Helmholtz Sound Synthesiser. Max Kohl. Germany, 1905

Helmholtz Sound Synthesiser

Max Kohl’s ‘Helmholtz Sound Synthesiser’ 1905

Max Kohl AG founded on 14 March 1876  was a well known company that designed and built scientific mechanical and electrical instruments and was based on Andorfer Str, Chemnitz, Germany. The company created a huge range of equipment sold throughout the world to laboratories and universities including a sound instrument based on a design by the German physicist and psychologist Hermann von Helmholtz. The Max Kohl AG factory in Chemnitz was destroyed by allied bombing during WW2 and most of the remaining equipment was transported intact after the war to the Soviet Union
Helmholtz

Hermann von Helmholtz ‘On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music’ 1870

The ‘Sound Synthesiser’ was not intended as a musical instrument but a scientific tool to demonstrate and analyse the effect of overtones in complex sound as described in Helmholtz’s revolutionary book ‘On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music‘  (Hermann von Helmholtz 1870) which had a huge impact on musicologists and instrument designers throughout the twentieth century. Using resonators, Helmholtz demonstrated the components of complex sounds are a combination of overtones of a fundamental note (e.g. a “fundamental” pitch G 440Hz contains a harmonic series of whole number multiples of this  440Hz frequency or overtones – 880Hz G , 1320Hz, 1760Hz, etc. at variable volumes). The Sound Synthesiser used a number of tuning forks – which produced almost pure tones – vibrated by electromagnets which in turn were amplified by a Helmholtz Resonator to generate overtones. The range of overtones could be ‘filtered’ by a mechanical shutter. The instrument helped in the understanding of the nature of speech and vowel sounds; vowel sounds being varied combinations of resonant overtones or ‘formants’ created by the muscles of the vocal tract.
helmoholtz_portrait_02

Herman von Helmholtz

Many variations of Helmholtz’s resonators were built; some were brass spheres used with hand-held tuning forks, others used electromagnets to excite the tuning forks. Max Kohl’s 1985 version had ten forks and their corresponding resonators attached to a 39½ x 29 inch mahogany base. The system is driven by an intermittent current provided by a large horizontal master tuning fork and was operated by pressing on the keys on a small ivory keyboard which sent the current to the corresponding electrically driven tuning forks. The keyboard is marked; ut [Do, or C] to 4 octaves, mi [E] to 3 octaves, and sol [G] to 3 octaves. The synthesiser was capable of combining timbres of 10 harmonics to form multiple vowel sounds.

Images of Max Kohl’s Sound Synthesiser

 

 


Sources

http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/22247/lot/245/

http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/whipple/explore/acoustics/rudolphkoenig/koenigsanalyzer/

http://www.sil.si.edu/digitalcollections/trade-literature/scientific-instruments/files/51637/index.htm

https://archive.org/stream/onsensationston00helmgoog#page/n2/mode/2up

The ‘Ether Wave Violin’ or ‘Aetherwellengeige’ Erich Zitzmann-Zirini, Germany 1934

Aetherwellengeige

The ‘Ether Wave Violin’ or Aetherwellengeige shown here in a 1952 Film

The ‘Aetherwellengeige’ was one of many instruments inspired by Leon Termen’s Theremin using the same heterodyning principle and body capacitance to generate a variable tone from two thryatron vacuum tubes (other instruments were the Sonar (1933) , Neo Violena (1927), Electronde (1927), Emicon (1932) and Croix Sonore (1929) amongst others) . This version was built by the amateur electronic engineer and musician Erich Zitzmann-Zirini in Berlin in 1934 after he had witnessed the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra using Termen’s Theremin in 1927. Zitzmann-Zirini appeared with his instrument in the 1934 Funkaustellung ‘Orchestra of the Future’

"Sounds from the air from the self-made Ether Wave Violin"

Poster “Sounds from the air from the self-made Ether Wave Violin”

Zitzmann-Zirini used his one-off instrument as the centrepiece of his career in vaudeville, circus, radio, and TV shows, he renamed his instrument the ‘musical Sputnik’ after Gagarin’s space flight in the 1960s.


Sources:

André Rusch Frankowski ‘Soundscapes’, pp. 23 (1st edition, Berlin 1990)

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 ‘Mixturtrautonium’ Oskar Sala, Germany, 1936

Oskar Sala's mixturtrautonium

Oskar Sala’s mixturtrautonium

Later developments of Freidrich Trautwein’s original  Trautonium were continued by the Trautonium virtuoso and composer Oskar Sala. In 1936, Sala christened his first instrument the ‘Rundfunktrautonium’ (‘Radio-Trautonium’) and also developed a concert version, the “Konzerttrautonium”. After the end of the Second World War the instrument was re-named the ‘Mixturtrautonium’ but all were essentially developments of the original subtractive synthesis principles of the Trautonium.

Mixturtrautonium at the Vienna Technology Museum

Mixturtrautonium at the Vienna Technology Museum, showing two resistant-string manuals and double foot pedals

The essential design principles of the Trautonium were retained by Sala; sound production on the basis of sub-harmonic ‘mixture’, and the method of playing with two string manuals. The latter are made of wire-covered catgut strings which act as variable resistors. according to the position at which they are pressed againts the contact rail beneath them, they control the frequencies of the electronic sound generators. when the finger glides over the string a continuous glissando results over the entire tonal region which has just been tuned up. Micro-tonal intervals could be produced on the Mixturtrautonium. To ensure accurate contact with the notes leather covered sprung and moveable metal tongues are added to each string.  Unlike with a vibrating string, the gradation of the electrical-resistant string manual is linear and not exponential so that all octave have the same finger range.

Sala at the

Sala at the Mixturtrautonium

The 1948 post-war Mixturtrautonium was a polyphonic version of the original Trautonium, generating sound from two AEG Thoraton tubes with a 3 ½ octave range (which could be extended with an octave switch). The instrument could also be controlled with a foot pedal that not only allowed variation in volume but also with a lateral foot movement, select three different sets of sub-harmonics. The Sub-harmonic ‘mixture’ technique basically used un-natural low frequency harmonics to modulate a sawtooth signal creating complex harmonic ‘mixtures’ which could be further coloured with noise generators, mixers, an envelope controller and a frequency shifter.

mixturtrautonium2

Mixturtrautonium

During the pre-war period, the ”Rundfunktrautonium’ was used extensively for film and radio broadcasts and after Paul Hindemith’s endorsement, became the instrument of choice for ‘serious’ electronic music composition (Hindemith’s switching of allegiances from Jörg Mager’s Sphärophon family of instruments to the Trautonium signalled the end  of Mager’s career in instrument design). A portable version, the ‘Konzerttrautonium’ was designed in 1936 specifically for the composer  Harald Genzmer’s ” Conzert für Trautonium und Orchestrer” and saw more than fifty performances before the outbreak of the war.

Berlin had in the early Thirties become the world capital of electronic music, with inventors and designers such as Jörg Mager , Oskar Vierling , Fritz Sennheiser , Bruno Helberger, Harald Bode, Friedrich Trautwein and Oskar Sala (with much of the work centred around the Heinrich-Hertz-Institute). These instruments often explored radical new approaches to tonality and expression and were enthusiastically adopted by the avant-garde of the period. This period of musical ferment coincided with the seizure of power by Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist party (NDSAP), who initially tried to absorb this strain of modernism for their own propaganda ends – indeed, the name ‘Volkstrautonium’ echoes the name ‘Volkswagen’ as a peoples instrument for a modern, new Germany. On the 18th August 1933, Joseph Goebbels (Hitler’s Propaganda Minister) presided over the IFA ‘Internationale Funkausstellung’ (International Radio Exhibition) in Berlin. The music for the exhibition was provided by the ‘Future Orchestra’ (Das Orchester der Zukunft) composed of the most advanced electronic instruments of the time: The Volkstrautonium played by Oskar Sala, Bruno Helberger’s Hellertion, Oskar Vierling’s Elektrochord , the Neo-Bechstein of Walther Nernst, a collection of electric violins and cellos and Leon Termen’s  Theremin.

'Das Orchester der Zukunft' at the Berlin IFA 1933

‘Das Orchester der Zukunft’ at the Berlin IFA 1933

The rise of the Hitler’s National Socialist party presented electronic and avant-garde musicians with a difficult choice; either the hope that by collaborating they would survive and be left alone and be able to continue working or, simply, leave the country. Trautwein, who had joined the NDSAP in the late thirties used his connections:

Luckily Trautwein knew a general who was on our side and arranged that we could play the instrument to the minister of propaganda Joseph Goebels, Hitler’s right hand man. I Played something by Paganini and of course he liked it. After that, they left us in peace.
Oskar Sala

This collaboration resulted in a commission from the Reich’s Radio organisation for several new instruments to be built for a weekly fifteen minute programme “Musik Auf Dem Trautonium” (playing German classical music accompanied by a pianist) and later commissions to use the instrument at large scale NDSAP rallies, outdoor concerts, speeches and, (alongside other electronic instruments such as Vierling’s GrosstonOrgel) the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936. However, this patronage was short-lived as the Nazi’s asserted their traditional conservatism; Atonal, Experimental and avant-garde music alongside Jazz and other non-German culture was branded ‘entarte’ or ‘degenerate’. Trautwein and Sala’s workshop was denied funding and closed, the Trautonoium was relegated to performing Reich-approved music. Sala spent the war years touring throughout Germany and Axis occupied countries until he was conscripted in 1944 and sent to the Eastern Front

Oskar_Sala_Konzert_Trautonium_Friedrich_Trautwein_Leo_Borchard_Budapest_1942

Oskar Sala playing the Trautonium at a concert with Leo Borchard, Budapest 1942

After the end of the war Sala founded a studio for film music soundtrack production in Berlin,where, amongst many other projects, he recorded music for Hitchcock’s “the birds” .

Oskar Sala and Alfred Hitchcock working on the sound effects for "The Birds"

Oskar Sala and Alfred Hitchcock working on the sound effects for “The Birds”



Music

Oskar Sala – Triostück Paul Hindemith


Sources:

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

Framing the Fifties: Cinema in a Divided Germany. edited by John Davidson, Sabine Hake

Music and German National Identity. edited by Celia Applegate, Pamela Potter

Peter Badge (2000). Oskar Sala:Pionier der elektronischen Musik. Satzwerk, 100pp. ISBN 3-930333-34-1

http://www.trautoniks.de/

The ‘Saraga-Generator’ Wolja Saraga, Germany ,1931

The Saraga-Generator was developed by the electrical engineer and physicist Wolja Saraga at the Heinrich-Hertz Institut Für Schwingungsforschung in Berlin, Germany around 1931. The Saraga Generator was an unusual theatrical photo-electrical  vacuum tube instrument. The Saraga Generator was designed to be used for theatrical production where the sound would be triggered by movement in front of the instrument. The instrument consisted of a photoelectric cell mounted on the white painted inside surface of a box with a small slit cut on one face. A low voltage neon lamp was placed at some distance from the box on a stage and the performers movements interrupting the light beam caused variations in pitch. Envelope and timbre were affected by manipulating a hand held switch device, the overall volume being controlled by a foot pedal. The instrument had a tonal range of four octaves.

 

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

The Hellertion

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 the first electronic instruments to use a fingerboard/continuous controller instead of a keyboard manual and was much copied in other later instrument designs such as the Trautonium and the Sonar. 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

Diagram showing the sliding control of the Hellertion.

Diagram showing the sliding control of an early model 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).

The ‘Welte Licht-Ton-Orgel’ or ‘Phototone Organ’ . Edwin Welte, Germany, 1936

The "Welte Licht-Ton Orgel" (Light-Tone organ) (1936)

The “Welte Licht-Ton Orgel” (Light-Tone organ) (1936)

The Welte Light-Tone was one of the last instruments designed by Edwin Welte (1876-1958) of the famous Welte-Mignon mechanical instrument manufacturers. Welte had become fascinated with the possibility of using optical disks since 1925 and produced a number of prototypes using clay optical disks before completing the glass-disk based production version of the Lichttonorgel. The sounds of the Lichttonorgel consisted of photographically drawn ‘recordings’ of different models of famous organs of the day but in theory could play back any recording of any instrument.
The organ premiered on November 6th 1936 at the Berlin philharmonic played by the  virtuoso German organist Kurt Grosse and received enthusiastic review from the National Socialist newspaper the Völkische Beobachter (9. November 1936) “ A unique miracle, perfection in the entire realm of concert instruments” and speculated that it would be a perfect instrument for National Socialist rallies – on the strength of  this endorsment, The German Telefunken comany negotiated a production deal. Any potential the instrument had was destroyed by the Nazi’s discovery of Welte’s marriage to a German Jew and Telefunken’s immediate withdrawal of their contract. After the war Welte continued to try and make a commercial success of the instrument but eventually foundered due to the complexity of the photo-electric system and  from increasing competition from cheaper and more efficient instruments such as the Hammond Organ. Welte. Only three  production models of the Lichtonorgel were completed.
A detail of one of the the Light Tone Organ's glass disks.

A detail of one of the the Light Tone Organ’s glass disks.

The instruments sound generation unit consisted of 12 glass disks which were printed with 18 different looped waveforms in concentric rings. The glass ‘tone wheel’ disks were rotated over a series of photoelectric cells, filtering a light beam that controlled the sound timbre and pitch. The resulting combinations of tones gave 3 different timbres for all the octave registers of each note on the keyboard. The German arm of the Welte-Mignon company in Frieburg was completely destroyed in 1944 by allied bombing and all of the companies closely kept secret designs were lost forever.
Light beam disk of the Licht-ton Orgel

Light beam disk of the Licht-ton Orgel

Light beam disk of the Licht-ton Orgel

Light beam disk of the Licht-ton Orgel

Welte's Licht-Ton-Orgel

Welte’s Licht-Ton-Orgel

Lichtorgel

Edwin Welte.  March 28 1876 in Freiburg im Breisgau , † January 4 1958 in Freiburg im Breisgau

Edwin Welte. March 28 1876 in Freiburg im Breisgau , † January 4 1958 in Freiburg im Breisgau

Biographical Information

Edwin Welte (1876-1958) and his brother-in-law, Karl Bockish, developed the Welte-Mignon reproducing piano in 1904 for M. Welte & Soehne of Freiburg, Germany. Music roll recording commenced in 1905.  The recording piano and the reproducing system were entirely new inventions which astounded the musicians and fans in Europe.  In 1906 (?) he established “The Welte Artistic Player Piano Company” in a showroom in New York and soon was producing pianos and music rolls for American customers.
welte-mignon_img08_ori

The Welte Company

The Welte Company was a German organ firm which was first established in 1832 at Vörenbach (Black-Forest) by automata manufacturer Michael Welte (1807-1880). In c1865 he moved to Freiburg/Breisgau and the firm was registered there as M. Welte & Söhne. During the remainder of the 19th century the Welte firm expanded considerably and became particularly noted for their orchestrions. Welte’s “Cabinet player”, a reproducing piano without keyboard which bore the Mignon label, was first patented in 1904 while the firm was under the direction of Edwin Welte (1876-1958, grandson of the founder). The prototype was exhibited during late 1904 in Leipzig and became commercially available from early 1905. The Vorsetzer came on the market in 1908.
Mignon was integrated into their upright pianos in 1909, and into their grand pianos from 1913. In 1908 the technology was adapted and applied to the Welte “Philharmonic Autograph Organ”. This was the forerunner of the “Welte-Philharmonie Organ” which was first publicly displayed at the Turin Exhibition of 1911. The firm then went on to successfully market player organs, cinema organs and, later, when their market contracted during the 1930s, church organs. They concurrently produced rolls of performances by the greatest organists of the day and sold them with considerable commercial success. From 1865-1917 they also ran a branch in New York (M. Welte & Sons) under Emil Welte (1841-1923, eldest son of the founder), but it was closed during World War I as an “alien enterprise”.
Welte factory in Freiburg, Germany

Welte factory in Freiburg, Germany

Welte’s instruments became status symbols and the epitome of entertainment in their day. They were installed in stately houses, palaces, schools, department stores (Harrods in London had one), yachts, ships (one was manufactured just too late to be aboard the Titanic) and even apparently a “house of pleasure” (the Atlantic Garden orchestrion). Around the world they were dispersed throughout Europe, USA, with their market is known to have extended much further – to Istanbul, Russia, China and Sumatra for example. The top of Welte’s Orchestrion/player-organ range was the “Welte-Philharmonie”. Very few of the full- sized model were ever manufactured. From about 1926 Welte began to be threatened by a rapidly growing radio and recording industry. Business declined so much that, in 1932 they narrowly escaped bankruptcy. At about this time they were also involved in a collaboration with the Telefunken Company which was terminated because Edwin Welte’s first wife, Betty Dreyfuss, was Jewish.
This stalled collaboration involved the development of electronic organs. Using (analog) sampling and photo-cells, truly prophetic developments at that time, had Welte been successful they might well have eliminated the Hammond organ from the pages of history. It was World War II which finally precipitated the total demise of the firm. The Freiburg premises – all stock, instruments and historical documents – were effectively annihilated by British bombing in November 1944. The bombed out factory was something of a landmark by the Freiburg railway station for at least decade until the mid-1950s.  (from: Museum of Music Automatons, Seewen)

Sources

Museum of Music Automatons Seewen (http://www.musee-suisse.ch/seewen)

Michael Gerhard Kaufmann : Organ and National Socialism. Kleinblittersdorf 1997. ISBN 3-920670-36-1 .

The Organ: An Encyclopedia.  edited by Douglas Earl Bush, Richard Kassel

NS-Kulturgemeinde (Germany)Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter-Partei. Amt Musik. M.Hesse, 1936

 

The ‘Melodium’. Harald Bode, Germany, 1938

The "Melodium" (1938)

The “Melodium” (1938)

Bode’s second instrument, previewed in 1938 was a monophonic touch sensitive keyboard instrument, the ‘Melodium’, developed with the assistance of Oskar Vierling, inventor of the ‘Grosstonorgel’. The instrument was used extensively for film music and ‘light music’ during the 1940′s.
Bode had designed oscillators with good pitch stability given the technology of the time, but he realized that a monophonic instrument would present far fewer tuning problems than his radical Warbo Organ. Like all good designers, Bode understood the necessity for providing increased nuance capability in a solo instrument; hence, touch sensitivity. The Melodium had a 49-note keyboard (low-note priority). But unlike traditional keyboards, each key had a fulcrum, or pivot point, not at the rear of the key, but at its midpoint. Each key was an individual little teeter-totter; when the performer depressed any key, he or she could seesaw a long aluminium rail located at the rear of all keys up and down. This rail made contact with a strip of felt soaked in glycerine — a so-called “liquid potentiometer.” Depression of the felt altered the electrical resistance between two electrodes, providing loudness control. This was a direct keying system that should not be confused with modern force-sensitive keyboards found on certain synthesizers. On the Melodium, the actual onset of sound was begun like it is on most acoustic instruments: as a function of the performer’s continuously variable mechanical effort. This is unlike most of today’s synthesizers; they have electronic envelope generators with fixed time constants for attack and release. Even when a synthesizer is force-sensitive, this sensitivity is usually in conjunction with the unvarying envelope generator attack and release. (Thomas L. Rhea. Contemporary Keyboard magazine (January 1980, p. 68) )

The articulation on the Melodium has been likened to that of Franklin’s Glass Harmonica, an instrument having rotating glass disks that are played with moistened fingers. This characteristic singing (slow) attack, and the tone colours produced by formant filters borrowed from the earlier four-note organ, made the Melodium an expressive and colourful instrument that found public acceptance. Bode says:

… it was a very responsive instrument to the response of the artist, although it didn’t have these automatic — or maybe because it didn’t have these automatic [envelope] — controls.” Harald Bode

Due to its unorthodox design, the Melodium was not suitable for mass production; it found public acceptance through its rental for film scores, stage plays and on German radio. It enjoyed a considerable vogue with German film score composers. The brief career of the Melodium ended in 1941 due to the war; eventually Bode had to cannibalize the instrument due to the scarcity of electronic components.

The "Melodium" (1938)

The “Melodium” (1938)

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’.

 


Sources

Bode’s Melodium and Melochord by Thomas L. Rhea. Contemporary Keyboard magazine (January 1980, p. 68) 

The ‘Kaleidophon’ Jörg Mager, Germany, 1939

Jörg (Georg Adam) Eichstätt Mager born November 6, 1880 Aschaffenburg, Bavaria, Died Aschaffenburg 1939

Jörg (Georg Adam) Eichstätt Mager born November 6, 1880 Aschaffenburg, Bavaria, Died Aschaffenburg 1939

Little information survives of Jörg Mager’s last instrument the ‘Kaleidophon’ which he completed in 1939. The instrument was probably destroyed by allied bombing of Mager’s Darmstadt headquarters. The only references survives as notess “…a monophonic electronic instrument with kaleidoscopic sound mixtures following the tonal precepts of Arnold Schoenberg and Ferruccio Busoni.”

More on Jörg Mager here