The ‘Oscillon’ William Danforth & William Swann, USA, 1937

Oscillon

Mrs Danforth plays the ‘Oscillon’ 1937

The Oscillon was a one-off vacuum tube instrument created by Dr. W.E. Danforth to play the wind instrument parts for his local amateur Swarthmore Symphony Orchestra. The instrument was played by sliding the finger over the metal box to produce French Horn or Bass Clarinet tones fro  the loudspeaker:

When he is not experimenting on cosmic rays, high-haired Director William Francis Gray Swann of Franklin Institute’s Bartol Research Foundation, plays a cello. Young William Edgar Danforth, his assistant, plays a cello too. Both are mainstays of the Swarthmore (Pa.) Symphony Orchestra, a volunteer organization of about 40 men and women who play good music free. Because nobody in the orchestra can handle a French horn or a bass clarinet, Drs. Swann and Danforth built an electrical “oscillion” so ingenious that it can be made to sound like either, so simple that a child can master it. Last week at a Swarthmore concert the oscillion made its world debut, playing the long clarinet passages in Cesar Franck’s D Minor Symphony without a mishap. Listeners thought the oscillion lacked color, was a little twangier in tone, otherwise indistinguishable from the woodwind it replaced.

The Danforth & Swann oscillion is a simple-looking oblong wooden box with an electrical circuit inside. Current flows through a resistance, is stored up in a condenser, spills into a neon tube, becomes a series of electrical “pulses.” A loud speaker translates the pulses into sound.

To play music the oscillionist presses down on a keyboard and changes the resistance. This alters the frequency, thereby the pitch. As now constructed the oscillion has a range of five octaves which can easily be increased to eight. Inventors Danforth & Swann deplore the oscillion’s higher ranges, expect it will be most useful pinch-hitting for bass clarinet, bassoon, tuba and string bass.”

Courtesy: TIME http://www.time.com 2/4/2008


Sources

Time Magazine http://www.time.com 2/4/2008

Dr. W. E. Danforth, Bartol Research Foundation

Science Service at the Smithsonian Institute

http://www.amphilsoc.org/mole/view?docId=ead/Mss.B.Sw1-ead.xml

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Francis_Gray_Swann

The ‘Chamberlin’, Harry Chamberlin, USA, 1951

Chamberlin M1001

Chamberlin M1001

The Chamberlin was an early pre-cursor of the modern digital sampler using a complex mechanism that stored analogue audio samples on strips of audio tape – 1 tape for each key. When a key on the keyboard was pressed the tape strip played forward and when released the play head returns to the beginning of the tape. The note had a limited length, eight seconds on most models. The instrument was designed as an ‘amusing’ novelty instruments for domestic use but later found favour with rock musicians in the sixties and seventies.

The first Chamberlin Model200

The first Chamberlin Model200

All the original sounds were recordings of the Lawrence Welk Orchestra made by Harry Chamberlin at his home in California. The recording technique produced clean unaffected sound but with a heavy vibrato added by the musicians. The full set of sound that came with the Chamberlin were:

  • Keyboards: Marimba, Piano, Vibes (with vibrato), Bells (glockenspiel), Organ, Tibia Organ, Kinura Organ, Harpsichord, Accordion, Electric
  • Harpsichord and Flute/String Organ.
  • Brass: Alto Sax, Tenor Sax, Trombone, Trumpet, French Horn, Do Wah Trombone, Slur Trombone and Muted Trumpet.
  • Wind: flute, oboe, and bass clarinet.
  • Voice: Male Voice (solo) and Female Voice (solo).
  • Strings: 3 violins, Cello and Pizzicato violins.
  • Plucked strings: Slur Guitar, Banjo, Steel Guitar, Harp solo, Harp Roll, Harp 7th Arpeggio (harp sounds were not available to the public), Guitar and Mandolin.
  • Effects: Dixieland Band Phrases and Sound Effects.

In 1962 two Chamberlins were taken to Great Britain where they were used as the basis for the design for the Mellotron keyboard:

The Chamberlin was invented in the US in 1946 by Harry Chamberlin who had the idea (allegedly) when setting up his portable tape recorder to record himself playing his home organ. It is rumoured that it occured to him that if he could record the sound of a real instrument, he could make a keyboard instrument that could replay the sound of real instruments and thus the Chamberlin was born. Chamberlin’s idea was ‘simple’ – put a miniature tape playback unit underneath each key so that when a note was played, a tape of ‘real’ instruments would be played. At the time, the concept was totally unique.

In the ’50s, at least 100 Chamberlins were produced and to promote his instrument, Harry teamed up with a guy called Bill Fransen who was (allegedly) Harry’s window cleaner. Fransen was (allegedly) totally fascinated by this unique invention and subsequently became Chamberlin’s main (and only) salesman. However, there were terrible reliability problems with the Chamberlin and it had a very high (it is said 40%) failure rate with the primitive tape mechanism which resulted in tapes getting mangled.

Fransen felt that Chamberlin would never be able to fix these problems alone and so, unknown to Chamberlin (allegedly), Fransen brought some Chamberlins to the UK in the early ’60s to seek finance and a development partner. He showed the Chamberlin to a tape head manufacturer, Bradmatics, in the Midlands and the Bradley brothers (Frank, Leslie and Norman who owned Bradmatics) were (allegedly) very impressed with the invention and (allegedly) agreed to refine the design and produce them for Fransen but…Under the mistaken impression that the design was actually Fransen’s (allegedly)!

A new company, Mellotronics, was set up in the UK to manufacture and market this innovative new instrument and work got underway with the Bradley brothers (allegedly) unaware that they were basically copying and ripping off someone else’s idea! Of course, it wasn’t long before Harry Chamberlin got to hear of this and he too went to the UK to meet with the Bradley brothers. After some acrimonious discussions, the two parties settled with Harry selling the technology to the Bradleys. Mellotronics continued to develop their ‘Mellotron’ whilst Harry returned to the US where he continued to make his Chamberlins with his son, Richard, in a small ‘factory’ behind his garage and later, a proper factory in Ontario, a small suburb in Los Angeles. In total, they made a little over 700 units right through until 1981. Harry died shortly afterwards.

But whatever happened in those early meetings almost 40 years ago is inconsequential – the fact of the matter is that the two instruments are almost indistinguishable from each other. Each key has a playback head underneath it and each time a key is pressed, a length of tape passes over it that contains a recording of a ‘real’ instrument. The tape is of a finite length lasting about eight seconds and a spring returns it to its start position when the note is finished. As you can see from the photograph above though, the Chamberlin is smaller (although some mammoth dual-manual Chamberlins were also produced!).

Many claim that the Chamberlin had a better sound – clearer and more ‘direct’ …. which is strange because the Mellotron was (allegedly) better engineered than the Chamberlin. But there is a lot of confusion between the two instruments not helped by the fact that some Chamberlin tapes were used on the Mellotron and vice versa…. so even though the two companies were in direct competition with each other, they shared their sounds….. weird!

It also seems that some users were also confused and credited a ‘Mellotron’ on their records when in fact it might well have been a Chamberlin that they used (allegedly). However, given the similarities between the two, this confusion is understandable and it’s a tribute to Mellotronics’ marketing that they got the upper hand on the original design.

To be honest, the whole story is shrouded in hearsay and music history mythology and we may never know the truth (especially now that the original people involved are sadly no longer with us) but regardless of this, the Bradley brothers were obviously more successful with their marketing of the idea than Chamberlin himself. Although it was originally aimed at the home organ market with cheesy rhythm loops and silly sound effects, the Mellotron went on to become a legend in the history of modern music technology and the mere mention of its name can invoke dewy eyed nostalgia amongst some people. On the other hand, however, few people have even heard of the Chamberlin which is sad because Harry Chamberlin’s unique invention preceded the Mellotron by some fifteen years or more and by rights, it is the Chamberlin that deserves the title of “the world’s first sampler”.

Nostalgia has a lovely Chamberlin string sound that captures the original Chamberlin character quite authentically. Unlike the original, though, the sound is looped but, like the original, it has the same keyboard range (G2-F5) and is not velocity sensitive.

Quoted from: http://www.hollowsun.com/vintage/chamberlin/

Sources

http://www.hollowsun.com/vintage/chamberlin/

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 ‘Musical Telegraph’ Elisha Gray. USA, 1876

Elisha Gray using a violin as a resonating amplifier for his Musical Telegraph

Elisha Gray using a violin as a resonating amplifier for his Musical Telegraph

Elisha Gray (born in Barnesville, Ohio, on Aug. 2, 1835, died Newtonville, Mass., on Jan. 21, 1901) would have been known to us as the inventor of the telephone if Alexander Graham bell hadn’t got to the patent office one hour before him. Instead, he goes down in history as the accidental creator of one of the first electronic musical instruments – a chance by-product of his telephone technology.

Elisha Grays patent for the Singing Arc

Elisha Grays patent for the Singing Arc

gray_patent_02

Elisha Gray’s Patent for the ‘Musical Telegraph’ 1876

Gray accidentally discovered that he could control sound from a self vibrating electromagnetic circuit and in doing so invented a basic single note oscillator. Using this principle he designed a musical instrument; The ‘Musical Telegraph’.

Elisha Gray's Musical Telegraph keyboard transmitter.

Elisha Gray’s Musical Telegraph keyboard transmitter.

Gray’s invention used steel reeds whose oscillations were created and transmitted , over a telephone line, by electromagnets. Gray also built a simple loudspeaker device in later models consisting of a vibrating diaphragm in a magnetic field to make the oscillator audible.After many years of litigation, A.G.Bell was legally named the inventor of the telephone and in 1872, Gray founded the Western Electric Manufacturing Company, parent firm of the present Western Electric Company. Two years later he retired to continue independent research and invention and to teach at Oberlin College.

Performance of the Musical Telegraph

Elisha Gray gave the first public demonstration of his invention for transmitting musical tones at the Presbyterian Church in Highland Park, Illinois on December 29, 1874 and transmitted “familiar melodies through telegraph wire” according to a newspaper announcement– possibly using a piano as a resonating amplifier.

Elisha Gray’s first “musical telegraph” or “harmonic telegraph” contained enough single-tone oscillators to play two octaves and later models were equipped with a simple tone wheel control. Gray took the instrument on tour with him in 1874. Alexander Graham Bell also designed an experimental ‘ Electric Harp’ for speach transmission over a telephone line using similar technology to Gray’s.

Gray's patent for the Musical Telegraph

Gray’s patent for the Musical Telegraph

gray2c

Biographical Information:

Elisha Gray, the American inventor, who contested the invention of the telephone with Alexander Graham Bell. He was born in Barnesville, Ohio, on Aug. 2, 1835, and was brought up on a farm. He had to leave school early because of the death of his father, but later completed preparatory school and two years at Oberlin College while supporting himself as a carpenter. At college he became fascinated by electricity, and in 1867 he received a patent for an improved telegraph relay. During the rest of his life he was granted patents on about 70 other inventions, including the Telautograph (1888), an electrical device for reproducing writing at a distance.On Feb. 14, 1876, Gray filed with the U.S. Patent Office a caveat (an announcement of an invention he expected soon to patent) describing apparatus ‘for transmitting vocal sounds telegraphically.’ Unknown to Gray, Bell had only two hours earlier applied for an actual patent on an apparatus to accomplish the same end. It was later discovered, however, that the apparatus described in Gray’s caveat would have worked, while that in Bell’s patent would not have. After years of litigation, Bell was legally named the inventor of the telephone, although to many the question of who should be credited with the invention remained debatable.In 1872, Gray founded the Western Electric Manufacturing Company, parent firm of the present Western Electric Company. Two years later he retired to continue independent research and invention and to teach at Oberlin College. He died in Newtonville, Mass., on Jan. 21, 1901.”


Sources:

(Kenneth M. Swezey [author of "Science Shows You How"] The Encyclopedia Americana — International Edition Vol. 13. Danbury, Connecticut: Grolier Incorporated, 1995. 211)”

The ‘Choralcelo’ Melvin Severy & George.B. Sinclair. USA, 1909

The Choralcelo (“heavenly Voices”) was a hybrid electronic and electro-acoustic instrument conceived as a commercial high-end domestic organ, sold to wealthy owners of large country houses in the USA. The Choralcelo was designed and developed by Melvin Severy with the assistance of his brother in law George B. Sinclair and manufactured by the ‘Choralcelo Manufacturing Co’ in Boston, Massachusetts.
Melvin Severy b.1863 Melrose, Mass; d. California 1951

Melvin Severy b.1863 Melrose, Mass; d. California 1951 

Severy was a versatile inventor, engineer musician, composer and author. Before the Choralcelo, Severy’s inventions already included patents for printing presses, solar heating systems, a camera, fluid drives, and many others.The Choralcelo was developed by Severy from 1888 until 1909 when it was first presented to the public in Boston, Mass. The company was taken over in 1918 by Farrington. C. Donahue & A. Hoffman (in some reports claimed as its inventor). At least six of the instruments were sold and continued to be used up unit the 1950′s. Two working examples of the instruments are known to have survived in the USA one at Ruthmere Mansion in Elkhart, Indiana.The Choralcelo was a direct contemporary of the Telharmonium, though not as big, was still a huge instrument using a similar electromagnetic tone wheel sound generation to the Telharmonium used in the ‘organ’ section of the instrument as well as a set of electromagnetically operated piano strings.
Choralcelo at Denver Collorado

Part of a Choralcelo at Denver Collorado

 

The visible part of the Choralcelo consisted of two keyboards, the upper (piano) keyboard having 64 keys and the lower 88 (piano and ‘organ’), controlling the invisible part of the instrument, usually in the basement of the house, consisting of 88 tone wheels and a set of piano strings and bells that were vibrated by electromagnets and a set of hammers. The keyboards also had a set of organ style stops to control the timbre and fundamentals of the tone that could then be passed through cardboard, hardwood, softwood, glass, steel or “bass-buggy” spring resonators to give the sound a particular tone.The Choralcelo also incorporated a pianola style paper roll mechanism for playing ‘pre-recorded’ music and a 32 note pedal board system. The entire machine could occupy two basements of a house, the keyboards and ‘loudspeakers’ being the only visible part of the instrument.

Promotional brochure from the  Choralcelo Manufacturing Co

Detailed History of the Choralcelo from “History Of the Choralcelo” by W.Jenkins

“The information furnished is based on forty years of acquaintance with the instrument, and on three complete Choralcelo instruments at hand, friendship with one of the principals, interviews with others involved in the work, family members, original blueprints, all the patents issued, (and there were many) and original documents from the archives. “

“The story of the Choralcelo is largely the story of two men… Melvin L. Severy, born in 1863 in Melrose, Mass; died in California in 1951; and Wilber E. Farrington, born 1869, died 1945. Severy was a brilliantly gifted, multi-faceted inventor who secured patents on a printing press, solar heating, a camera, fluid drive, and many others, besides the Choralcelo. He was a scholar, artist, musical composer, and author. His grandson recalls that he was interested in secret passages in the pyramids, to name one of his many interests.Severy was assisted in his experimentation by his brother-in-law, George B. Sinclair. They had married Flint sisters. Wilber Farrington was an idealistic, philosophic visionary who devoted the majority of hsi life to his love of the unique tone of the novel instrument and his determination to see it successfully developed and manufactured. He was a charismatic and effective fund raiser and invested his own fortune in the work.There had been many efforts at strengthening or lengthening the tone of piano strings electrically.

Remains of a Choralcelo at the National Music Museum, Vermilion Sands, South Dakota

Remains of a Choralcelo at the National Music Museum, Vermilion Sands, South Dakota

As early as 1876, Elisha Gray had patented a single note oscillator; and in 1890 Eli C. Ohmart filed a patent on prolonging the tone of piano strings electromagnetically… the patent was assigned to Melvin Severy.The principle being worked on was simple… magnets were placed behind the strings of the piano, and accurately timed pulses of DC current were fed to the magnets coinciding with the natural periodicity of the strings.. for example, if note A vibrated at 440 vibrations per second, then 440 pulses of current per second would be fed to the magnets for that note, and sustained organ-like tone would be produced without the use of the hammers. The mechanism which accomplished this was the interruptor, powered by a small electric motor, which had nine brass cylinders 3 1/2″ long spinning at predetermined speeds. Each cylinder had eight make and break tracks 1/4 inch wide, alternate spaces being set in an enamel, a non-conductor. Sterling silver brushes rode on these tracks. The lowest notes required about 20 pulses per second, and the highest, about two thousand. The overwhelmingly difficult part was the governing of this device… the very slightest deviation and the frequency of the pulses would not coincide with the natural periodicity of the strings, and the tone will die. Patent after patent was filed for variations on governing mechanisms, some of them so elaborate that they were complicated mechanisms in themselves.

The basic concept of tone production, though simple, proved nearly impossible in execution… matching, on one side, an already tuned vibrating body, with perfectly matching pulses of magnetism, ranging anywhere from 20 vibrations per second to 2,000. The governing device controlling the speed of the make and break cylinders would not only have to provide such absolute perfection whenever called for, but would also have to be able to compensate for the vagaries of the electric current generated in that day, which powered the motor the drove the governor… to do this, it would have to be able to keep the cylinders rotating without the slightest deviation even if the motor driving the assembly slowed down or speeded up. If the speed of the cylinders changed while the instrument was being played, the tone would die out.

Remains of a Choralcelo at the National Music Museum, Vermilion Sands, South Dakota

Remains of a Choralcelo at the National Music Museum, Vermilion Sands, South Dakota

An elegantly simple, brilliant magnetic combination governor and clutch evolved, which performed perfectly without physical contact, so there could be no overheating, and there were no clutch pads or other friction assemblies to wear out. Even today it is a marvel of brilliant application of principles of physics , and a marvel at least to those who are aware of what they are seeing to watch the spinning copper band drive the heavy flywheel merely by cutting through the invisible magnetic force. It is so disarmingly simple one could have no inkling of the years of labor which preceded it. Appreciating what it represents, I still have a feeling of awe. I doubt there has ever been anything like it, before or since. It was through the many mechanisms Severy labored over and patented in his determination to solve the problem that fluid drive evolved. The first concert was given in 1905, and was by invitation. The Choralcelo of that first phase of development was an impressive upright piano with one keyboard, usually with a roll player; the case of the finest grain mahogany with beautifully hand-carved openwork scroll panels. The tone could be varied by means of a slider near the left hand. It was the first tone produced without physical contact of some kind, and the tones produced invoked orchestral instruments minus the sound of the bow on the string or the breath of the flutist.

cc_48

Development continued and a two manual instrument marked the second level, or phase, of the evolution of the Choralcelo. It still had the piano keyboard and piano strings which were excited by magnets. The piano strings were tuned by means of screws to attain greater stability. There was an organ keyboard above the first one, and a row of stops to control the range of tone units. These took the form of sets of tuned bars, or plates, which could be of steel, or wood, or aluminum, or sometimes glass. There were usually 41 to a set, and typically they varied in length from 5 3/4″ to 10 1/2″, and usually were about 5/16″ thick. Materials other than steel had small iron armatures affixed so that there would be response to the magnets.

choralcelovig

Installed directly over these bars were resonating chambers, usually cylindrical fiber tubes, open at each end, which reinforced the tone, just as one sees in marimbas and vibraharps, The tone production was entirely acoustic; there was nothing electronic about the Choralcelo… no amplifiers, no loud speakers, no tubes… nothing of the sort. These sets of bars were remote from the main console and could be placed anywhere. The switching and control devices were remote from the main console and could be contained in two cabinets, each about 5 1/2′ high, and installed in the basement, along with the interrupter mechanism and motor-generator which delivered 30 volts of DC. The bar units could also be installed in the basement if desired, in which case grillwork was installed in the floor above them to transmit the sound; or they could be installed in the music room where the console was and concealed behind panelling or whatever was desired. The units were all connected by cables, usually armored with interwoven wire strands to protect them from damage. If all the machinery and also the bar units were to be placed in the basement, the space required would be approximately that of a modest bedroom.

 

The final phase of the development of the Choralcelo was the rewiring of the controls so that upper partials could be at the command of the Choralcelist and thus the potential of the instrument was greatly expanded because infinite variations and combinations were now available. The attempt to produce a completely new, unique instrument of this complexity in such a short period of time… the original factory closed in 1917 because of the war… was a monumental undertaking, and the multiplicity of the directions one might take was daunting. After all, the piano metamorphosed over several centuries, and other instruments have done the same. Experiments were conducted with reeds. A magnificent, large double bass unit having steel ribbons instead of individual strings was developed… there was a remote full-sized string unit which could be remotely placed… A variation of the interrupter mechanism was developed using brass discs instead of the earlier cylinders. There were twelve discs, each with six tracks, rotating at speeds determined by the gearing. All of these inventions, some of which were superseded by later ones, required designing, engineering, machining.. the investment was astronomical. In today’s money it amounted to many hundreds of millions of dollars. The instruments themselves were expensive, by today’s standards costing about a half million.

There were about one hundred built, many of them being installed in the music rooms of the wealthy. There were some that were in theatres to accompany silent films… Filene’s in Boston had two, one in the restaurant. Lord and Taylor in New York, and Marshall Field in Chicago, among others, featured Choralcelos, as did several hotels. There were even two on yachts.

The effort was a daunting task but great strides had been made by the time WWI broke out… materials were no longer available and as a result, the factory closed. Farrington and several of the most devoted men involved remained active in several locations, Cleveland, Chicago, Port Chester, Connecticut, and New York among them. The last activity was a demonstration studio in New York City, but another world war broke out and the studio closed in 1942.”

Choralcelo Patent Files

The ‘Audion Piano’ and Audio Oscillator. Lee De Forest. USA, 1915

De Forest playing the Audion Piano

De Forest playing the Audion Piano

Lee De Forest , The self styled “Father Of Radio” ( the title of his 1950 autobiography) inventor and holder of over 300 patents, invented the triode electronic valve or ‘Audion valve’ in 1906- a much more sensitive development of John A. Fleming’s diode valve. The immediate application of De Forest’s triode valve was in the emerging radio technology of which De Forest was a tenacious promoter. De Forest also discovered that the valve was capable of creating audible sounds using the “heterodyning”/beat frequency technique: a way of creating sounds by combining two high frequency signals to create a composite lower frequency within audible range and in so doing inadvertently invented the first true audio oscillator that paved he way for future electronic instruments and music.

Lee De Forest's Triode Valve of 1906

Lee De Forest’s Triode Valve of 1906

De Forest Created the ‘Audion Piano’, the first vacuum tube instrument in 1915 based on earlier audio experiments in 1907 and by using his invention of the triode tube as an audio oscillator  had laid the blueprint for most future electronic instruments until the emergence of transistor technology some fifty year later. The Audion Piano was the first instrument to use a beat-frequency or “heterodyning” oscillator system and also the first to use body capacitance to control pitch and timbre ( The heterodyning effect was later much exploited by the Leon Termen with his Theremin series of instruments and Maurice Martenot’s Ondes-Martenot amongst many others. ). The Audion Piano, controlled by a single keyboard manual, used a single triode valve per octave controlled by a set of keys allowing one monophonic note to be played per octave. This audio signal could be processed by a series of capacitors and resistors to produce variable and complex timbres and the output of the instrument could be sent to a set of speakers placed around a room giving the sound a novel spatial effect. De Forest planned a later version of the instrument that would have separate valves per key allowing full polyphony- it is not known if this instrument was ever constructed.
De Forest described the Audio Piano as capable of producing:

“Sounds resembling a violin, Cello, Woodwind, muted brass and other sounds resembling nothing ever heard from an orchestra or by the human ear up to that time – of the sort now often heard in nerve racking maniacal cacophonies of a lunatic swing band. Such tones led me to dub my new instrument the ‘Squawk-a-phone’….The Pitch of the notes is very easily regulated by changing the capacity or the inductance in the circuits, which can be easily effected by a sliding contact or simply by turning the knob of a condenser. In fact, the pitch of the notes can be changed by merely putting the finger on certain parts of the circuit. In this way very weird and beautiful effects can easily be obtained.”
(Lee De Forest’s Autobiography “The Father Of Radio”)

And From a 1915 news story on a concert held for the National Electric Light Association

“Not only does de Forest detect with the Audion musical sounds silently sent by wireless from great distances,but he creates the music of a flute, a violin or the singing of a bird by pressing button. The tune quality and the intensity are regulated by the resistors and by induction coils…You have doubtless heard the peculiar, plaintive notes of the Hawaiian ukulele, produced by the players sliding their fingers along the strings after they have been put in vibration. Now, this same effect,which can be weirdly pleasing when skilfully made, can he obtained with the musical Audion.”

Advert for De Forest wireless equipment

Advert for De Forest wireless equipment

De Forest, the tireless promoter, demonstrated his electronic instrument around the New York area at public events alongside fund raising spectacles of his radio technology. These events were often criticised and ridiculed by his peers and led to a famous trial where De Forest was accused of misleading the public for his own ends:
“De Forest has said in many newspapers and over his signature that it would be possible to transmit human voice across the Atlantic before many years. Based on these absurd and deliberately misleading statements, the misguided public … has been persuaded to purchase stock in his company. “
Lee De Forest, August 26, 1873, Council Bluffs, Iowa. Died June 30, 1961

Lee De Forest, August 26, 1873, Council Bluffs, Iowa. Died June 30, 1961

De Forest collaborated with a sceptical Thadeus Cahill in broadcasting early concerts of the Telharmonium using his radio transmitters (1907). Cahill’s insistence on using the telephone wire network to broadcast his electronic music was a major factor in the demise of the Telharmonium. Vacuum tube technology was to dominate electronic instrument design until the invention of transistors in the 1960′s. The Triode amplifier also freed electronic instruments from having to use the telephone system as a means of amplifying the signal.


Sources:

Lee De Forest “Father Of Radio” (Autobiography).
Wireless: From Marconi’s Black-Box to the Audion (Transformations: Studies in the History of Science and Technology) 2001 author(s) Sungook Hong
Lee de Forest: King of Radio, Television, and Film 2012. Mike Adams (auth.).
Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage. By Albert Glinsky
Electronic Music. Nicholas Collins, Margaret Schedel, Scott Wilson
Media Parasites in the Early Avant-Garde: On the Abuse of Technology and Communication. Arndt Niebisch 2012
Electric Relays: Principles and Applications. Vladimir Gurevich

The ‘Pianorad’, Hugo Gernsback, USA, 1926

The Pianorad at WKNY

The Pianorad at WRNY

The Pianorad was a development of the Staccatone designed by Hugo Gernsback and built by Clyde Finch at the Radio News Laboratories in New York. the Pianorad had 25 single LC oscillators,one for every key for its two octave keyboard giving the instrument full polyphony, the oscillators produced virtually pure sine tones:

Hugo Gernsbacks' Pianorad

Hugo Gernsbacks’ Pianorad

“The musical notes produced by the vacuum tubes in this manner have practically no overtones. For this reason the music produced on the Pianorad is of an exquisite pureness of tone not realised in any other musical instrument. The quality is better than that of a flute and much purer. the sound however does not resemble that of any known musical instrument. The notes are quite sharp and distinct, and the Pianorad can be readily distinguished by its music from any other musical instrument in existence.”

Each one of the twenty five oscillators had its own independent speaker, mounted in a large loudspeaker horn on top of the keyboard and the whole ensemble was housed in a housing resembling a harmonium. A larger 88 non keyboard version was planned but not put into production. The Pianorad was first demonstrated on june 12, 1926 at Gernsback’s own radio station WRNY in New York City performed by Ralph Christman. The Pianorad continued to be used at the radio station for some time, accompanying piano and violin concerts.

Hugo Gernsback

Hugo Gernsback


Sources:

Hugo Gernsback: “The ‘Pianorad’ a New Musical Instrument which combines Piano and Radio Principles” Radio News viii (1926)

The ‘Rhythmicon’ Henry Cowell & Leon Termen. USA, 1930

Henry Cowell and the Rhythmicon

Henry Cowell and the Rhythmicon

In 1916 the American Avant-Garde composer Henry Cowell was working with ideas of controlling cross rhythms and tonal sequences with a keyboard, he wrote several quartet type pieces that used combinations of rhythms and overtones that were not possible to play apart from using some kind of mechanical control- “un-performable by any known human agency and I thought of them as purely fanciful”.(Henry Cowell) In 1930 Cowell introduced his idea to Leon Termen, the inventor of the Theremin, and commissioned him to build him a machine capable of transforming harmonic data into rhythmic data and vice versa.

“My part in its invention was to invent the idea that such a rhythmic instrument was a necessity to further rhythmic development, which has reached a limit more or less, in performance by hand, an needed the application of mechanical aid. The which the instrument was to accomplish and what rhythms it should do and the pitch it should have and the relation between the pitch and rhythms are my ideas. I also conceived that the principle of broken up light playing on a photo-electric cell would be the best means of making it practical. With this idea I went to Theremin who did the rest – he invented the method by which the light would be cut, did the electrical calculations and built the instrument.”

Henry Cowell

“The rhythmic control possible in playing and imparting exactitudes in cross rhythms are bewildering to contemplate and the potentialities of the instrument should be multifarious… Mr. Cowell used his rythmicon to accompany a set of violin movements which he had written for the occasion…. The accompaniment was a strange complexity of rhythmical interweavings and cross currents of a cunning and precision as never before fell on the ears of man and the sound pattern was as uncanny as the motion… The write believes that the pure genius of Henry Cowell has put forward a principle which will strongly influence the face of all future music.”
Homer Henly, May 20, 1932


The eventual machine was christened the “Rythmicon” or “Polyrhythmophone” and was the first electronic rhythm machine. The Rhythmicon was a keyboard instrument based on the Theremin, using the same type of sound generation – hetrodyning vacuum tube oscillators. The 17 key polyphonic keyboard produced a single note repeated in periodic rhythm for as long as it was held down, the rhythmic content being generated from rotating disks interrupting light beams that triggered photo-electric cells. The 17th key of the keyboard added an extra beat in the middle of each bar. The transposable keyboard was tuned to an unusual pitch based on the rhythmic speed of the sequences and the basic pitch and tempo could be adjusted by means of levers.Cowell wrote two works for the Rythmicon “Rythmicana” and “Music for Violin and Rythmicon” (a computer simulation of this work was reproduced in 1972). Cowell lost interest in the machine, transferring his interest to ethnic music and the machine was mothballed.

Rhythmicon Discs

Rhythmicon Discs

After Cowell, the machines were used for psychological research and one example (non working) of the machine survives at the Smithsonian Institute.The Rhythmicon was re-discoverd twenty-five years after its creation by the producer Joe Meek (creator of the innovative hit single ‘Telstar’, 1961) apparently discovered abandoned in a New York pawnbrokers. Meek brought it back to his home studio in London where it was used on several recordings. This Rhythmicon was used to provide music and sound effects for various movies in the Fifties and Sixties, including: ‘The Rains of Ranchipur’; ‘Battle Beneath the Earth’; Powell and Pressburgers’ ‘They’re a Weird Mob’; ‘Dr Strangelove’, and the sixties animated TV series ‘Torchy, The Battery Boy’.The Rhythmicon was also rumoured to have been used on several sixties and seventies records, including: ‘Atom Heart Mother’ by Pink Floyd; ‘The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’ by Arthur Brown, and ‘Robot’ by the Tornadoes. Tangerine Dream also used some sequences from the Rhythmicon on their album ‘Rubicon’.
Rhythmicon Discs

Rhythmicon Discs


Sources:

“Henry Cowell: A record of his activities” Compiled June 1934 by Olive Thompson Cowell.

The ‘Clavivox’ Raymond Scott, USA, 1952

Raymond Scott's Clavivox

Raymond Scott’s Clavivox

The Clavivox was invented by the composer and engineer Raymond Scott circa 1950. Scott was the leader of the Raymond Scott Quintet working originally for the CBS radio house band and later composing eccentric but brilliant scores for cartoons for Warner Bros such as ‘Loony Tunes’ and ‘Merrie Melodies’. Scott incorporated elements of Jazz, Swing, pop music and avant-garde modern music into his compositions using a highly personal and unusual form of notation and editing. To the exasperation of his musicians, Scott would record all the band sessions on lacquer discs and later, using a cut and paste technique, edit blocks of music together into complex and almost unplayable compositions.In the 1946 Scott founded Manhattan Research, a commercial electronic music studio designed and built by Raymond Scott, featuring Scott’s own electronic devices and other electronic instruments of the period. The studio had many unique sound processors and generators including ‘infinitely variable envelope shapers’, ‘infinitaly variable ring modulators’, ‘chromatic electronic drum generators’ and ‘variable wave shape generators’. Scott built his first electronic musical instrument in 1948 dubbed ‘The Karloff’ this machine was designed to create sound effects for advertisements and films and was said to be able to imitate sounds such as voice sounds, the sizzle of frying steak and jungle drums.

Raymond Scott in his studio with the Clavivox

Raymond Scott in his studio with the Clavivox

In the 1950′s Scott started to develop a commercial keyboard instrument the Clavivox or keyboard Theremin (completed circa 1956). The Clavivox was a vacuum tube oscillator instrument controlled by a three octave keyboard (with a sub assembly circuit designed by a young Bob Moog). The instrument was designed to simulate the continuous gliding tone of the Theremin but be playable with a keyboard. The machine was fitted with three ‘key’ controls on the left of the keyboard that controlled the attack of the note or cut of the note completely, these keys could be played with the left hand to give the enevelope characteristics of the note. Other controls on the Clavivox’s front panel were for fine and coarse tuning and vibrato speed and depth. Scott used the Clavivox in his cartoon scores for sound effects (similar to the ‘eerie whine’ of the Theremin) and stringand vocal sounds. The Clavivox was inteneded for mass production but the complexity and fragility of the instrument made this venture impractical.

During the 1960′s Scott built a number of electronic one off instruments and began experimenting with analogue pitch sequencing devices. One of the prototype instruments built during the sixties was a huge machine standing six feet high and covering 30 feet of scott’s studio wall. The pitch sequencer was built using hundreds of telephone exchange type switch relays and the sounds were generated from a bank of 16 oscillators, a modified Hammond organ, an Ondes Martenot and two Clavivoxes. The noise produced by the clicking switches had to be dampened by a thick layer of audio insulation.Scott used the machine to compose several early electronic music pieces in the 1960′s including three volumes of synthesised lullabys “Soothing Sounds for Baby” (1963) predating minimalist music’s (Phillip Glass, Steve Reich) use of repetition and sequences by 20 years.

Trailer of’Deconstructing Dad‘ a documentary on Raymond Scott.

Scott’s final and most ambitious machine christened the ‘ Electronium’ (not to be confused with the Hohner Electronium ) was the culmination of his work using pitch and rhythm sequencers (the design used a number of Moog-designed components, who had also contributed to the Clavivox) . Scott described the machine as an;

“instantaneous composition-performance machine, The Electronium is not a synthesizer — there is no keyboard [it was manipulated with knobs and switches] — and it cannot be used for the performance of existing music. The instrument is designed solely for the simultaneous and instantaneous composition-performance of musical works”

Raymond Scott

In 1972, Scott became the head of electronic music research and development for Motown Records. After his retirement, Scott used MIDI technology to continue composing until 1987, when he suffered the first of several debilitating strokes. Raymond Scott died in 1994.

Raymond Scott: born Harry Warnow September 10, 1908, Brooklyn,NY

Raymond Scott: born Harry Warnow September 10, 1908, Brooklyn, NY, February 8, Died 1994 North Hills, Los Angeles, California

 


Sources:

The Raymond Scott Archive. P O Box 6258,Hoboken.New Jersey 07030. USA.

‘Moog Synthesisers’ Robert Moog. USA, 1964

Robert Moog started working with electronic instruments at the age of nineteen when, with his father, he created his first company,  R.A.Moog Co to manufacture and sell Theremin kits (called the ‘Melodia Theremin’ the same design as Leon Termen’s theremin but with an optional keyboard attachment) and guitar amplifiers from the basement of his family home in Queens, New York. Moog went on to study physics at Queens College, New York in 1957 and electrical engineering at Columbia University and a Ph.D. in engineering physics from Cornell University (1965). In 1961 Moog started to produce the first transistorised version of the Theremin – which up until then had been based on Vacuum tube technology.

In 1963 with a $200 research grant from Columbia University Moog Collaborated with the experimental musician Herbert Deutsch  on the the design of what was to become the first modular Moog Synthesiser.


Herb Deutsch discusses his role in the origin of the Moog Synthesiser.

Herbert A. Deutsch working on the Development of the Moog Synthesiser c 1963

Herbert A. Deutsch working on the Development of the Moog Synthesiser c 1963

Moog and Deutsch had already been absorbing and experimenting with ideas about transistorised modular synthesisers from the German designer Harald Bode (as well as collaborating with Raymond Scott on instrument design at Manhattan Research Inc). In September 1964 he was invited to exhibit his circuits at the Audio Engineering Society Convention. Shortly afterwards in 1964,  Moog begin to manufacture electronic music synthesisers.

“…At the time I was actually still thinking primarily as a composer and at first we were probably more interested in the potential expansion of the musical aural universe than we were of its effect upon the broader musical community. In fact when Bob questioned me on whether the instrument should have a regular keyboard (Vladimir Ussachevsky had suggested to him that it should not) I told Bob “I think a keyboard is a good idea, after all, having a piano did not stop Schoenberg from developing twelve-tone music and putting a keyboard on the synthesizer would certainly make it a more sale-able product!!”
Herbert Deutsch 2004

Early version of the Moog Modular, 1964

Early version of the Moog Modular, 1964

The first instrument the Moog Modular Synthesiser produced in 1964 became the first widely used electronic music synthesiser and the first instrument to make the crossover from the avant-garde to popular music. The release in 1968 of Wendy Carlos’s album “Switched on Bach” which was entirely recorded using Moog synthesisers (and one of the highest-selling classical music recordings of its era), brought the Moog to public attention and changed conceptions about electronic music and synthesisers in general. The Beatles bought one, as did Mick Jagger who bought a hugely expensive modular Moog in 1967 (which was only used once, as a prop on Nicolas Roeg’s  film ‘Performance’  and was later sold to the German experimentalist rock group, Tangerine Dream). Over the next decade Moog created numerous keyboard synthesisers, Modular components (many licensed from design by Harald Bode), Vocoder (another Bode design), Bass pedals, Guitar synthesisers and so-on.

Early Moog Modular from 1964 at the interactive Music Museum, Ghent, Belgium.

Early Moog Modular from 1964 at the interactive Music Museum, Ghent, Belgium.

Moog’s designs set a standard for future commercial electronic musical instruments with innovations such as the 1 volt per octave CV control that became an industry standard and pulse triggering signals for connecting and synchronising multiple components and modules.

Despite this innovation, the Moog Synthesiser Company did not survive the decade, larger companies such as Arp and Roland developed Moog’s prototypes into more sophisticated and cost effective instruments. Moog sold the company to Norlin in the 1970′s whose miss-management lead to Moog’s resignation. Moog Music finally closed down in 1993. Robert Moog re-acquired the rights to the Moog company name in 2002 and once again began to produce updated versions of the Moog Synthesiser range. Robert Moog died in 2003.

Moog Production Instruments 1963-2013
Date Model
1963–1980 Moog modular synthesiser
1970–81 Minimoog
1974–79 Moog Satellite
1974–79 Moog Sonic Six
1975–76 Minitmoog
1975–79 Micromoog
1975–80 Polymoog
1976–83 Moog Taurus bass pedal
1978–81 Multimoog
1979–84 Moog Prodigy
1980 Moog Liberation
1980 Moog Opus-3
1981 Moog Concertmate MG-1
1981 Moog Rogue
1981 Moog Source
1982-1985 Memorymoog
Moog Company relaunch
1998–present Moogerfooger
2002–present Minimoog Voyager
2006–present Moog Little Phatty
2010 Slim Phatty
2011 Taurus 3 bass pedal
2012 Minitaur
2013 Sub Phatty

 

The Mini Moog Synthesiser with Herb Deutsch

Images of Moog Music Synthesisers


Sources

http://www.moogmusic.com/

http://moogarchives.com/

Bob Moog Foundation

INTERVIEW WITH HERBERT A. DEUTSCH. October 2003, and February 2004

Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer.  Trevor Pinch, Frank Trocco. Harvard University Press, 2004