3. September 2023.

How computers opened a whole new world of possibilities for musicians in Yugoslavia

From the first computer composition to the inception of electronic music

Computers had a significant impact on Yugoslav music, especially towards the end of the 20th century. This was a period in time when computers became available to an increasing number of citizens, rather than just the ones who were particularly interested or employed in the fields of electrical engineering and IT. The use of computers influenced different aspects of the production, composition, performance and distribution of music in Yugoslavia. Particularly interesting was the emergence of the so called computer music, which was created in entirety using a computer.

Although the production of computers in SFRY was at an enviable level, the first musical compositions were created using a hybrid system with no computers in the Electronic Studio III of Radio Belgrade (Elektronski studio III programa Radio Beograda), which was founded in 1972. During the mid-1980s, there was a significant increase in computer use in the domestic composer scene, Electronic Studio III underwent digitalization, and, in 1986, at the initiative of professors Srđan Hofman and Zoran Erić, Recording Studio FMU (Tonski studio FMU), a brand new, entirely digital studio was founded. This was an electronic recording studio and an ever-increasing number of young composers used it during their creative process.

The creation of music using computers or hybrid forms which combine analog and digital technologies can be studied from many angles, and as such the influence of computers can be seen in the synth genre and numerous performers who were inspired by computers during the 80s. Just some of the examples include the record sleeve the band Data used for their single “Neka Ti Se Dese Prave Stvari/Ne Zovi To Ljubavlju” (May The Right Things Happen To You / Don’t Call it Love) which featured the photograph or a computer, or direct references such as the song “Program tvog kompjutera“ (A Program of Your Computer) by the synth-pop band Denis & Denis. The computer era in Yugoslavia had a significant influence on popular music, so electronic sound synthesizers became increasingly present in pop and rock music, creating an entirely new dimension of rhythm and sound. The band “Bijelo dugme” is one of the most popular bands that experimented with electronic sounds and synthesizers.

What is particularly interesting, however, is the work of certain artists who went one step further while exploring the field of computers and music. They used computer programs and synthesizers to explore new musical possibilities and create complex compositions. Their music was frequently abstract, experimental and based on the exploration of technology. Particularly notable are the artists Vladan Radovanović, Marjan Šijanec and Miroslav Miša Savić, who are some of the pioneers of computer music in former Yugoslavia.

Vladan Radovanović – the creator of the first computer composition in Yugoslavia

Multimedia artist Vladan Radovanović was active in the fields of music, painting, literature, and new media since the end of the 1950s. Radovanović’s interest for the synthesis of arts was central in his creative process and he has authored over 250 theoretical works on music and new tendencies in art.

Vladan created the first computer composition named “Kompjutorija” (Computoria) in Utrecht, in 1976. POD, the audio programming language based on the Poisson distribution, was used for its creation. The composition was created in the following manner: the composer would input a “tendency map” into a computer, and as a result he would get accidental values within a certain range, which he later used to create a final musical flow.

Vladan Radnovanović

The composition “Undina” (Undine), which was commissioned by the Amsterdam festival Talking back to media in 1985, is another significant piece by Radovanović. It was publicly performed on October 8 during an Electronic Studio concert, which was held at the Kolarac People’s University as a part of the BEMUS festival. Unlike the traditional hybrid implementation of hardware where a digital segment is used to control an analog synthesizer, in the case of “Undina”, both devices were used as a source of sound. The audio signals of the analog (Synthi 100) and digital (Yamaha DX 7) synthesizers were generated in real time as the author played each section separately and recorded them on a multichannel tape without the use of a sequencer. The composition “Timbral” is another one of Radovanović’s significant pieces and it was commissioned in 1987 by the MAFILM studio from Budapest. Like the previous piece, this one was also created using both digital and analog equipment, as the Belgrade and Budapest studios did not possess the same type of equipment.

Vladan Radnovanović Undina

Radovanović was the Head of the Belgrade Electronic Studio during the 1972-1999 period. He has received numerous awards. During the 2001-2011 period he worked as a visiting professor at the University of Arts in Belgrade (Group for Polymedia art). He was also a member of The Composers’ Association of Serbia and The Association of Fine Artists of Serbia. He passed away at the age of 91.

Marjan Šijanec – Contribution to the further development of computer music

Next to Radovanović, it was the work of Slovenian composer and conductor Marjan Šijanec that left a mark on the second half of the 80s at Radio Belgrade’s Electronic Studio III. Given the number of computing centers in the country, it was logical to expect that some of them would also take part in the exploration of music and sound. One of the few (and quite possibly the only) composer who got the chance to do just that was Šijanec, who studied programming at the Boris Kidrič Institute in Ljubljana and at an Institute in Vinča.

Marjan Šijanec

In the period between the procurement of hardware and commercial software at Radio Belgrade’s Electronic Studio III, Šijanec wrote a program which he used to compose “Muzika vatre” (Fire Music) and “Saturnalije II” (Saturnalia II) (1988). Šijanec began working on “Muzika vatre” in 1985 when he developed the idea of automatically generated music for an electronic studio, conceptually at first and algorithmically later on, where all modules participating in the “construction” of sound would be controlled by a computer. The first “example” of such treatment of a studio can be found in the work “Paralelni Svetovi” (Parallel Worlds) (1986), when the author, inspired by paintings of Gordana Novaković, as he says, spent the entire day improvising in the studio, by preluding on a piano or a different instrument, discovering the possibilities for managing modules in real time.

In the following decades, Šijanec continued to create music, both in Slovenia and abroad. Šijanec has won numerous awards and his compositions have often been described as postmodernist pieces belonging to the IT era. Today, many consider him one of the pioneers of computer music on the territory of former Yugoslavia.

Miroslav Miša Savić – The beginning of the digital audio manipulation trend

With the increasing use of personal computers during the 80s, and considering the fact that he himself was frequently involved in the creative process at Radio Belgrade’s Electronic Studio III, the composer Miša Savić started including computers in his work. Along with Gordana Novaković and Marjan Šijanec, Savić was a member of the MGM group. Some of Savić’s significant works during the 90s were his collaborations with Gordana Novaković, with whom he performed several collaborative new media productions collectively known as “Košulja srećnog čoveka” (Lucky Man’s Shirt) (1992-1998). Two of Savić’s works were a part of the group exhibition Computer Art (Kompjuterska umetnost) – “Šest pogleda na jedno” (Six Views on The Same Thing) and “Glas anđela” (The Voice of an Angel), which is particularly interesting, as it shows a digitalized depiction of the fresco “Anđeo na grobu Hristovom” (The Angel on The Grave of Christ). With this piece, the artist brings attention to the trend of digital manipulation, which would soon culminate with the inception of the internet.

Miša Savić

Miša Savić, The Voice of an Angel (1991) shown in the group exhibition Computer Art

Savić remained active in the field of multimedia art. He has organized a series of exhibitions, lectures, and festivals, as well as the creation and publishing of records, cassettes, books and catalogues, mostly in relation to minimal music. Since 2009, he has been employed as the professor of computer music at the New Academy of Arts. During the 2003-2020 period, he has taught numerous subjects at the Department of Music Production at the Music School “Kosta Manojlović” in Zemun.

Festival Personal Music (Lična muzika) – Exploring the relationship between composers and computers

From June 1 to June 5, 1987, Miša Savić, our famous composer and the editor of the music program at the Student Cultural Center, organized a festival called Personal Music – The First Yugoslav Festival of Computer Music (Lična muzika – I jugoslovenski festival kompjuterske muzike). Apparently, even though it was a Yugoslav festival, few authors from our region took part in it, but that did not diminish the significant contribution of this event. During this event, Savić’s composition “Mala lična muzika” (A Little Personal Music) was performed. This composition married the world of the computers and classical music, alluding to the “personal” part of “personal computers” and Mozart’s composition “A Little Night Music”. This highlighted the position of personal computers as devices suitable for the creation of music, but also the particular “privacy” of such a creative process where works are created in an intimate/home atmosphere, in the relationship between the composer and the virtual studio.

Vladan Radovanović –  Phonoverse (Fonoverzum), album with the composition Kompjutorija

During the festival, Šijanec’s compositions were also performed, notably “Random toccata” (1987), “Flautijada” (Flautiada) (1987), Đorđe Ilijin presented the piece “Metamorfoze” (Metamorphoses) (1987), and one evening of the festival was dedicated to the first Yugoslav computer composition – Kompjutorija by Vladan Radovanović. It is also important to mention the participation of the Belgrade improv group “Institut” formed by the artists Fraparega and Papa Nik (which was not announced in the program), who staged a musical performance with a computer during which they performed music using two joysticks connected to the PC with an installed percussive software and a small duck toy that made digital sounds with its bill as it tried to pick up grass in a plate of water.

Music in Serbia (Muzika u Srbiji) – The last festival dedicated to electroacoustic music

The event Computer Art dedicated to visual and musical use of computers was held between May 8 and 23, 1991 at the ULUS gallery in Belgrade and it was followed by the three-day festival Music in Serbia – Electroacoustic Music (Muzika u Srbiji – elektroakustička muzika) held at the BITEF Theater beginning on May 23.

While some electroacoustic concerts were occasionally held at previous festivals, according to the selector Vladan Radovanović, “the time has come for the first festival entirely devoted to this genre.” The first event was organized by Predrag Šiđanin from Novi Sad and, in addition to the permanent exhibition of visual pieces and installations, the event included premiere concert performances of pieces composed by local artists from Belgrade and Novi Sad. The pieces selected belonged to composers Vladimir Tošić, Slobodan Atanacković, Ludmila Frajt, Miroslav Savić, Arsenije Jovanović, Josip Kalčić, Boris Despot, Dušan Radić, Ivana Stefanović, Milica Paranosić, Zoran Erić, Vladimir Jovanović, Marjan Šijanec, Katarina Miljković, Miloš Petrović, Zoran Hristić and Srđan Hofman, which were performed either by simply playing a recording or by playing a recording in combination with a live performance. The festival Music in Serbia ended after 14 iterations and various changes in finances and organization. The final festival was held in 1991.

Experimenting with electronics – From the 1990s to the present days

From the 1990s to the present day, the concept of experimenting with electronics has expanded, computers and programs for sound design have become a part of the music industry, and computers are increasingly becoming an integral part of the creation of music – the exclusion of computers from this process is inconceivable nowadays. In Serbia and the countries of the region which were once a part of Yugoslavia, there are festivals and numerous venues specialized in electronic music and this kind of music has become mainstream, so the term “computer music” is perhaps losing its initial meaning. Still, when discussing the impact computers had on the entire music industry, we can see how the emergence of computers defined not only the creation of music, but also the way we listen to it, as well as the entire process of music production. At first, we could only listen to music at various live performances, only for it to soon become available to the general population via sound carriers. Today, however, we mostly consume music using computers and mobile phones, although many passionate fans of records or even CDs and cassette tapes still exist and release their music in those forms as well.

Internet and digital technology have become omnipresent and many generations are now completely unfamiliar with a world without computers and their widespread use. However, we must not forget that computers were not always widely available, nor were we always as knowledgeable about them. In Yugoslavia, the ones who were ahead of their time and saw the potential of the computer and its role in the field of art were few and far in between. Computers brought new techniques, tools and possibilities that have expanded the horizons of musicians and allowed them to express their creativity in a unique way. Their influence left a lasting mark on the Yugoslav music scene, contributing to the development of new approaches, genres and experimental expressions.

Procesualnost u ostvarenjima Miroslava Miše Savića, Milan Milojković, 2018.
Digitalna tehnologija u srpskom umetničkom muzičkom stvaralaštvu (1972-2019), Milan Milojković, 2017.

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