The new music was built out of materials already in existence: blues, rock'n'roll, folk music. But although the forms remained, something completely new and original was made out of these older elements - more original, perhaps, than even the new musicians themselves yet realize. The transformation took place in 1966-1967. Up to that time, the blues had been an essentially black medium.
Rock'n'roll, a blues derivative, was rhythmic dance music. Folk music, old and modern, was popular among college students. The three forms remained musically and culturally distinct, and even as late as 1965, none of them were expressing any radically new states of consciousness.
Blues expressed black soul; rock was the beat of youthful energy; and folk music expressed anti-war sentiments as well as love and hope.
In 1966-1967 there was spontaneous transformation. In the United States, it originated with youthful rock groups playing in San Francisco. In England, it was led by the Beatles, who were already established as an extremely fine and highly individual rock group.
What happened, as well as it can be put into words, was this. First, the separate musical traditions were brought together. Bob Dylan and the Jefferson Airplane played folk rock, folk ideas with a rock beat.
White rock groups began experimenting with the blues. Of course, white musicians had always played the blues, but essentially as imitators of the Negro style; now it began to be the white bands' own music. And all of the groups moved towards a broader eclecticism and synthesis.
They freely took over elements from jazz, from American country music, and as time went on from even more diverse sources. What developed was a music readily taking on various forms and capable of an almost limitless range of expression.
The second thing that happened was that all the musical groups began using the full range of electric instruments and the technology of electronic amplifiers. The electric guitar was an old instrument, but the new electronic effects were altogether different - so different that a new listener in 1967 might well feel that there had never been may sounds like that in the world before. Electronics did, in fact, make possible sounds that no instrument up to that time could produce. And in studio recordings, new techniques made possible effects that not even an electronic band could produce live.
Electronic amplifiers also made possible a fantastic increase in volume, the music becoming as loud and penetrating as the human ear could stand, and thereby achieving a "total" effect, so that instead of an audience of passive listeners, there were now audiences of total participants, feeling the music in all of their senses and all of bones.
Third, the music becomes a multi-media experience; a port of a total environment. The walls of the ballrooms were covered with changing patterns of light, the beginning of the new art of the light show. And the audience did not sit, it danced. With records at home, listeners imitated these lighting effects as best they could, and heightened the whole experience by using drugs. Often music was played out of doors, where nature provided the environment.