This article counters the canonical histories of electronic music that traditionally begin with Cahill’s Telharmonium and find their historical centre in the activities of the Paris and Cologne studios of the mid-twentieth century. The concept of ‘failed histories’ is introduced here with three important examples. The first chronicles the career of electromusical innovator Johann Baptist Schalkenbach (1824–1910). The second example examines Britain’s earliest electronic sound performance in 1895, signalling a rupture between electromusical bombast and the detailed, quiet work of the experimental laboratory. The third episode looks at the wireless oscillation outrages of the 1920s and 1930s, where electronic tone prematurely trespassed upon musical culture. Taken together, these failed histories offer an alternative narrative of electronic music finding its voice (and losing its voice) in turn-of-the-century Britain.
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