending on how you define “electronic music”, they date back to the 1880s). As early as the mid-1950s, predominantly electronic LPs were already being pressed, marketed and sold to the a willing (if slightly confused) public. Half a century down the line, many of these records still sound fantastic. Some are fascinating relics with plenty to say to the contemporary listener; others sound impossibly ahead of their time.

The following rundown is limited to complete artist albums, as opposed to compilations or collections of stand-alone works. As such, important names perhaps more readily associated with the realm of “art music” – Pierre Schaeffer, Pierre Henry and the GRM sect; Edgard Varèse; Iannis Xenakis; James Tenney; Alvin Lucier; Luciano Berio and plenty more – are respectfully put to one side. Similarly, dear quibblers, “electronic” has been broadly taken to refer to albums that put new synthesizer instruments or synthesized tones at their core. By that token, some exceptional albums (Terry Riley’s organ masterpiece A Rainbow In Curved Air; Steve Reich’s Live / Electric Music) are omitted, and rock and pop LPs that flirt with electronics without going the whole hog have also been left out.

Ground rules set – and inevitably occasionally broken – here they are: 15 essentials from electronic music’s Big Bang.


The Fascinating World of Electronic Music
(Philips, 1959)

Some canny YouTube user has tagged a track from The Fascinating World of Electronic Music as “acid house from 1958″, clocking up a quarter of a million views in the process – and, as it happens, they’re not too far off the money.

Kid Baltan is the alias of Dutch artist Dick Raaijmakers, a cultural theorist, musical theatre composer, lecturer and engineer, whose whopping output stretches deep into the 2000s. Tom Dissevelt, meanwhile, started his musical life in big bands and orchestras – a similar situation to first-wave innovators like Raymond Scott, who composed the Looney Tunes music, and various members of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

Raaijmakers and Dissevelt crossed paths working at Royal Philips Electronics, the Eindhoven-based workshop that would eventually churn out the first cassettes and compact discs. There, the pair started producing speculative electronic pop music, built out of layered oscillator tones and acoustic sound sources. Their labours produced 1957′s ‘Song of the Second Moon’ – a propulsive track based around treated Ondes Martenot noises, and arguably the first electronic pop record ever made.

Baltan and Dissevelt’s music from this period was released in numerous editions and under different guises, but The Fascinating World of Electronic Music is the first release to pull their late 1950s compositions under one roof. The results – giddy, chirruping electronic pieces, arranged like pointillist dot paintings with a keen sense of rhythm – are still killer. Remarkably, much of these were also produced without any sort of keyboard or synth to hand. Raaijmakers’ legacy hasn’t been forgotten – Thurston Moore and Mouse on Mars are among those to have reinterpreted his work.


Herbert Eimert – Einführung (Deutsche Grammophon, 1957)

A passionate proponent of ‘pure’ electronic music, Eimert was the first director of Cologne’s hugely important Studio for Electronic Music. This early 10″ collection of beguiling machine mutterings is sometimes featherlight, often chilling.

Various Artists ‎– Popular Electronics: Early Dutch Electronic Music From Philips Research Laboratories (1956 – 1963) (Basta, 2004)

Gargantuan overview of early material from the Philips Electronics lab, featuring work from Raaijmakers, Dissevelt and Henk Badings.

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