(c) Jerry Fielden 2000 

The influence of Electronic Music in Rock Music, 1967-76; 
Keith Emerson, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and others 

There were two basic currents in the evolution of rock music in the late 60’s; one evolved into simple pop and its derivatives, and the other into a more convoluted, experimental type of music: it is the latter current of the late 60s and early 70s that interests us, as many of the devices and styles were the same that were incorporated into the electroacoustic music of the period (as well as in earlier times). In this musical research, two underlying technologies can be comprehended, which were the same as in electroacoustic music: analog instruments and modifying effects, such as Moog synthesizers or electric guitars and the various foot pedals used with them, and tape-based technologies, including multitracking, echo and musique concrète. 

Pioneers of VCO-based synthesizers in rock include Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Rick Wakeman of Yes, Roger Powell of Utopia, George Duke with Frank Zappa, Jan Hammer, Chick Corea, Jon Lord of Deep Purple, Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream, Rick Wright of Pink Floyd, etc. 

Keith Emerson is the most famous name in this list and there are several reasons why; his pyrotechnics on the organ, his flamboyant demeanor in live concerts and his mixing of classical and rock styles, as well as his being the first to take a cumbersome Moog apparatus on tour: the band is famed for the use of the Moog in their first album of 1970. In Lucky Man, Emerson just added a short doodle of Moog lead at the end of the song, with a bit of glide on it, and rock history was made with “the first featured lead synthesizer solo”.[i] On the same album, other electroacoustic music techniques were used, such as tape speed variations in Knife-Edge. Emerson also used the synthesizer extensively in his 1971 arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Later on, such epics as Tarkus and Brain Salad Surgery, with their extended use of the Moog as a foreground instrument,[ii] also became progressive rock classics. In live shows Emerson would also use the Hammond L-100 organ to produce different sounds, such as feedback enhanced by the use of a guitar fuzz box.[iii] When Moog Music came out with the famous three-oscillator Minimoog, Emerson also used it, as in the beginning of Trilogy.[iv] Emerson eventually ended up with a polyphonic synthesizer, the Yamaha GX-1, in the later 70s. 

Another well-known keyboard players that used synthesizers to good effect was Rick Wakeman of Yes. He is most known for his solo work The Six Wives of Henry VIII that features some fine white noise and filters synthesizer work, for instance, in Catherine Parr.[v] Tangerine Dream is another name that comes to mind; they are a trio of mainly keyboard players led by Edgar Froese, a renowned solo composer in his own right. They have released many synthesizer albums as well as film and television scores[vi] and other works. Tangerine Dream became the forefathers of a whole wave of synthesizer music in the 1970s in Germany, featuring Kraftwerk, Nektar, Can, Amon Düül, etc.[vii] 

When synthesizers became more commonplace in the early 1970s with the introduction of the Minimoog and others such as the ARP synths, VCS3s, Oberheims and others, keyboard players from mainstream rock bands used them immediately to add a touch of electronics to their music; this included such players as Jon Lord of Deep Purple, who had already used the crashing sound of the reverb spring in his Hammond L-100 by shaking the organ, and was happy to use the new technology in songs such as A200, from the album Burn (1974).[viii] Other examples would be Ken Hensley of Uriah Heep on songs such as Sweet Lorraine, Tony Carey with the band Rainbow and Howard Leese’s synthesizer solo on Heart’s Magic Man. 

One last interesting use of a VCO instrument I’d like to mention is the use by guitarist Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin of the Theremin, an instrument that varies pitch and loudness with the distance of the player’s hands to the antennae of the instrument.[ix] The middle section of Whole Lotta Love from Led Zeppelin II, is a good example of this. Jimmy Page uses this instrument live as well, and also other interesting techniques such as the violin bow on the electric guitar for a sustain effect. 

The name “Progressive Rock” eventually came to be given to this genre of synthesizer-augmented rock in the early 70s. Some proponents of the genre were bands such as King Crimson (featuring the instrument called the “Mellotron”,[x] made out of tape loops of real instruments samples and featuring two 35-note keyboards),[xi] Brian Eno (who worked with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp, David Bowie and Roxy Music amongst other artists), Gentle Giant, Genesis, Pink Floyd, PFM, etc. 

Apart from tone generation, the second subgenre involved in the electroacoustic music influences on rock was the one concerned with tape manipulation. This involved multi-tracking, tape reversal and speed changes, splicing, and other aspects of musique concrète. Some examples of this were the Beatles, Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Mike Oldfield, Queen, etc. 

The first technique used here is multitracking; this is one of the eldest techniques and widely used in the 60s period that concerns us (and later as well). A major example of this is the 1967 work by the Beatles called Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – in here multi-track paeans such as A Day in the Life can be found. It is interesting that they did this on a 4-track recorder! The Beatles also did fine multi-tracking on Magical Mystery Tour[xii] and following albums. Another example of multitracking is the Jimi Hendrix version of the Star Spangled Banner on the Rainbow Bridge album. Finally, the era’s masterpiece of multitracking has to be Mike Oldfield’s 1975 composition Tubular Bells. 

Tape speed variations and reversals come under this subject listing as well; Hendrix did plenty of that in many of his albums, from Axis; Bold as Love on. Tape speed variations and reversals were also used in albums such as ELP’s first album, as mentioned earlier, Mahogany Rush’s albums, King Crimson’s albums[xiii] and the Beatles’s albums as well. 

An interesting development of the times is the Echoplex, which was a tape loop passing over several playback heads at variable speeds to form an echo of an original input sound. Many bands and musicians, such as Jethro Tull, Hendrix, Mahogany Rush, Led Zeppelin, etc., used this efect with varying results. One of the better demonstrations can be found in Queen’s Now I’m here on the Live Killers album. Another use of the Echoplex can be found at the beginning of 2112 by Rush. 

As for the musique concrète aspect, objet trouvés sounds can be found in many rock albums of the period. One of the most pertinent examples would be Pink Floyd’s albums and especially Dark Side of the Moon, in which musique concrète vignettes are used in-between songs. For instance, you can hear the sounds of screaming before the first song of the album, Breathe, as well as a rhythmic montage of cash register sounds before the song Money. Other sounds in this album include heartbeats, alarm clocks, etc. 

Other instances include the funerary-sounding bell and rain that introduces the first song of the Black Sabbath album, the various humorous sounds in Frank Zappa’s albums Apostrophe and One Size Fits All, the sounds of running water in the 2112 album by Rush, the song Revolution Number Nine by the Beatles on the White Album, the rhythmic breaking glass repetition of Gentle Giant’s In A Glass House, etc. 

Another world at the time was that of the guitar player. There were not really any analog synthesizers driven by a guitar controller in those days, except for the barely usable GR-500 and GR-300 Roland units, which were plagued by agonizingly slow response times.[xiv] The guitar player of the era had to make do with analog floor effects, Echoplexes, and the idiosyncrasies of the instruments and amplifiers themselves. The pioneer in this field of guitar effects was definitely Jimi Hendrix. Helped by easy-to-overdrive Marshall, Hiwatt, Laney or Orange amplifiers, Hendrix and other such as Page, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Ritchie Blackmore, Johnny Winter, Peter Townshend and Tony Iommi used the natural power of the amplified instrument itself to the full. The sustain available by the natural resonance of the guitar coupled with the preamplifier section of the amplifier boosted to a high gain, making an asymmetrical clipping effect composed of even harmonics, made the electric guitar[xv] ring out and sound fuller than its acoustic counterpart or earlier models. Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath also tuned the guitar down by a full tone from E to D, making the sound “heavier” and giving birth to the dirge-like heavy metal rock we are familiar with in the process. The sustaining guitar/loud amp combination also permitted acoustic feedback, in which the output signal of the speakers feeds back into the input of the guitar pickups, producing a sort of howling sound that can be controlled for long periods of time by the player’s finger effecting vibrato on the affected string or by the guitar’s tremolo (or whammy) bar.[xvi] A good example of this is the opening note of Foxey Lady, on the first Jimi Hendrix album of 1967. Personally, I prefer playing a Gibson Les Paul Custom with high-voltage output DiMarzio pickups through a Marshall 50-watt tube amplifier. This gives me as much sustain and power as I would ever need, and I have used this setup since the 1970s without seeing the need for change, apart from some newer digital guitar effects in the 1980s and a MIDI guitar synthesizer controller in the 1990s. But the basic setup remains the same and does for many other players, especially in the blues rock and hard rock styles, as well. As other guitar effects go, I have already mentioned the Echoplex. Other analog effects that pertain to the time period are: the wah pedal, the phase shifter, the flanger, the octave box, the fuzz box, the compressor/limiter and the volume pedal. Some guitarists have also used the Leslie speakers more commonly associated with Hammond organs for good effect too, including yours truly in the 70s. The Leslie does a phase shifting-like vibrato by means of a Doppler effect at slow rotation speeds and more of a tremolo effect at faster speeds. 

The wah pedal acts as a filter and is controlled by an up and down movement of the foot that changes the center frequency of the sound.[xvii] This effect was used by many guitar players, but Jimi Hendrix is definitely the one that put this effect on the map with songs such as Voodoo Chile: Slight Return. Others to use this effect were Frank Marino, Jimmy Page, Johnny Winter, Robin Trower, etc. 

Hendrix first used the phase shifter as well. It is a sort of mixing of a timed frequency shift with the basic unaltered signal.[xviii] You can hear an example of it in Machine Gun on the Hendrix Band of Gypsies album of 1970 or on Jethro Tull’s To Cry You a Song on the Benefit album of the same year. 

The flanger is more of a time delay effect, designed to simulate the mixing of an original signal with that of the same signal on tape whereas the “flanges” of the tape reel would be slowed down or sped up at regular intervals. It was not really used until 1976. An idea of what the effect can do can be heard on guitarist Frank Marino’s Land of the 1000 Nights from the Mahogany Rush album Strange Universe. 

The octave box takes the signal and mixes it with a fuzzy one-octave lower or two-octave lower signal.[xix] I used one of these in 1975 (an MXR Blue Box) and found the effect interesting, although too particular to be used more than in small doses. Frank Marino is another who used this effect in the 1970s; I believe one of his live albums may contain examples of the octave box, although maybe going an octave higher instead of lower. MIDI controllers for guitar have now largely superseded this effect: the MIDI devices track at about the same speed but do not confine the player to one single sound. I have an octave down or up switch on my Casio MG-510 MIDI guitar controller that I use to do this with, for instance. 

The fuzz box was a mainstay of rock guitarists in the late 60s. It produced an ominously distorted sound composed mainly of square waves with odd harmonics.[xx] Hendrix also used this effect often, for instance in Stone Free from his first album. Another good example of this can be taken from Grand Funk’s Red or Live albums, where you can really hear the effect in many of the songs, for instance in Paranoid where the fuzz effect is also mixed in with a wah pedal. 

The compressor/limiter either takes a level and brings it up to predetermined minimum amplitude or to a maximum predetermined amplitude with ranges in-between. This lessens dynamics[xxi] and promotes a liquid sounding, long, sustaining sound that can seem to play forever, and that can be used nicely with acoustic feedback from the instrument through the amplifier. A nice example of those long-sounding notes is composed of the sustaining Em7 and related chords of the Robin Trower song Bridge of Sighs, from the album of the same name. 

Finally, the volume pedal (or the volume knob on the guitar itself),[xxii] can produce a violin-like tone from the guitar by eliminating the attack portion of its sound. One plays the note and hits the pedal from 0 to maximum at the same time to obtain this effect. There is a good demonstration of this in Fools on the 1971 Fireball album by Deep Purple. 

Finally, other sounds could be produced by hitting various parts of the guitar, like hitting the string directly on the fingerboard with a pick,[xxiii] as Frank Zappa does on the One Size Fits All album on several songs, or by stroking the strings above the nut or under the bridge, as well as by pulling a string above the nut with the right hand to change its frequency. Another technique involved hitting the string with the thumb and the pick almost simultaneously to obtain a squealing harmonic. Roy Buchanan was an expert at this and it can be heard in songs like The Messiah Will Come Again. Another guitarist who used this technique well was Leslie West from Mountain. 

So guitarists were also an important piece of the electronic music pie in the late1960s to mid-1970s rock world as well. Even though some bands fared well within the genre without a guitarist, like ELP[xxiv] or Triumvirat, they were still part and parcel of the rock music world, and as such, were well-established as primary genre-makers of this style as the electronic music influences were evolving along within it. 

To conclude, electroacoustic music influences in rock began in the late 60s in a major fashion with the Beatles, Hendrix, King Crimson, Pink Floyd and ELP, amongst others, and evolved therein to reach an very strong status as style-definers in the 1970s, especially as denoted in the genre called “progressive rock” but in other subgenres of the mainstream of rock as well. And this development became an explosion when MIDI was invented in the mid-80s. The influences can be heard through the late 70s, the 80s and to this day, in bands such as Rush, UK, Kansas, Dixie Dregs, Dream Theater, Iron Maiden,[xxv] etc., as well as in musicians such as Yngwie Malmsteen and David Bowie, and in so many others which carry on the torch of electronic-music influenced progressive rock. 


Darter, Tom, The Art of Electronic Music, (New York, 1984) 

Ernst, David, The Evolution of Electronic Music, (New York, 1977) 

Griffiths, Paul, A Guide to Electronic Music, (Bath, 1979) 

Holmes, Thomas B., Electronic and Experimental Music, (New York, 1985) 

http://www.calweb.com/~geprman/gepr.html – The Gibraltar Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock 

http://www.progrock.net/ The Progressive Rock Web Site 

http://www.keithemerson.com/ - Official Keith Emerson Web Site 

http://www.tangerinedream.de/ - Official Tangerine Dream Web Site 

http://www.deep-purple.com/ - Official Deep Purple Web Site 

http://www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/9111/roland.htm#guitars - Roland Instrument FAQ 

http://www.eden.com/~keen/effxfaq/fxdescr.htm - Guitar effects FAQ, effects description 


[i][i] http://www.keithemerson.com/ - Official Keith Emerson Web Site 

[ii] And as a background bass accompaniment replacement as well when bass player Greg Lake was busy playing lead guitar in Karn Evil Nine, from the Brain Salad Surgery album 

[iii] Tom Darter, The Art of Electronic Music (New York, 1984), 139; this was a Jimi Hendrix influence, and Hendrix was once offered to join ELP along with his drummer Mitch Mitchell 

[iv] Darter, 139 

[v] David Ernst, The Evolution of Electronic Music, (New York, 1977), 199 

[vi] Most of these soundtracks, with the exception of Sorcerer, happened after 1976; http://www.tangerinedream.de/ - Official Tangerine Dream Web Site 

[vii] http://www.calweb.com/~geprman/gepr.html – The Gibraltar Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock 

[viii] http://www.deep-purple.com/ - Official Deep Purple Web Site 

[ix] Darter, 29-30 

[x] Thomas B. Holmes, Electronic and Experimental Music, (New York, 1985), 160-161 

[xi] Check out the song In the Court of the Crimson King on their 1969 debut album for a fine demonstration of a Mellotron, or I am the Walrus on the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour album 

[xii] As in the song I am the Walrus 

[xiii] Check out the end of Fallen Angel on the Red album 

[xiv] http://www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/9111/roland.htm#guitars - Roland Instrument FAQ 

[xv] Especially the ones equipped with higher voltage output pickups such as Gibson humbucking pickups or the later DiMarzio custom pickups used first by guitarists such as Ronnie Montrose on the 1973 album Montrose 

[xvi] The tremolo or “whammy” bar is a spring-driven device on a guitar that permits the instant change of pitch on the instrument’s strings and is an interesting effect on its own, as used by Hendrix and others 

[xvii] http://www.eden.com/~keen/effxfaq/fxdescr.htm Guitar effects FAQ, effects description 

[xviii] http://www.eden.com/~keen/effxfaq/fxdescr.htm Guitar effects FAQ, effects description 

[xix] http://www.eden.com/~keen/effxfaq/fxdescr.htm Guitar effects FAQ, effects description 

[xx] http://www.eden.com/~keen/effxfaq/fxdescr.htm Guitar effects FAQ, effects description 

[xxi] http://www.eden.com/~keen/effxfaq/fxdescr.htm Guitar effects FAQ, effects description 

[xxii] Especially on Fender Stratocasters, where the volume knob nearly touches the bridge pickup and is easy to manoeuver with the little finger of the picking hand 

[xxiii] This prefigures the same kind of playing that Eddie Van Halen would do with his fingertips in the late seventies 

[xxiv] Although Greg Lake often played guitar parts 

[xxv] For Iron Maiden, two albums stand out, with excellent background guitar synthesizer parts; Somewhere in Time and Seventh Son


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