Some instructional listening. Well, the start of some of it. And where I'm going to start is back in the pre-synth era, since the first synthesizers were a technological answer to the difficulties of what are known as 'classical' electronic music and its limitations. For a very good look at the point of inception where this happened more or less simultaneously on both the east and west coasts, I point you to the very excellent book “Analog Days” by T.J. Pinch and Frank Trocco. Essential reading, truly; a must for anyone involved in electronic music, since everything we do and use now bases itself in these origination-points.
Pretty much everything on this list can be hunted down online, both in sound (sometimes even in filmed versions!) and text references. Those with a sense of both adventure and inquiry will likely find these examples pretty inspirational.
1) Paul Hindemith: “Concertino for Trautonium and Strings” (1931). A proper concerto-style work for string orchestra and the newly-invented Trautonium, an instrument created by Friedrich Trautwein which used a neon-tube relaxation oscillator and a continuous ribbon-type controller.
2) Edgard Varèse: “Ecuatorial” (1932-34). The original version of this work included two of the then-new theremins in its ensemble; later, Varèse rescored the work to use the more-controllable Ondes Martinot (see below).
3) Olivier Messiaen: “Fête des belles eaux” (1937). One of the very first purely-electronic works, scored for a sextet of Ondes Martinots, a fairly-complex and partly-keyboard electronic instrument created by Maurice Martenot in the mid-1930s. The work was intended for outdoor performance along the River Seine in Paris, so in a very real sense it also is an antecedent to ambient music and its development.
4) Pierre Schaeffer: “Cinq études de bruits” (Five Noise Studies) (1948). This series of five works of 'musique concrète', or music using existing sounds outside of those normally produced by instruments, is where much of the concept of tape music emerges. Although Schaeffer's initial works used disc lathes and turntables to composite and manipulate sounds, the emergence of commercially-available tape machines shortly after the time these works were created plus the concepts broached by Schaeffer and others in the French 'Club d'Essai' would combine to form the 'manipulation' side of 'classical' electronic music technique.
5) Pierre Henry & Pierre Schaeffer: “Symphonie pour un homme seul” (Symphony for one man alone) (1950-51/rev. 1966). This work could probably be considered the ultimate expression of the concrète techniques pioneered in Paris. However, it was nearly-impossible to perform in its original form, due to the limitations posed by the phonograph techniques still in use. Later revisions pared the work down considerably, followed by the restoration of one removed section in the 1966 version.
6) Karlheinz Stockhausen: “Gesang der Jünglinge” (Song of the Youths) (1955-56). Stockhausen pioneered the use of purely electronic sounds in music a few years previous to this in his two 'Studien', but this work is perhaps the best example of those concepts, assembled together with 'concrète' manipulation techniques of childrens' voices, to create something which is pretty much the start-point for what we now know as 'electronic music'.
7) Edgard Varèse: “Poème électronique” (Electronic Poem) (1958). This work, which only now exists in a stereo version, was originally intended for the Philips pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World Fair. In that venue, it was spatially-distributed over some 300+ loudspeakers, through which the audience moved. The work varies from concrete to purely electronic media, and would later be the model for the Japan track “Ghosts”.
8) Karlheinz Stockhausen: “Kontakte” (Contacts) (1958-60). Stockhausen's next step beyond the above work was to explore the continuum of sound that ranges from pitches, to rhythms, to periods of time. Using pulse generators as the primary sources for both sound generation and modulation, he created this work which aptly demonstrates the direct relationship of all time-based aspects in music.
9) Vladimir Ussachevsky: “Wireless Fantasy” (1960). This, one of Ussachevsky's early works at the newly-formed Columbia-Princeton Center for Electronic Music, more accurately belongs to the 'musique concrète' domain, but it too uses electronic sound sources, this time derived from shortwave radio.
10) Luciano Berio: “Visage” (1961) Created at RAI Milan's studio, Berio's piece subjects the word 'parole' ('words') to a mind-wrenching series of electronic and electroacoustic transformation processes. Cathy Berberian's voice in this work is made to go in directions that only electronic media would be capable of.
11) Milton Babbitt: “Philomel” (1964). Also created at the Columbia-Princeton Center, this work is perhaps one of the most famous compositions that makes use of the earliest instrument known as a 'synthesizer', the RCA Mark II, along with soprano voice.
12) Pauline Oliveros: “I of IV” (1966). Created during Oliveros' tenure at the University of Toronto, the work uses her methods of ultrasonic oscillator manipulation to synthesize elaborate sonic textures. She was also present at the birth of the Buchla synthesizer at the San Francisco Tape Music Center just before this, but hadn't yet made the leap to the new synthesizer technology when this work was composed. Nevertheless, those familiar with the sound of the early Buchlas will notice certain similarities between what she accomplishes here and the 'complex oscillator' behavior of those early synths.
13) Karlheinz Stockhausen: “Hymnen” (Anthems) (1966-68). This work is perhaps the crowning opus of pre-synthesizer electronic music. At two hours in length, “Hymnen” represents, in very real ways, the limit of the 'classical' studio techniques. During the composition and realization of this work, of course, the development of the Moog and Buchla systems was in full swing, and would soon become the focus of later electronic music development...but this four-movement work is, in a very real sense, the climactic creation of the pre-synthesizer era in electronic music.
FYI, while I point out the early instruments above, the later works also contain significant contributions. Schaeffer and his compatriot Pierre Henry worked on techniques that would go on to spawn sample-manipulation (in fact, the Make Noise 'Phonogene' and 'Morphagene' owe their existence to some of these methods, albeit translated into modern digital technology). And Ussachevsky was the first to establish the makeup of sonic dynamic envelopes as containing an Attack, a period of initial Decay, a level of Sustain, and an eventual Release. So while these pieces all seem distantly-located in comparison to what everyone here on MG is working with, they (as well as many others; these are really just 'cardinal examples') are in a very real sense antecedent to everything we're up to today. And because of that, they're very much works that anyone involved in electronic music should have at least a passing familiarity with.
Anyway, that's all for this pile of edumacationable material. Next list I post (after a while), I'll start looking at the early synth works, starting around the general time where this list leaves off.