The ‘Variophone’ Yevgeny Sholpo. Russia, 1932

Sholpo's Variophone

Sholpo’s Variophone 1949 Model

Developed in the Soviet Union in 1932 by Yevgeny Alexandrovitch Sholpo and Georgy Rimsky-Korsakov at the Central Laboratory of Wire Communication in Leningrad after several years research into performer-less music; the Variophone was an photo-electrical electronic instrument. The particular method used by the Variophone was a type of optical audio recording designed to allow the composition of lengthy polyphonic pieces of music. This was achieved by cutting sound waves into cardboard discs rotating in synch with a 35 mm movie film. This was then re-filmed and played back on a normal movie projector that and amplified through a speaker. In a simple ‘overdubbing’ process the process could be repeated to create multiple layered tones. Soundtracks were able to contain up to twelve voices, recorded as tiny parallel tracks inside the normal soundtrack film area. By 1931 with the help of Rimsky-korsakov, Sholpo produced soundtrack to the film ‘The Year 1905 in Bourgeoisie Satire’ and again in 1932 a synthesised soundtrack for ‘A Symphony of Peace’ and many other soundtracks for films and cartoons throughout the Thirties and Forties. At the end of the long 1941 Siege of Leningrad, the Variophon was destroyed during a missile attack. After World War Two, Evgeny Sholpo became the director of the new ‘Scientific‐Research Laboratory for Graphical Sound’ with Boris Yankovsky at the State Research Institute for Sound Recording, in Leningrad..

Yevgeny Sholpo and the Variophone

Yevgeny Sholpo and the Variophone

The fourth and final version of Variophone was never finished, despite promising experiments in musical intonation and the temporal characteristics of live musical performance. The laboratory was moved to Moscow and Sholpo was removed from his position as director. In 1951, after a long illness, Evgeny Sholpo died and his laboratory was closed.Archive material from the Variophone was recently transferred in 2007 to the Theremin Center.

Variophone diagram

Variophone diagram

Tone discs

Tone discs



Sholpo's Variophone

Sholpo’s Variophone 1949 Model

Developed in the Soviet Union in 1932 by Yevgeny Alexandrovitch Sholpo and Georgy Rimsky-Korsakov at the Central Laboratory of Wire Communication in Leningrad after several years research into performer-less music; the Variophone was an photo-electrical electronic instrument. The particular method used by the Variophone was a type of optical audio recording designed to allow the composition of lengthy polyphonic pieces of music. This was achieved by cutting sound waves into cardboard discs rotating in synch with a 35 mm movie film. This was then re-filmed and played back on a normal movie projector that and amplified through a speaker. In a simple ‘overdubbing’ process the process could be repeated to create multiple layered tones. Soundtracks were able to contain up to twelve voices, recorded as tiny parallel tracks inside the normal soundtrack film area. By 1931 with the help of Rimsky-korsakov, Sholpo produced soundtrack to the film ‘The Year 1905 in Bourgeoisie Satire’ and again in 1932 a synthesised soundtrack for ‘A Symphony of Peace’ and many other soundtracks for films and cartoons throughout the Thirties and Forties. At the end of the long 1941 Siege of Leningrad, the Variophon was destroyed during a missile attack. After World War Two, Evgeny Sholpo became the director of the new ‘Scientific‐Research Laboratory for Graphical Sound’ with Boris Yankovsky at the State Research Institute for Sound Recording, in Leningrad.

Early version of the Variophone

Early version of the Variophone

The fourth and final version of Variophone was never finished, despite promising experiments in musical intonation and the temporal characteristics of live musical performance. The laboratory was moved to Moscow and Sholpo was removed from his position as director. In 1951, after a long illness, Evgeny Sholpo died and his laboratory was closed. Archive material from the Variophone was recently transferred in 2007 to the Theremin Center.

Variophone diagram

Variophone diagram

Tone discs

Tone discs



9

In Russia from the 1920′s until the  1970′s there was a particular interest in photo-electrical synthesis; probably due to the influence of the theories and writings of Alexander Scriabin who proposed a uniting theory of sound and light.  The first ‘drawn’ soundtrack ever created by the avant-garde composer Arseny Avraamov who produced film soundtracks created by photographing series of drawings such as “Plan Velikikh Rabot” (Plan of great works) and “Kem Bit” (who to be) in 1930. Boris Yankovsky was developing a more complex spectral analysis, decomposition and re-synthesis technique, resembling the recent computer music techniques of cross synthesis and the phase vocoder. This process was also seen as a way of liberating the composer from the practical restrictions of instrumentation and musicians:

While most inventors of electronic musical instruments were developing tools for performers, the majority of methods and instruments based on Graphical Sound techniques were created for composers. Similar to modern computer music techniques, the composer could produce the final synthesised soundtrack without need for any performers or intermediates.”
Smirnov, Andrey, 2011 “Graphical Sound”

Sholpo's drawing of waveforms

Sholpo’s drawing of waveforms

The hand drawn optical synthesis technique was also used later in the 1960′s by Daphne Oram in England.


Sources:

Smirnov, Andrei. Sound Out of Paper. Moscow, November, 2007

http://asmir.theremin.ru/gsound1.htm

http://www.umatic.nl/tonewheels_historical.html

http://www.ruskeys.net/eng/base/variofon.php

Izvolov Nikolai.From the history of painted sound in USSR. Kinovedcheskie Zapiski, no.53, 2001, p.292

“Sound In Z: Experiments In Sound And Electronic Music In Early 20th Century Russia,”  Andrei Smirnov, Koening Books, ISBN 987-3-86560-706-5

9

In Russia from the 1920′s until the  1970′s there was a particular interest in photo-electrical synthesis; probably due to the influence of the theories and writings of Alexander Scriabin who proposed a uniting theory of sound and light.  The first ‘drawn’ soundtrack ever created by the avant-garde composer Arseny Avraamov who produced film soundtracks created by photographing series of drawings such as “Plan Velikikh Rabot” (Plan of great works) and “Kem Bit” (who to be) in 1930. Boris Yankovsky was developing a more complex spectral analysis, decomposition and re-synthesis technique, resembling the recent computer music techniques of cross synthesis and the phase vocoder. This process was also seen as a way of liberating the composer from the practical restrictions of instrumentation and musicians:

While most inventors of electronic musical instruments were developing tools for performers, the majority of methods and instruments based on Graphical Sound techniques were created for composers. Similar to modern computer music techniques, the composer could produce the final synthesised soundtrack without need for any performers or intermediates.”
Smirnov, Andrey, 2011 “Graphical Sound”

Sholpo's drawing of waveforms

Sholpo’s drawing of waveforms

Early version of the Variophone

Early version of the Variophone

The hand drawn optical synthesis technique was also used later in the 1960′s by Daphne Oram in England.


Sources:

Smirnov, Andrei. Sound Out of Paper. Moscow, November, 2007

http://asmir.theremin.ru/gsound1.htm

http://www.umatic.nl/tonewheels_historical.html

http://www.ruskeys.net/eng/base/variofon.php

Izvolov Nikolai.From the history of painted sound in USSR. Kinovedcheskie Zapiski, no.53, 2001, p.292

“Sound In Z: Experiments In Sound And Electronic Music In Early 20th Century Russia,”  Andrei Smirnov, Koening Books, ISBN 987-3-86560-706-5

The ‘Emicon’. N.Langer, USA. 1932

 

Charles D. Stein shows a model how to play the emicon at the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas in June 1936.

the Emicon at the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas in June 1936.

‘The Emicon’ (Model S) was developed in the USA by Nicholas Langer and H.Ahnagyi. The Emicon was a keyboard controlled variant of the Thereminvox; a monophonic vacuum tube oscillator instrument. The Emicon was said to be able to produce tones similar to a cello, saxophone, oboe, trumpet, mandolin, guitar and bagpipe. The instrument was manufactured and marketed by Emicon, Inc., Deep River, Connecticut, ca from 1932. A later portable travelling model was built into case with an amplifier in separate case. An example of the Emicon survives at the ‘Charles D. Stein Collection of Early Electronic Instruments’ National Music Museum, Vermilion, South Dakota, USA.

Sources:

‘Charles D. Stein Collection of Early Electronic Instruments’
Shrine to Music Museum
University of South Dakota
414 East Clark Street
Vermillion, SD, USA

The ‘Rangertone Organ’. Richard H.Ranger, USA, 1932

Richard Ranger at the Rangertone Organ

Richard Ranger at the Rangertone Organ

The Rangertone Organ was a large electronic tone-wheel based organ developed by the electronics engineer and pioneer of audio recording Richard Ranger in the 1930′s. The instrument was marketed by Ranger from his own company ‘Rangertone Incorporated’ on Verona Ave. in Newark, NJ. Very few of the instruments were sold, one of which was installed at the Recital hall of Skinner Hall of Music, Vassar College. After the failure to sell the instrument Ranger went on to develop a series of high fidelity phonograph devices that never went into production. During WW2 Ranger spent time investigating German electronic equipment for the US Army and it was here that he picked up and removed for his own use the German AEG Magnetophone tape recorder. Ranger returned to the U.S. and in 1947 announced his new Rangertone Tape recorder, based on the Magnetophone, which finally gave the Rangertone Inc the financial success it needed until squeezed out of the domestic market by larger companies such as Ampex.

magnetophone

AEG Magnetophone. The first tape recorder, Germany 1944

Richard Ranger with the  wireless facsimile system

Richard Ranger with the wireless facsimile system. in 1924, Richard Ranger invented the wireless photoradiogram, or transoceanic radio facsimile, the forerunner of today’s fax machines. A photograph of President Calvin Coolidge sent from New York to London in November 1924 became the first photo picture reproduced by transoceanic radio facsimile.

The Rangertone Organ was one of the early tone wheel organs, similar to the Hammond Organ and much earlier Telharmonium (1906). Uniquely, the Rangertone Organ had its pitch stability controlled by tuning forks, therefore it was possible to change the temperament by changing the tuning of the forks. Timbre was controlled by push-buttons to the right of the keyboard, and/or by switching between six different amplifier/speaker combinations, which had different tremolo and tonal qualities.The original version was a huge machine, with more than 150 valves. A portable single-keyboard model was built for concert performance.
Ranger made the first public demonstration of his huge  ‘pipeless organ’ at Newark, New Jersey in 1931.
Press telegram announcing Ranger's new instrument

Press telegram announcing Ranger’s new instrument in 1931

Pitch controls of the Rangertone Organ

Pitch controls of the Rangertone Organ

“Ranger’s apparatus consisted essentially of twelve separate sets of motor-driven alternators precisely maintained at given rotational speeds, by tuning-fork control apparatus. One of these sets of alternators, as shown in Fig. 5, generated all the required C’s; another all the C sharps; another the D’s, and so forth. From these alternators he obtained all the desired fundamentals and their true harmonic frequencies for the tempered scale. Timbre control switches selected the partials and their amplitudes for any desired tone quality. Amplifiers were, of course, used with reproducers to translate the feeble audio currents into sound.

Ranger’s improvements over the basic work of Cahill were made possible by the advent of the vacuum tube. For example, he provides means for automatic selection of different amplifiers, for different simultaneously produced tones, to prevent cross modulation in a single amplifier; means for avoiding keying transients, for accentuating high or low frequencies, for restricting tremolo to specific components of a complex tone, and at different tremolo rates, means to provide glissando effects, for regulating the temperament, for providing damped wave trains in simulation of percussive tones, and numerous other details.”

Proceedings of the institute of Radio Engineers November 1936 Volume 24

Richard Howland Ranger 1899, Indianapolis, Indiana, d 1961

Richard Howland Ranger 1899, Indianapolis, Indiana, d 1961


Sources

Biographicall details by: Dr. David L. Morton, Jr. Research Historian IEEE Center for the History of Electrical Engineering
Proceedings of the institute of Radio Engineers November 1936 Volume 24
ELECTRONIC MUSIC AND INSTRUMENTS. By Benjamin F. Miessner. (Miessner Inventions, Inc., Millburn, New Jersey)

The ‘Givelet’ or ‘Coupleux-Givelet Organ’ Armand Givelet & Edouard Eloi Coupleux, France. 1930

Armand Givelet & Edouard Coupleux at the paper-punch controls of the 'Givelet'

Armand Givelet & Edouard Coupleux at the paper-punch controls of the ‘Givelet’ c1932

The last instrument of the Givelet – Coupleaux collaboration was the ‘Coupleaux -Givelet Organ’ or ‘Givelet’. The Givelet was a unique instrument that combined vacuum tube oscillators with a sound control system using a punched paper roll in a way similar to a player piano to define the sound synthesis. Pitch, volume, attack, envelope, tremolo and timbre could be controlled by cutting and splicing paper rolls and like the “Wave Organ“, the Givelet was polyphonic. The technique of using punched paper “programs” was not exploited until fifteen years later in the 1950′s with the RCA Synthesiser.  Givelets and Coupleaux’s instrument was designed to be a commercial and cheap replacement for pipe organs and utilise the ability for ‘silent recording’ or direct injection into radio transmitter. The Givelets were installed in churches around France and at a broadcasting radio station in Paris. The Givelet eventually lost out commercially to the more efficient and less complex  Hammond Organ.

Givelet of 1930

The Givelet-Coupleux Organ of 1930 played by Armand Givelet

Patent Documents


Sources:

A.J.Givelet: ‘Les Instruments de Musique à oscillations électriques: Le Clavier à Lampes ‘, Génie civil, xciii(1928)

The ‘Electrochord’ and the ‘Kraft Durche Freude Grosstonorgel’. Oskar Vierling & Winston E. Kock, Germany, 1933

Oskar Vierling  born: 24. January 1904 in Straubing, Germany -  Died 1986

Oskar Vierling born: 24. January 1904 in Straubing, Germany – Died 1986

Oskar Vierling was an important figure in the development of electronic musical instruments and electro-acoustic instruments during the 1930′s to the 1950′s. Vierling was a trained electronic engineer who, after studying at the Ohm Polytechnic, Nuremberg filed over 200 patents. In 1935 Vierling moved to Berlin where he received his doctorate in physics at the Technical University and then continued to work at the  Heinrich-Hertz-Institute of Vibration Research under Fritz Sennheiser.

The Electrochord

Electrochord at the Deutsches Museum in Munich

Electrochord at the Deutsches Museum in Munich

Vierling’s first musical instrument was the ‘Electochord’ an electro-acoustic piano designed and built in collaboration with  Benjamin Franklin Mießner and was commercially marketed by August Förster Piano Factory in Lõbau. The Elechtrochord worked by converting resonating piano strings via electro-magnets into electronic sounds in a similar way to Vierling’s Neo-Bechstien Piano (an early electro-acoustic piano designed by Vierling and Walther Nernst in 1931). The vibrations from a normal piano string were recorded and amplified electronically. Various register circuits enabled the player to change the sound’s timbre ranging from “a delicate Spinettte, the lyrical tone of a parlour organ to the powerful sound emission of a grand piano”. A restored model of the Electrochord is kept in the music collection of the Deutsches Museum in Munich. During the early 1930′s Vierling worked closely with Jorg Mager at his Darmstadt research centre on the construction of Klaviatursphäraphon amongst other instruments.

The Neo-Bechstien Electro-acoustic piano

The Neo-Bechstien Electro-acoustic piano

The ‘Kraft Durche Freude Grosstonorgel’

Keyboard fo the Grosstonorgel

Keyboard of the Kock-Vierlin KDF Grosstonorgel

Vierling went on to develop another large electronic organ; the ‘Grosstonorgel’ (together with  Karl Willy Wagner and the American engineer Winston E. Kock both at the Heinrich-Hertz-Institute. Winston Kock came to Berlin in 1933 as an exchange student at the Technical University of Berlin where he built an electronic organ for his diploma thesis. Since vacuum tubes were very expensive, he designed an instrument that relied instead on the smaller and cheaper neon tubes for the oscillators . He filed a patent for a use of inductive neon oscillators and sound-colour generation. It’s likely that the Grosstonorgel used similar neon or vacuum tube technology.

Joseph Goebbels at the GrosstonOrgel

Joseph Goebbels at the GrosstonOrgel

Work on the Grosstonorgel was funded by the National Socialist ‘Kraft Durche Freude’ cultural association (‘Strength Through Joy’  Set up as a tool to promote the advantages of National Socialism to the people,which became the world’s largest tourism operator of the 1930s) . The Grosstonorgel, as well as a Vierling designed 500 watt PA system, was a one-off instrument specifically designed to provide the musical accompaniment to the 1936 Olympic Games. A year later the instrument was also used at the Reich Party Congress of the National Socialist Party in Nuremberg. The new improved model was said to be able to produce “beautiful bell sounds” to accompany the Nazi propaganda spectacle.

The first broadcast of a concert consisting exclusively of electric instruments orchestra, organized by the "Radio Hour ', Berlin, 19 10 1932  The instruments were a Neo-Bechstein piano, Trautonium Heller ion, electric violin and cello, and two theremin instruments. Behind each instrument the corresponding speaker

The first electronic group? an purely electronic orchestra  organised by  “Radio Hour ‘ broadcast, Berlin, 19.10.1932. The instruments were a Neo-Bechstein piano, Trautonium, Hellertion, electric violin, electric cello, and two Theremins with a corresponding loudspeaker behind each instrument.

Vierling had joined the National Socialist Party (NDSAP)  in the late 1930s and in 1941 established the Vierling research group  with a staff of 200 employees co-operating directly with the Wermacht high command. The secret research establishment was located in Burg Feuerstein, Ebermannstadt disguised as a hospital with red-cross emblems on the roof to avoid allied bombing.

Burg Feuerstein home of the secret Vierling Research Group

Burg Feuerstein home of the secret Vierling Research Group

Research included audio-controlled torpedoes (codenamed “wren” and “vulture” where the torpedoes located their target from the propeller noises of enemy ships ), encryption technology (with Erich Hüttenhain and Erich Fellgiebel on a voice encryption method of the legendary SZ 42 cipher ), anti radar submarine coating (codenamed “chimney sweep”) as well as radio control equipment and electronic calculators. The Vierling company still exists as a family run business in Ebermannstadt.

The remains of the Vierling after Allied bombing in 145

The remains of the Vierling research laboratories in Burg Feuerstein after Allied bombing in 1945

After the fall of Nazi Germany the Burg Feuerstein castle was sealed-off by the American troops. Vierling revealed his previously secret work which he had hidden in secret walled off chambers in the castle and collaborated openly with the new occupiers “They were willing to talk about their work, and cooperated with the repair of the laboratory”. At this time Vierling met the British mathematician and the ‘Father of Computing’  Alan Turing (then working for the Ticom ; Target Intelligence Committee), to discuss details of encryption and specifically the Enigma machine. Vierling then worked at Gehlen Organisation (an American run espionage organisation employing hundred of ex-Nazis ) on the design of bugging devices for the American occupation (echoing the career trajectory of Lev Termen) and from 1949 to 1955, having escaped the De-Nazification process through his collaboration with the occupying powers, became professor of physics at the Philosophical-Theological College in Bamberg, Germany. Vierling continued working at Vierling AG in Ebermannstadt and died in 1986.

Vierling research laboratories in 1060

Vierling research laboratories in 1960

 

Kock and Vierling in Berlin

Excerpt from Hans-Joachim Braun’s ‘Music Engineers. The Remarkable Career of Winston E. Kock, Electronic Organ Designer and NASA Chief of Electronics’

“In the spring of 1933, after finishing his studies in Cincinnati, Kock became exchange fellow at the Technical University of Berlin. He had heard of Karl Willy Wagner’s work and wanted to conduct doctoral research with him at the Heinrich Hertz Institute. Kock’s counterpart as an exchange student from Berlin to Cincinnati was Sigismund von Braun, Wernher von Braun’s eldest brother. In Berlin Kock wrote a Ph. D. thesis on oscillations in inductive glow discharge circuits and, with Oskar Vierling, another student of Wagner’s, designed an improved electronic organ on the formant principle. Oskar Vierling, Kock’s collaborator on the Kock-Vierling organ, had studied electrical engineering at an engineering school and in 1925 joined the Laboratory of the German Research Institute for Telegraphy headed by Karl Willy Wagner. In 1928 he followed Wagner as his assistant to the newly founded ‘Institute for Vibration Research’ conducting acoustic research and designing electrified pianos and electronic organs. Together with the Nobel Laureate Walter Nernst he in 1931 designed the Neo-Bechstein piano, an electrostatic piano and from 1928 to 1935 developed his Electrochord for the piano manufacturer Förster. The National Socialist Strength through Joy organization sponsored Vierling’s ‘Strength through Joy Organ’ which was played at the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936. This enlarged and improved version of the Kock-Vierling model created a sensation as did his electrically generated bell sounds which he presented at the National Socialist Party Rally in Nuremberg a year later.8 Fascination by technology, electricity and electronics,surprising effects, glorious sounds, this was food for the masses and much appreciated by the party propagandists. Vierling’s mentor Karl Willy Wagner must have watched his former assistant’s success with very mixed feelings, having himself been forced to resign from his directorate of the Heinrich Hertz Institute in 1936. There is an irony in the fact that Kock,who played a significant role in the US War effort during World War II, contributed, although unintentionally, to enhancing Nazi propaganda efforts.”


Sources

Peter Donhauser ‘THE FIRST ELECTRO-ACOUSTICAL PIANO IN GERMANY. THE NEO-BECHSTEIN AND IT’S RESTORATION’ Vienna Museum of Technology
Mariahilfer Strasse 212, 1140 Vienna

Hans-Joachim Braun ‘Music Engineers. The Remarkable Career of Winston E. Kock, Electronic Organ Designer and NASA Chief of Electronics’

‘Tarnname Schornsteinfeger’ by Thadeusz, Frank ‘Was wurde im Geheimlabor der Nazis auf Burg Feuerstein erforscht? Der Erfinder Oskar Vierling soll dort akustische Leitsysteme für die Wehrmacht entwickelt haben.’ Der Spiegel 18.04.2011

Wolfgang Voigt: Oskar Vierling, ein Wegbereiter der Elektroakustik für den Musikinstrumentenbau, in: Das Musikinstrument vol. 37, Nr 1/2, 1988, 214-221 und Nr. 2/3, 172-176.

http://www.vierling.de/

http://www.august-foerster.de

the ‘Syntronic Organ’& ‘Photona’. Ivan Eremeef. USA, 1935

The Photona at WCAU

The Photona at WCAU

Syntronic Organ

Syntronic Organ was an electro-optical tone generator based instrument engineered by Ivan Eremeef and his supporter and consultant, the world-renowned conductor Leopold Stokowski (who also premiered many of Edgard Varese’s works in the 1920s). The Syntronic Organ was a dual keyboard organ whose sound was optically generated using rotating tone-wheels and was said to be able to produce “one-hour of continuous variation”.

The WCAU Photona

Ivan Eremeef later created the “Photona” electro-optical tone generator instrument, developed with the  John Leitch at the engineering department of  WCAU broadcasting station in Philadelphia, USA. The Photona had twelve rotating optical discs illuminated by nine hundred six volt lamps. The instrument was played with two six octave manual keyboards and two foot pedals for volume and tremolo.

Front view of the Photona showing the 12 optical discs.
Front view of the Photona showing the 12 optical discs.
Photo-cell behind a revolving disc.

Photo-cell behind a revolving disc.

The WCAU Photona at the Smithsonian Institution

The WCAU Photona at the Smithsonian Institution

The driving pulleys for the tone discs and transformers used for lighting and nine hundred six volt lamps

The driving pulleys for the tone discs and transformers used for lighting and nine hundred six volt lamps

Rear view of the "WCAU Photona", several drive pulleys for tone discs and tremolo mechanism. The tremolo worked on a rocker arm which varies the pitch of the note.

Rear view of the “WCAU Photona”, several drive pulleys for tone discs and tremolo mechanism. The tremolo worked on a rocker arm which varies the pitch of the note.

Eremeef’s patents for a photo-electrical instrument using film strips 1935-6


Sources

Rollin Smith. ‘Stokowski and the Organ’

Nicholas Collins, Margaret Schedel, Scott Wilson. Electronic Music. Cambridge press 2013

Smithsonian Institution Science Services.

“WCAU’s Photona organ,” Electronics, vol. 8, p. 123; April, (1935).

The Computer Music Tutorial. Curtis Roads MIT 1961

The ‘Radio Organ of a Trillion Tones’ (1931), The ‘Polytone Organ’ (1934) & The ‘Singing Keyboard’ (1936). A. Lesti & F. Sammis. USA, 1934

 

The "Radio Organ of a Trillion Tones" (1931)

The “Radio Organ of a Trillion Tones” (1931)

Radio Organ of a Trillion Tones (1931)

The “Radio Organ of a Trillion Tones” was created and developed by A. Lesti and F. Sammis in the USA during 1931.The Radio Organ used a similar technique as the Celluphone and variants – rotating  photo-electric glass discs printed with wave-forms interrupting a light beam at different frequencies produced varied pitches and timbres from a vacuum tube oscillator; the principle was improved in the “Polytone”.

The Polytone Organ (1934)

A. Lesti and F. Sammis’s development of the Radio Organ of a Trillion Tones was christened the ‘The Polytone Organ’, this instrument was a three keyboard manual organ using the same sound production system as the ‘Radio Organ’ – rotating photo-electrical tone-wheel sound generation. The instrument was completed in 1934 and was one of the first multi-timbral instruments.

The Singing Keyboard (1936)

F. Sammis invented the “singing Keyboard” in 1936, a precursor of modern samplers, the instrument played electro-optical recordings of audio waves stored on strips of 35mm film which were triggered and pitched when the player pressed a key. More recent instruments such as the Mellotron and Chamberlin use a similar technology of triggered and pitched magnetic tape recordings.

Sources:

The ‘Hammond Organ’. Laurens Hammond, USA, 1935

The original Hammond Organ was Designed and built by the ex-watchmaker Laurens Hammond and  John M Hanert in April 1935. Hammond set up his ‘Hammond Organ Company’ in Evanston, Illinois to produce electronic organs for the ‘leisure market’ and in doing so created one of the most popular and enduring electronic instruments ever built. Hammond’s machine was designed using technology that relates directly to Cahill’s ‘Telharmonium’ of 1900, but, on a much smaller scale. The Hammond organ generated sounds in the same way as the Telaharmonium, the tone wheel-The tone generator assembly consisted of an AC synchronous motor connected to a gear train which drove a series of tone wheels, each of which rotated adjacent to a magnet and coil assembly. The number of bumps on each wheel in combination with the rotational speed determined the pitch produced by a particular tone wheel assembly. The pitches approximate even-tempered tuning.
This method of creating tones was maintained  until the mid 1960′s when transistors replaced tone wheels
The Hammond had a unique drawbar system of additive timbre synthesis (again a development of the Telharmonium) and stable intonation – a perennial problem with electronic instruments of the time. A note on the organ consisted of the fundamental and a number of harmonics, or multiples of that frequency. In the Hammond organ, the fundamental and up to eight harmonics were available and were controlled by means of drawbars and preset keys or buttons.A Hammond console organ included two 61-key manuals; the lower, or Great, and upper, or Swell, and a pedal board consisting of 25 keys. The concert models had a 32-key pedalboard. Hammond also patented an electromechanical reverb device using the helical torsion of a coiled spring, widely copied in later electronic instruments.As well as being a successful home entertainment instrument, The Hammond Organ became popular with Jazz, Blues and Rock musicians up until the late 1960′s and was also used by ‘serious’ musicians such as Karheinz Stockhausen in “Mikrophonie II”

Hammond patent documents

The ‘Sonothèque’. L. Lavallée, France.1936

L. Lavalée’s ‘Sonothèque’ or “sound library” was a  “coded performance electronic instrument using photo-electric translation of engraved grooves”. The instrument was capable of reading music and sounds encoded graphically with conductive ink sensed by a set of electrically charged brushes


Sources

Thomas LaMar Rhea. ‘The Evolution of Electronic Musical Instruments in the United States’ 1972

The ‘Hellertion’ and The ‘Heliophon’. Bruno Hellberger & Peter Lertes, Germany, 1929-1936

Diagram showing the sliding control of the Hellertion.

Diagram showing the sliding control of the Hellertion.

The Hellertion (1929)

The Hellertion,christened after the combination of the inventors names, was a monophonic vacuum tube instrument developed collaboratively by Peter Lertes, an electrical engineer in Leipzig and Bruno Helberger, a well known pianist of his time. Several variants of the instrument were constructed with the assistance of Schneider-Opel in Frankfurt, Germany the last of which was known as the Heliophon. The Hellertion was one of the first electronic instruments to use a fingerboard/continuous controller instead of a keyboard manual. The fingerboard was a flat metal resistance strip covered in leather which when pressed completed a circuit. Depending on where the strip is pressed, a different resistance in the circuit is created altering the voltage sent to the oscillator and thereby producing different pitches. The force of the pressure controlled the volume of the output signal. The fingerboard was marked to help the performer find the correct pitch on the strip and had a range of approximately five octaves.
Hellberger and Lertes at the Hellertion

Hellberger and Lertes at the Hellertion

The original instrument had just one fingerboard strip which was gradually increased to four and then on the later models, six aligned in parallel horizontally at the height of a piano keyboard. The four and six strip models allowed four and six voice polyphony when the strip could be played simultaneously with fingers and thumbs. The Hellertion was occasionally used in concerts as a piano addition, the melody being played with one hand on the Hellertion and the accompaniment being played with the other hand on the piano. A version of the Hellertion was produced in 1931 microtonally tuned to 10 divisions of an octave.
The four-slider controls of the Hellertion

The four-slider controls of the Hellertion

The Helliophon (1936)

A development of the Hellertion by Bruno Hellberger. The first version of the Heliophon was completed in Berlin,1936 but destroyed during WW2. Hellberger continued the development after the war and built a second model in 1947 in Vienna, Austria and continued the development of the Heliophon until his death in Vienna in 1951 (subsequent development was taken over by Woflgang Wehrmann). The sound of Heliophon was produced, as with the Hellertion, by heterodyning vacuum tube oscillators but with the Heliophon the sound was controlled by two 58 note pressure sensitive keyboard manuals instead of a series of fingerboard strips. Each keyboard had the ability to be split into three different pitches and timbres simultaneously, the output volume being controlled by foot pedals with a knee lever to add vibrato. Each keyboard had a Hellertion style fingerboard to add glissando and timbre variations.The Heliophon was used by Hellberger throughout the 1940′s and 50′s for theatrical and musical productions, the instrument was said not only to be capable of producing realistic imitations of orchestral instruments but able to imitate  human vocal sounds.

Sources:

A survey of ‘modern’ electronic instruments was published by Peter Lertes in 1933: “Elektrische Musik:ein gemeinverständliche Darstellung ihrer Grundlagen, des heutigen Standes der Technik und ihre Zukunftsmöglickkeiten” (Dresden & Leipzig, 1933)J.Marx:”Heliophon, ein neues Musikinstrument”, Ömz,ii(1947),314

 “Das Hellertion, ein neues electrisches Musikinstrument,” Funkbastler, July 3, (1931).