Herbert Eimert: “Tone mixture”
From the album Einführung in die elektronische Musik (1963)
[This is a collaborative post with Continuo’s Weblog. After listening to this example, head over to Continuo’s, where you can download the full album (320 kbps MP3 vinyl rip with scanned liner notes) and read some historical background on Herbert Eimert.]
Einführung in die elektronische Musik (Introduction to Electronic Music) belongs to a fascinating category of musical-didactic hybrid that emerged in the wake of the first electronic music studios around 1950. In presenting what could be called a taxonomy of electronic sound, these albums were intended to sensitize listeners to the new musical material of recorded and synthetic sounds, as opposed to the familiar gestural language (whether tonal or post-tonal) of vocal and instrumental music. These albums can be seen as modern analogs to the 19th-century orchestration treatise, which sought to systematically represent all the sound-production possibilities of the symphony orchestra.
Perhaps the best-known representative of this genre is the wonderful Solfege de l’objet sonore of Pierre Schaeffer, which was released in 1967 to accompany Schaeffer’s psychoacoustic magnum opus Traite de les objets sonores. Some other examples include Herbert Brün’s Über Musik und zum Computer (1971), John R. Pierce’s The Science of Musical Sound (1979), and IRCAM - Un portrait (1983).
In this track, Eimert explains the Tongemisch or tone mixture, which is a complex sound composed of an inharmonic spectrum in which the partials are not in whole-number ratios to the fundamental. Outside of synthetically generated sound, this kind of timbre occurs in the spectra of bells, rods, plates, and other metallic objects.
The tone-mixture was a crucially important concept for the theoretical development of electronic music as envisioned by Eimert, for it allowed the atonal organization of sound to penetrate down to the level of timbre itself. Conventional instruments, so Eimert and others argued, are in a certain sense hard-wired for tonality, because the harmonic spectrum emphasizes tonal relationships such as the octave, fifth, and major third. This explains why, for these composers, electronic music was by definition serial music, and vice versa. As Eimert states in his commentary to these sound examples: “The tone-mixture is an entirely new dimension of composition; in it, the many insurmountable contradictions of so-called atonality are finally resolved. […] Such tone-mixtures can be compositionally ordered such that the structure of the sounds becomes integrated into the structure of the work.”
Eimert (left) and Karlheinz Stockhausen at work in the studio (1953)
Played 140 time(s).
September 01, 2010, 2:23pm