WDR Electronic Music Studio, Werner Meyer-Eppler, Robert Beyer & Herbert Eimert, Germany, 1951

WDR

WDR Electronic Music Studio in 1966

During the 1950s and late 1960s before the advent of affordable electronic instruments, the only organisations that could afford the cost of the equipment and space for dedicated electronic music studios were generally large educational establishments such as Columbia University (USA) or as in this case, national broadcasters such as the state run Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) in Cologne – at the time the largest and wealthiest broadcaster in West Germany. The benefit for these organisations was, on one hand to have a local resource for electronic music and sound effects to use in broadcasting but also, for ‘nationalistic’ reasons; to be see as liberally progressive and technologically advanced. Electronic Music composers remained reliant on their patronage until modular synthesisers became available in the late 1960s.

The Electronic Music Studio at Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) in Cologne was founded by the composers Werner Meyer-Eppler, Robert Beyer, and Herbert Eimert (the studios first director) and was based on Meyer-Eppler’s ideas outlined in his 1949 book ‘Elektronische Klangerzeugung: Elektronische Musik und Synthetische Sprache’. This thesis defined the ongoing theoretical character of the studio as being based around electronically synthesised sound – in sharp contrast to Schaeffer’s musique concrète acoustic approach at GRN in Paris.

WDR Studio

WDR Studio showing 4 track tape recorder and a selection of patched wave generators and filters

WDR is seen as the ‘Mother of all Electronic Music Studios’ because it quickly became a meeting place and forum for an international group of avant-garde composers including Ernst Krenek (Austria/USA), György Ligeti (Hungary), Franco Evangelisti (Italy), Cornelius Cardew (England), Mauricio Kagel (Argentina) and Nam June Paik (Korea) and Gottfried Michael Koenig who became the technical assistant at WDR and helped many composers create their pieces as well as writing many key pieces of electronic music at WDR (Klangfiguren II (1955), Essay (1957) and Terminus I (1962)). The pioneering work of previous composers has been somewhat overshadowed by the arrival of Karlheinz Stockhausen at WDR (who succeeded Eimert as director in 1962) in 1953 with pieces such as ‘Gesang der Junglinge‘ and Kontakte (1960) and Hymnen (1967) which became landmark works within the electronic music oeuvre. 

Beat-frequency low frequency pulse generator

A low frequency pulse generator

Adjustable UBM feedback amplifier

Adjustable UBM feedback amplifier

A Heath sine and square wave generator

A Heath sine and square wave generator

The studio was originally equipped with a modified Trautonium by Dr Friedrich Trautwein modified to Meyer-Eppler’s specification called the Elektronische Monochord and  with a Melochord by Harald Bode  . As well as these instruments the studio consisted of:

  • Signal generators: sine , rectangular, sawtooth and noise
  • Filters: octave, third, radio drama (W49) filters.
  • Pulse generator
  • Ring Modulator
  • Oscilloscope
  • Rotary speaker for recording spatial sounds
  • Echo and reverb chambers: the reverb chamber being a large empty room where sounds could be played through speakers and re-recorded with the room ambience added.
  • Sixteen channel (2 X 8 channel) audio mixer
  • Patchbay to route modules
  • Tape Machines: several mono, 2-track and one 4-track (one of the earliest 4-track recorders made) tape recorders and a ‘Springer’ variable speed tape recorder with a rotating 6-fold playback head.
Later version Melochord

Later version Melochord at the WDR studio

The equipment of the studio was updated to Stockhausen’s specifications in early 1970s to include what by then was standard voltage controlled modular synthesisers, including a large customised EMS Synthi 100. WDR studio remained in use until  2000 when it was closed though some of the original equipment was saved from destruction and is now stored in the basement of the WDR building in Cologne, Germany.

EMS Synthi 100 vocoder custom built for WDR

EMS Synthi 100 vocoder custom built for WDR

Stockhausen by the custom Synthi 100 at the WDR Studio in the 1970s

Stockhausen by the custom Synthi 100 at the WDR Studio in the 1970s










Sources:

http://sbkwmusic.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/visit-to-wdr-studios-koln.html

http://www.goethe.de/kue/mus/ned/rbk/eku/en1579142.htm

Thom Holmes. Electronic and Experimental Music: Technology, Music, and Culture

Thomas B. Holmes. Electronic and Experimental Music: Pioneers in Technology and Composition

Der WDR als Kulturakteur. Anspruch – Erwartung – Wirklichkeit.  Published by the German Cultural
Council. Authors: Gabriele Schulz, Stefanie Ernst, Olaf Zimmermann. Berlin 12/2009. 464
pages

‘Pattern Playback’ Franklin S. Cooper. USA, 1949

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Franklin Cooper with the Pattern Playback machine

The Pattern Playback was not a musical instrument as such but an early hardware device designed to synthesise and analyse speech, designed and  built by Dr. Franklin S. Cooper and his colleagues, including John M. Borst and Caryl Haskins, at Haskins Laboratories in the late 1940s and completed in 1950.

Diagram showing the function of the Pattern Playback machine

Diagram showing the function of the Pattern Playback machine

The device converted a picture or ‘spectrogram’ of a sound back in to sound. The ‘Pattern Playback’ machine functioned in a very similar way to the Russian ANS Synthesiser using a photo-electrical system; a mercury arc-light was projected through a rotating glass disc printed with fifty harmonics of a fundamental frequency as a way of generating a range of tones. The light is then projected through an acetate ‘black and transparent’ spectrogram image that lets through the portions of light that carry frequencies corresponding to the spectrogram. The resulting ‘filtered’ light hits a photo-voltaic cell which generated the final audible sound .

pp1

The Pattern Playback machine

Pattern Playback

The Pattern Playback machine

Several versions of the device were built at Haskins Laboratories and used up until 1976. The Pattern Playback now resides in the Museum at Haskins Laboratories in New Haven, Connecticut.


Sources

http://www.splab.net/APD/D800/index-e.html

The history of speech synthesis

The ‘Polychord’ Harald Bode, Germany, 1949

The Polychord II

Bode’s Polychord III 1951

The Polychord Organ was Harald Bode’s first postwar design commissioned by the Bayerischer Rundfunk, Southern German Radio as an electronic organ for live radio broadcasts and was often heard played by the popular organist Fekko von Ompteda and on occasions by Harald Bode himself.  The instrument remained in use at Bayerischer Rundfunk from 1950 until 1973 used for  in-house productions such as special effects, music for comedy shows, dance music and religious music.

Early version of the Polychord

Early version of the Polychord

The Polychord was a simpler, polyphonic version of the rather complex Melochord, re-designed with the professional organist in mind; offering a bank of preset sounds as well as free control of sound synthesis. Bode produced a second version, The Polychord III in 1951, produced and marketed by  Apparatwerk Bayern gmbh (ABW) company in Bavaria Germany, and the Bode Organ which became the prototype of the Estey Electronic Organ after his departure to the USA in 1954. The Bayerischer Rundfunk Polychord can be seen (2014) at the Musical Instruments collection at the Deutsches Museum von Meisterwerken der Naturwissenschaft und Technik in Munich, Germany.

 

Bode's notes for a prototype of the Polychord c 1949

Bode’s notes for a prototype of the Polychord c 1949

Bode's notes for a prototype of the Polychord c 1949

Bode’s notes for a prototype of the Polychord c 1949


 


Sources

Bode’s Melodium and Melochord by Thomas L. Rhea. Contemporary Keyboard magazine (January 1980)

http://cec.sonus.ca/econtact/13_4/palov_bode_notebooks.html

The ‘Baldwin Organ’ Winston E. Kock & J.F. Jordan, USA, 1946

Early Model of Winston Kock's Baldwin organ

Winston Kock’s Baldwin Organ Model Five 1947

The Baldwin organ was an electronic organ, many models of which have been manufactured by the Baldwin Piano & Organ Co. since 1946. The original models were designed by Dr Winston E. Kock who became the company’s director of electronic research after his return from his studies at the Heinrich-Hertz-Institute, Berlin, in 1936. The organ was a development of Kock’s Berlin research with the GrosstonOrgel using the same neon-gas discharge tubes to create a stable, affordable polyphonic instrument. The Baldwin Organ were based on an early type of subtractive synthesis; the neon discharge tubes generating a rough sawtooth wave rich in harmonics which was then modified by formant filters to the desired tone.

Tone modifying circuits of the Baldwin organ

Tone modifying circuits of the Baldwin organ

Another innovative aspect of the Baldwin Organ was the touch sensitive keyboard designed to create a realistic variable note attack similar to a pipe organ. As the key was depressed, a curved metal strip progressively shorted out a carbon resistance element to provide a gradual rather than sudden attack (and decay) to the sound.  This feature was unique at that time, and it endowed the Baldwin instrument with an unusually elegant sound which captivated many musicians of the day.

“How did it sound? I have played Baldwin organs at a time when they were still marketed and in my opinion, for what it is worth, they were pretty good in relative terms.  That is to say, they sounded significantly better on the whole than the general run of analogue organs by other manufacturers, and they were only beaten by a few custom built instruments in which cost was not a factor.  It would not be true to say they sounded as good as a good digital organ today, but they compared favourably with the early Allen digitals in the 1970′s.  Nor, of course, did they sound indistinguishable from a pipe organ, but that is true for all pipeless organs.  To my ears they also sounded much better and more natural than the cloying tone of the more expensive Compton Electrone which, like the Hammond, also relied on attempts at additive synthesis with insufficient numbers of harmonics.”

From ‘Winston Kock and the Baldwin Organ; by Colin Pykett

Electronic Generator of the earlt model Baldwin Organ

Electronic Tone Generator of the early model Baldwin Organ showing neon gas-discharge tube oscillators.

Kock’s 1938 Patent of the Baldwin organ

Winston Kock playing an early experimental design for an electric instrument

Winston Kock playing his early experimental electronic instrument 1932

Winston E. Kock Biographical Details:

Winston Kock was born into a German-American family in 1909 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Despite being a gifted musician he decided to study electrical engineering at Cincinnati university and in his 20’s designed a highly innovative, fully electronic organ for his master’s degree.

The major problem of instrument design during the 1920′s and 30′s was the stability and cost of analogue oscillators. Most commercial organ ventures had failed for this reason; a good example being  Givelet & Coupleux’s  huge valve Organ in 1930. it was this reason that Laurens Hammond (and many others) decided on Tone-Wheel technology for his Hammond Organs despite the inferior audio fidelity.

Kock had decided early on to investigate the possibility of producing a commercially viable instrument that was able to produce the complexity of tone possible from vacuum tubes. With this in mind, Kock hit upon the idea of using much cheaper neon ‘gas discharge’ tubes as oscillators stabilised with resonant circuits. This allowed him to design an affordable, stable and versatile organ.

Kock's Sonar device during WW2

Kock’s Sonar device during WW2

In the 1930’s Kock, fluent in German, went to Berlin to study On an exchange fellowship (curiously, the exchange was with Sigismund von Braun, Wernher von Braun’s eldest brother –Kock was to collaborate with Wernher twenty five years later at NASA) at the Heinrich Hertz Institute conducting research for a doctorate under Professor K W Wagner. At the time Berlin, and specifically the Heinrich Hertz Institute, was the global centre of electronic music research. Fellow students and professors included; Jörg Mager, Oskar Vierling, Fritz Sennheiser, Bruno Helberger, Harald Bode, Friedrich Trautwein, Oskar Sala and Wolja Saraga amongst others. Kock’s study was based around two areas: – improving the understanding of glow discharge (neon) oscillators, and developing realistic organ tones using specially designed filter circuits. 

Kock worked closely with Oskar Vierling for his Phd and co-designed the GrosstonOrgel in 1934 but disillusioned by the appropriation of his work by the newly ascendant Nazi party he decided to leave for India, sponsored by the Baldwin Organ Company arriving at the Indian Institute of Music in Bangalore in 1935.

Returning from India in 1936, Dr Kock became Baldwin’s Director of Research while still in his mid-twenties, and with J F Jordan designed many aspects of their first electronic organ system which was patented in 1941.

NASA

Winston E Kock (L) as the first Director of Engineering Research at NASA

When the USA entered the second world war Kock moved to Bell Telephone Laboratories where he was involved on radar research and specifically microwave antennas. In the mid-1950’s he took a senior position in the Bendix Corporation which was active in underwater defence technology. He moved again to become NASA’s first Director of Engineering Research, returning to Bendix in 1966 where he remained until 1971 when he became Acting Director of the Hermann Schneider Laboratory of the University of Cincinatti. Kock Died in Cincinatti in 1982.

 Winston Kock was a prolific writer of scientific books but he also wrote fiction novels under the pen name of Wayne Kirk.

Acoustic lenses developed by Winston Kock at the Bell Labs in the 1950's

Acoustic lenses developed by Winston Kock at the Bell Labs in the 1950′s

Acoustic lenses developed by Winston Kock at the Bell Labs in the 1950's

Acoustic lenses developed by Winston Kock at the Bell Labs in the 1950′s

lenses

Acoustic lenses developed by Winston Kock at the Bell Labs in the 1950′s


Sources:

Hugh Davies. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians

http://www.pykett.org.uk/drkock.htm

The ‘Mastersonic Organ’ John Goodell & Ellsworth Swedien, USA, 1949

The Mastersonic Organ was an improved tone wheel organ designed to produce more accurate pipe organ sounds. The designers,  John Goodell and Ellsworth Swedien, discovered that if they shaped the tone-wheel ‘pickups’ they could induce tones with different ‘natural’ harmonic content – rather than attempt to create a pure sine wave and artificially colour it as in the Hammond Organ. To achieve this the Mastersonic had individually shaped magnets for each tone wheel sound; a ”string” magnet, a “flute” magnet, a “diapason” magnet, and so on.

Mastersonic Tone Generation

Mastersonic Tone Generation (Alan Conway Ashton ‘electronics, Music and Computers’ 1971)

“…There were twelve shafts with seven pitch wheels each which rotated near the irregularly shaped magnets wound with coils. Each of the pitch wheels contained twice as many rec­tangular teeth as the preceding one, so seven octaves were produced per shaft. Several differently shaped poles were dispersed radially around each wheel.”
Alan Conway Ashton electronics, Music and Computers

Each tone-wheel was shielded against magnetic interference from the other, adding to the bulk and complexity of the instrument. The instrument was controlled by a seven octave special keyboard, designed to simulate attack envelopes. The resulting sound was indeed a much more accurate pipe organ sound but at the expense of size; the Mastersonic was a huge, complex and expensive machine and few were built or sold.


Sources

‘Microsound’ Curtis Roads MIT 2001

ELECTRONICS, MUSIC AND COMPUTERS. Alan Conway Ashton. December 1971 UTEC-CSc-71-117

The ‘Emiriton’ A. Ivanov, V.A. Kreytser & Andrey Rimsky-Korsakov, Russia, 1943

Late 1950's version of the Emiriton

Late 1950′s version of the Emiriton

The Emiriton was an example of a series of finger-board electronic instruments developed in the Soviet Union in the 1930′s, inspired perhaps by Leon Termen’s avoidance of a standard keyboard with his Theremin. Other instruments included V.A.Gurov’s (a former colleague of Leon Termen) “Neo-Violena“(1927) the ”Sonar“(1930) and the Volodin’s “Ekvodin“ (1931). Designed by A. Ivanov and A.Rimsky-Korsakov, The Emiriton was a originally a fingerboard instrument allowing the use of glissando effects, with later models incorporating a standard keyboard. The Emiriton generated sound from neon-tube oscillators and was able to replicate sounds such  as  the bassoon, violin, cello and clarinet.

Rimsky Korsakov

Andrey Vladimirovich Rimsky-Korsakov

Biographical Information: Andrey Vladimirovich Rimsky-Korsakov

Andrey Vladimirovich Rimsky-Korsakov, grandson of the famous Russian composer,studied at the Leningrad Conservatory and the Leningrad Polytechnical Institute. His combination of musical and technical knowledge allowed Andrey Vladimirovich to work successfully at the Research Institute of Musical Industry organized by Academician N.N.Andreyev. From 1932 he collaborated with the engineer A.A.Ivanov to construct one of the earliest Russian electric musical instruments: the Emiriton. In early 1941, Rimsky-Korsakov moved to the Leningrad Physicotechnical Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, where he began his investigations in hydroacoustics. In 1942, he joined the Navy and, during the war was involved in designing and testing acoustic mines. After the war, Rimsky-Korsakov returned to his studies in musical acoustics at the Leningrad Electrotechnical Institute of Communication, and later at the Acoustics Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Moscow. In 1960, Rimsky-Korsakov established the Department of Electroacoustics and Ultrasonics at the Moscow Mining Institute focussing on acoustical measurements, and noise and vibration control and technological processes of low-frequency acoustic vibrations.


Sources:

Time, Volume 44. 1944

Music of the Repressed Russian Avant-garde, 1900-1929 By Larry Sitsky

Soviet Physics: Acoustics, Volume 36

Chamberlin ‘Rhythmate’, Harry Chamberlin, USA,1947

Chamberlin Rhythmate

Chamberlin Rhythmate

Created in 1949, The ‘ Rhythmate’ was one of the first electronic drum machines ever produced. The instrument was designed and built (probably only ten machines were ever produced) by Harry Chamberlin in Upland, California. With the success of the Chamberlin keyboards in the 1960s Harry Chamberlin updated the drum machine – the Rhythmate model25/35/45 produced from 1960-1969 with 100 models sold.

Chamberlin Rhythmate

Control panel of the Chamberlin Rhythmate 1960′s model

The Rhythmate was a tape loop based drum machine designed to accompany an organ player. the instrument had 14 tape loops with a sliding head that allowed playback of different tracks on each piece of tape, or a blending between them. It contained a volume and a pitch/speed control and also had a separate amplifier with bass, treble, and volume controls, and an input jack for a guitar, microphone or other instrument. The tape loops were of real acoustic jazz drum kits playing different style beats, with some additions to tracks such as bongos, clave, castanets, etc. The Rhythmate has a built-in amplifier and 12″ speaker.

In 1951, Harry Chamberlin used his idea of magnetic tape playback to create the Chamberlin Model 200 keyboard. The Model 300/350, 400, 500 and 600/660 models followed.

Chamberlin Rhythmate

Inside the Chamberlin Rhythmate showing amplifier 10″ speaker and tape loops


Sources

http://www.mellotron.com/chamanu.htm

The ‘Multimonica’, Harald Bode, Germany, 1940

Bode's 'Multimonica'

Harald Bode’s ‘Multimonica II’. The front panel controls of the Multimonica II, from left to right are: power switch and volume knob; six switches for different presets; tuning knob; two switches for different harmonic filtering; three switches for vibrato speed and amplitude; and power switch for the blower fan.

The ‘Hohner Multimonica’ was the first mass-produced analogue synthesiser. It was sold throughout Europe from 1940 by the German company Hohner GmbH (known at the time for their acoustic harmoniums and mouth-organs)  and designed by the pioneering engineer Harald Bode – an important figure in electronic instrument design who was hugely influential on future electronic instrument and synthesiser design.
The Multimonica was a  commercial hybrid electronic/acoustic instrument with two keyboards; the lower one a 41 note wind-blown reed harmonium instrument,  and the upper, an electronic monophonic sawtooth synthesiser. Housed in a modernist streamlined black and white Bakelite casing, the instrument features a loudspeaker, tube-generated electromechanical vibrato (based onEL41, ECC40, and EF40 tubes.), 6 pre-set synth sounds, 2 switches for harmonic filtering, and 3 switches for the vibrato speed and amplitude, as well as a knee lever for volume control. The Multimonica II released in 1953 featured one loudspeaker and provided more types of harmonics filtering than the pre-war Multimonica I, and the electro-mechanical vibrato was changed to a more sophisticated neon-gas-tube-based design.

Images of the Multimonica II

 

Biographical notes

Harald Bode; October 19, 1909 Hamburg Germany – January 15, 1987 New York USA.

Harald Bode; October 19, 1909 Hamburg Germany – January 15, 1987 New York USA.

Bode Studied  mathematics, physics and natural philosophy at Hamburg University, graduating in 1934. In 1937, with funding support provided by the composer and band-leader, Christian Warnke, Bode produced his first instrument the ‘Warbo-Formant Orgel’ (‘Warbo’ being a combination of the names Warnke and Bode). Bode moved to Berlin in 1938 to complete a postgraduate course at the Heinrich Hertz Institute where he collaborated with Oskar Vierling and Fekko von Ompteda. During this period Bode developed the ‘Melodium’ ;  a unique monophonic touch-sensitive, multi-timbral instrument used extensively in film scores of the period.

When WWII started in 1939 Bode worked on military submarine sound and wireless communication projects “…We had the only choice in Germany, to go to military service or do work for the government. I praise myself lucky, that I was able to go to the electronic industry” and moved to the  small village Neubeuern in southern Germany, where in 1947 Bode built the first European post-war electronic instrument, the ‘Melochord’. In 1949 Bode joined the AWB company where he created the  ’Polychord’ a simpler, polyphonic version of the ‘Melochord’ which was followed by the ‘Polychord III’ in 1951 and the  ’Bode Organ’, a commercial organ which became the prototype for the famous Estey Electronic Organ. After leaving AWB, Bode’s designs included the ‘Tuttivox’, a miniature electronic organ and collaborated on a version of Georges Jenny’s ’Clavioline’, both big sellers throughout Europe.

In 1954 Bode moved to the USA, settling in Brattleboro, Vermont where he lead the development team (and later, Vice President)  at the Estey Organ Corporation. In 1958, while still working at Estey, Bode set up the Bode Electronics Company where in March 1960 he created another unique instrument; a modular synthesiser “A New Tool for the Exploration of Unknown Electronic Music Instrument Performances” known as the  ’Audio System Synthesiser’ which Robert Moog used as the basis for his line of new Moog synthesisers.

After the Estey Organ Company foundered in 1960, Bode joined the Wurlitzer Organ Co and moved to Buffalo, New York where he was one of the first engineers to recognise the significance of transistor based technology in electronic music.  Bode’s concepts of modular and miniature self-contained transistor based machines was taken up and developed in the early 1960′s by Robert Moog and Donald Buchla amongst others. 1962 saw the beginning of a long collaboration between Bode and the composer Vladimir Ussachevski at the  Columbia Princeton Center for Electronic Music which lead to the development of innovative studio equipment designs such as the  ’Bode Ring Modulator’ and ‘Bode Frequency Shifter’. The commercial versions of these inventions were produced  under the Bode Sound Co and under license Moog Synthesisers.

Harald Bode retired in 1974 but continued to pursue his own research. In 1977 he created the ‘Bode Vocoder’ (licensed as the ‘Moog Vocoder’). In 1981 he developed his last instrument, the ‘Bode Barberpole Phaser’.

Harald Bode’s sketchbooks

 


Sources:

“Living For Sound- The Inventor Harald Bode And The Evolution Of Electronic Music”  http://www.dradio.de/

The ‘Free Music Machine’. Percy Grainger & Burnett Cross, USA/Australia , 1948

The Free Music Machine (1948) or "The Electric Eye Tone Tool Cross-Grainger for Playing Graingers Free Music"

The Free Music Machine (1948) or “The Electric Eye Tone Tool Cross-Grainger for Playing Grainger’s Free Music”

The ‘Free Music Machine’ was created by musician and singer Burnett Cross and the Australian composer Percy Grainger. Grainger a virtuoso Pianist and pupil of Bussoni, had been developing his idea of “free music” since 1900: based on eighth tones and complete rhythmic freedom and unconventionally notated on graph paper. Grainger had experimented using collections of Theremins and changing speeds of recorded sounds on phonograph disks and eventually developed his own instruments. Graingers experiments with random music composition pre-dated those of John Cage by 30 years with “Random Round” written in the 1920′s. Graingers first experiments used a Pianola “player piano” controlling three Solovoxes by means of strings attached to the Pianola’s keys, this combination was abandoned as it was not possible to create a continuous glissando effect from the Pianola. Grainger started work on a more elaborate but eccentric machine in collaboration with Burnett Cross and his wife, Ella Grainger. The Free Music Machine was a machine that controlled the pitch, volume and timbre of eight oscillators.Two large rollers fed four sets of paper rolls over a set of mechanical arms that rolled over the cut contours of the paper and controlled the various aspects of the oscillators.
The Kangaroo Poutch Free Music Machine (Grainger's diagram)

The Kangaroo Poutch Free Music Machine (Grainger’s diagram)

Graingers notes describing the above diagram, April 1952:
” 8 oscillators, able to play the gliding tones and irregular (beatless) rythms of Graingers FREE MUSIC (first thought of around 1892), are manipulated by paper graphs, towered discs and metal arms.A sheet of light brown wrapping paper 80 inches high (called “main paper”), is rolled continually from the “Feeder” revolving turret into the “Eater” revolving turret, passing through a metal cage on its way (the cage keeps the Main Paper, the graphs and ths discs in place). Each of the 8 oscillators has its own special pitch control graph and sound strength control graph. To the front of the main paper are attached 4 pitch-control graphs (mauve and greenish paper) and 4 tone-strength control graphs (pinkish paper), their top edges cut into “hills and dales” in accordance with the intervals & tone strength desired. These graphs operate oscillators 1,2,3,4. To the back of the Main Paper are attached 4 additional pitch control graphs & 4 additional tone strength control graphs, operating oscillators 5,6,7,8 The bottoms of these 16 graphs are sewn onto the main paper at various heights but the top of each graph is left unattached. Into each pouch thus formed (between the main paper and thegraph paper) is inserted a towered metal disc, the tower riding the upon the top edge of the graph & following its up and down movements. These movements are passed on to the axle and tone strength control box of each oscillator by means of metal arms, causing whatever changes in pitch and volume are intended. The blue-and-white discs controlling tone strengths are smaller than the variously coloured discs controlling pitch. In the above sketches the connecting electric wires are not shown.”
DCP_00figure 2. Detail view of one of the valve oscillators (photo R.Linz)
Grainger specified the requirements of his Free Music Machine to be:

  • To play any pitch of any size, half, quarter or eighth tones, within the range of 7 voices.
  • To be able to pass from pitch to pitch by way of a controlled guide as well as by leap
  • Complex irregular rhythms must be able to be performed past the scope of human execution. Dynamics were to be precisely controlled.
  • The machine had to be to be run and maintained by the composer.

Grainger was a continual experimenter picking up skills where necessary, amongst some of the eccentric instruments he produced were:

  • The first sliding pipes for playing gliding tones.
  • The electrical reproducing Duo Art grand piano 1932, for beat-less music and irregular barring.
  • The portable folding harmonium.
  • The Burnett Cross movie-film gliding soundtrack, (abandoned as it did not allow Grainger to deal directly with the sounds themselves)
  • The Smith’s Organ Flute Pipe, set up with hanging mops, rolling pins.
  • A range of experiments with reeds in boxes used as tone tools played with vacuum cleaners (1944-6)
  • The sewing machine and hand drill (to act as an oscillator for playing variable tones) October 1951.
  • The “Kangaroo Pouch”, Grainger’s own efficient framework design with the skatewheel mountings suggested by his collaborator, Burnett Cross and four vacuum-tube oscillators built by Branch, an electronics student, from the local White Plains High School.
  • The Butterfly Piano conversion tuned in 6th tones, (1952)
  • The electric eye tone tool Cross-Grainger 1957-59, the last remaining component.
percy grainger_Free Music Tone-Tool Machine
Percy Grainger’s description of Free Music. December 6th, 1938
FREE MUSIC (Tablet 2)

“Music is an art not yet grown up; its condition is comparable to that stage of Egyptian bas-reliefs when the head and legs were shown in profile while the torso appeared – the stage of development in which the myriad irregular suggestions of nature can only be taken up in regularised or conventionalised forms. With Free Music we enter the phase of technical maturity such as that enjoyed by the Greek sculptors when all aspects and attitudes of the human body could be shown in arrested movement.Existing conventional music (whether “classical” or popular) is tied down by set scales, a tyrannical (whether metrical or irregular) rhythmic pulse that holds the whole tonal fabric in a vice-like grasp and a set of harmonic procedures (whether key-bound or atonal) that are merely habits, and certainly do not deserve to be called laws. Many composers have loosened, here and there, the cords that tie music down. Cyril Scott and Duke Ellington indulge in sliding tones; Arthur and others use intervals closer than the half tone; Cyril Scott (following my lead) writes very irregular rhythms that have been echoed, on the European continent, by Stravinsky, and others; Schoenberg has liberated us from the tyranny of conventional harmony. But no non-Australian composer has been willing to combine all these innovations into a consistent whole that can be called Free Music.It seems to me absurd to live in an age of flying and yet not to be able to execute tonal glides and curves – just as absurd as it would be to have to paint a portrait in little squares (as in the case of mosaic) and not to be able to use every type of curved lines. If, in the theatre, several actors (on the stage together) had to continually move in a set theatrical relation to each other (to be incapable of individualistic, independent movement) we would think it ridiculous, yet this absurd goose-stepping still persists in music. Out in nature we hear all kinds of lovely and touching “free” (non-harmonic) combinations of tones, yet we are unable to take up these beauties and expressivenesses into the art of music because of our archaic notions of harmony.Personally I have heard free music in my head since I was a boy of 11 or 12 in Auburn, Melbourne. It is my only important contribution to music. My impression is that this world of tonal freedom was suggested to me by wave movements in the sun that I first observed as a young child at Brighton, Vic., and Albert Park, Melbourne. (See case I)

Yet the matter of Free Music is hardly a personal one. If I do not write it someone else certainly will, for it is the goal that all music is clearly heading for now and has been heading for through the centuries. It seems to me the only music logically suitable to a scientific age.

The first time an example of my Free Music was performed on man-played instruments was when Percy Code conducted it (most skilfully and sympathetically) at one of my Melbourne broadcast lectures for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, in January, 1935. But Free Music demands a non-human performance. Like most true music, it is an emotional, not a cerebral, product and should pass direct from the imagination of the composer to the ear of the listener by way of delicately controlled musical machines. Too long has music been subject to the limitations of the human hand, and subject to the interfering interpretation of a middle-man: the performer. A composer wants to speak to his public direct. Machines (if properly constructed and properly written for) are capable of niceties of emotional expression impossible to a human performer. That is why I write my Free Music for theramins – the most perfect tonal instruments I know. In the original scores (here photographed) each voice (both on the pitch-staves and on the sound- strength staves) is written in its own specially coloured ink, so that the voices are easily distinguishable, one from the other.

Percy Aldridge Grainger, Dec.6, 1938″

percy grainger_Facing PercyJB

Sources:

The Free Music Machines of Percy Grainger. Rainer Linz

The ‘Voder’ & ‘Vocoder’ Homer Dudley, USA,1940

Homer Dudley's Voder 1940

Homer Dudley’s Voder 1940

The Vocoder (Voice Operated reCorDER) and Voder (Voice Operation DEmonstratoR)) developed by the research physicist Homer Dudley, was invented as a result of research into compression techniques for telephone voice encryption at Bell Laboratories, New Jersey USA and was the first successful attempt at analysing and resynthesising the humans voice.

The machine consisted of an analyser and a synthesiser. the analyser detected energy levels of successive sound samples measured over the entire audio frequency spectrum via a series of narrow band filters. The results of which could be viewed graphically as functions of frequency against time. The synthesiser reversed the process by scanning the data from the analyser and supplying the results to a feedback network of analytical filters energised by a noise generator to produce audible sounds.
The fidelity of the machine was limited; the machine being intended as a research machine for voice over copper-wire phone transmissions. However, Werner Meyer-Eppler, then the director of Phonetics at Bonn University, recognised the relevance of the machines to electronic music after Dudley visited the University in 1948, and used the vocoder as a basis for his future writings which in turn became the inspiration for the German “Electronische Musik” movement.

The Voder was first unveiled in 1939 at the New York World Fair (where it was demonstrated at hourly intervals) and later in 1940 in San Francisco. There were twenty trained operators known as the ‘girls’ who handled the machine much like a musical instrument such as a piano or an organ, but they managed to successfully produce human speech during the demonstrations. In the New York Fair demonstration, which was repeated frequently, the announcer gave a simple running discussion of the circuit to which the girl operator replied through the Voder. This was done by manipulating fourteen keys with the fingers, a bar with the left wrist and a foot pedal with the right foot.

“At the 1939 World’s Fair a machine called a Voder was shown . A girl stroked its keys and it emitted recognsable speech. No human vocal cords entered into the procedure at any point; the keys simply combined some electronically produced vibrations and passed these on to a loud-speaker.”
(“As We May Think” by Vannevar Bush, 1945. )
VODER-Worlds-Fair-Pamphlet
Voder at the world fair

Voder at the world fair

Voder at the world fair

Voder at the world fair

Voder diagram

Voder diagram

 

Voder keyboard and wrist controls

Voder keyboard and wrist controls


Sources: