the ‘Nivotone’ Alexei Voinov. Russia, 1931

The Nivotone optical reader

The Nivotone optical reader

The animator Nikolai Voinov (1900-1958), part of Arseney Avraamov‘s group ‘Multzvik’ in Moscow, 1931, started his own method of optical synthesis. Instead of drawing or printing to film Voinov cut wave forms from strips of paper which were then optically read by his machine the ‘Nivotone’ (‘Paper-Sound’) and translated into sound by a photo-electric process.

The Multzvuk group

Multzvuk group was formed in 1930 by Arseney Araazamov to conduct research into graphical sound techniques. The group was based at the Mosfilm Productions Company in Moscow (one of the leading film production companies in Moscow, renamed Gorki Film Studio in 1948) and consisted of composer and theoretician, Arseney Araamov, cameraman and draughtsmen  Nikolai Zhelynsky, animator Nikolai Voinov, painter and amateur acoustician Boris Yankovsky. In 1931 the group moved to ‘NIKFI’,  the Scientific Research Institute for Photography for Film. Moscow, and and was renamed the ‘Syntonfilm laboratory’. In 1932 NIKFI stopped funding the group who then moved to Mezhrabpomfilm and finally closed in 1934.

From 1930-34 more than 2000 meters of sound track were produced by the Multzvuk group, including the experimental films ‘Ornamental Animation’, ‘Marusia Otravilas’, ‘Chinese Tune’, ‘Organ Chords’, ‘Untertonikum, Prelude’, ‘Piruet’, ‘Staccato Studies’, ‘Dancing Etude’ and ‘Flute Study’. The Multzvuk archive was kept for many years at Avraamov’s apartment, but destroyed in 1937.


Electrified Voices: Medial, Socio-Historical and Cultural Aspects of Voice …edited by Dmitri Zakharine, Nils Meise

‘Graphical Soundtrack’ Arseney Avraamov, Russia, 1930

Arseny Avraamov in Moscow 1923. (Russian: Арсений Михайлович Авраамов), (born Krasnokutsky [Краснокутский], 1886 died Moscow, 1944)

Arseny Avraamov in Moscow 1923. (Russian: Арсений Михайлович Авраамов), (born Krasnokutsky [Краснокутский], 1886 died Moscow, 1944)

Arseny Mikhailovich Avraamov was an avant-garde Russian composer and theorist. He studied at the music school of the Moscow Philharmonic Society and when the first would war broke out he refused to join the army and fled the country working, among other things, as a circus artist. Avraamov returned during the revolution of 1917 where he pioneered optical synthesis techniques and developed his own  “Ultrachromatic” 48-tone micro tonal system ( “The Universal System of Tones,” 1927) but is probably best know for his “Simfoniya gudkov” or ‘symphony of sirens’ (November 7, 1922, Baku USSR) which involved navy ship sirens and whistles, bus and car horns, factory sirens, cannons, the foghorns of the entire Soviet flotilla of the Caspian Sea, artillery guns, machine guns, seaplanes, a specially designed “whistle main,” and renderings of Internationale and Marseillaise by a mass band and choir.

Avraamov's hand drawn audio waves

Avraamov’s hand drawn audio waves

Avraamov invented the first graphical soundtrack technique which involved hand-drawing geometrical representations of sound shapes and then repeatedly printing these shapes onto the audio-optical strip on a cine-film. This technique was later developed by Yevgeny Sholpo, Boris Yankovsky amongst others (including  Daphne Oram some thirty years later in England)

“By knowing the way to record the most complex sound textures by means of a phonograph, after analysis of the curve structure of the sound groove, directing the needle of the resonating membrane, one can create synthetically any, even most fantastic sound by  making a groove with a proper structure of shape and depth”.

From ‘Upcoming Science of Music and the New Era in the History of Music’ by Avraamov, 1916.


“Composer Arseny Avraamov at the scientific-research institute conducts the interesting experiments on a creation of the hand-drawn music. Instead of common sound recording on film by means of microphone and photocell, he simply draws on paper geometrical figures, then photographing them on sound track of the filmstrip. Afterwards this filmstrip is played as a common movie by means of film projector. Being read by photocell, amplified and monitored by loudspeaker, this filmstrip turns out to contain a well-known musical recording, while its timbre is impossible to relate to any existing musical instrument.
Comrade Avraamov conducts now a study in recording of more complicated geometrical figures. For instance, to record graphical representations of the simplest algebraic equations, to draw molecular orbits of some chemical elements. In this research composer is assisted by a group of young employee of the Research Institute for Film and Photo. By the end of December Avraamov will finish his new work and to show it to the film-community. Quite possibly the listening of the abstracts of “Hand Drawn Music” will be organized in radio broadcast”
(Kino 1931)

The Multzvuk group

Multzvuk group was formed in 1930 by Arseney Araazamov to conduct research into graphical sound techniques. The group was based at the Mosfilm Productions Company in Moscow (one of the leading film production companies in Moscow, renamed Gorki Film Studio in 1948) and consisted of composer and theoretician, Arseney Araamov, cameraman and draughtsmen  Nikolai Zhelynsky, animator Nikolai Voinov, painter and amateur acoustician Boris Yankovsky. In 1931 the group moved to ‘NIKFI’,  the Scientific Research Institute for Photography for Film. Moscow, and and was renamed the ‘Syntonfilm laboratory’. In 1932 NIKFI stopped funding the group who then moved to Mezhrabpomfilm and finally closed in 1934.

From 1930-34 more than 2000 meters of sound track were produced by the Multzvuk group, including the experimental films ‘Ornamental Animation’, ‘Marusia Otravilas’, ‘Chinese Tune’, ‘Organ Chords’, ‘Untertonikum, Prelude’, ‘Piruet’, ‘Staccato Studies’, ‘Dancing Etude’ and ‘Flute Study’. The Multzvuk archive was kept for many years at Avraamov’s apartment, but destroyed in 1937.


Avraamov, Ars. “Sinteticheskaya muzika” Sovetskaya Muzika , 1939, No.8, pp. 67-75

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

‘Avant Garde composers of the USSR during the 1920′s’ Alexandra Martin

The ‘Superpiano’ and ‘Symphonium’. Emerich Spielmann, Austria, 1928

Emerich Spielmann playing the Superpiano

Emerich Spielmann playing the Superpiano and a standard piano

Spielmann’s Superpiano, patented in 1927, was based on the photo-optical principle used in a number of instruments during the 1920s and 30s  such as the  Cellulophone , the Radio Organ of a Trillion Tones, the Sonothèque’ , the Welte Licht-ton Orgel and others.  In general this principle worked by projecting a light beam through a spinning glass disk onto a photo-electrical cell. The regular interruption of the light beam causing an ‘oscillating’ voltage tone. Spielmann’s innovative instrument used two rows of twelve black celluloid disks. Each disk had a series of holes cut in seven concentric circles equating to the waveforms of the seven octaves of a note – the light beam being picked up by selenium photo-electrical cells.

Anni Spielmann (Emerich's daughter) playing the Superpiano

Anni Spielmann (Emerich’s daughter) playing the Superpiano

The Superpiano created complex tones by allowing a combination of  ‘pure’ and harmonic sound waves of the same note; each note was duplicated with contrasting sound wave and harmonics  – hence two rows of twelve disks –  allowing the player to mix the sound waves of each note with a knee lever. Volume control was achieved by variable pressure on the manual keyboard via variable resistors dimming and increasing the lightbulb brightness – and therefore the note volume. The instrument’s overall pitch could also be altered while playing, by adjusting the speed of the rotating disks. Spielmann intended the Superpiano to be used as an affordable ($300) home keyboard which could be played like a piano but also a type of early sampling keyboard – ‘drawings’ of different instrument’s waveforms could be made on the celluloid disks, allowing the player to reproduce the “entire instrumental range of an orchestra” – or so the advertising claimed.

The celluloid disks of the Superpiano for creating tones and harmonics

The celluloid disks of the Superpiano for creating tones and harmonics

Spielmann’s instrument had it’s debut in 1929 at a concert organised by the Österreichische Kulturbund (Austrian Culture Union) on January 9, 1929 played by the renowned composer and pianists  Erich Wolfgang Korngold who played a piano with one hand and the Superpiano with the other. Later, On February 14, 1929, Spielmann presented the Superpiano on the Vienna radio station RAVAG featuring lectures on the theme of ‘Das Licht spricht, das Licht musiziert’ (Light speaks, light makes music).

Spielmann's Superpiano 1927

Spielmann’s Superpiano 1927 th e Museum of Technology, Vienna, Austria

The last Superpiano at the Vienna Technical Museum, Austria

The last Superpiano at the Vienna Technical Museum, Austria showing the celluloid disks and light bulbs

The last Superpiano at the Vienna Technical Museum, Austria

The last Superpiano at the Vienna Technical Museum, Austria

Several instruments seem to have been built but only one survived the ravages of WW2, sold to the Vienna technical Museum in 1947. Spielmann developed a modification of the Superpiano called the ‘Symphonium’;  where the Superpiano used organ-like sounds, the Symphonium was based on mixable combinations of orchestral sounds; woodwind, brass and strings allowing fifteen possible combinations of timbres (to the Superpiano’s two)

With the seizure of power by the National Socialists in Austria and Germany in 1933 the Superpiano project was disrupted and the instrument failed to become a commercial proposition; As an Austrian Jew, Spielmann’s situation became increasingly precarious , his license to practice as an architect was revoked in 1938. Spielmann fled to London with his daughter Anni, and then to New York where he became a naturalised US citizen in 1944. Spielmann seems to have continued the project in the USA but the instrument was probably overshadowed by the similar ‘Welte LichttonOrgel’ using similar technology (also Jewish escapees to New York), and dominance of the Hammond Organ in the home instrument market.


Letter to Spielmann advocating the  Superpiano from Albert Einstein. USA 1944

Spielmann's patent for the photo-electrical sound generator

Spielmann’s 1928 patent for the photo-electrical sound generator


Video of Peter Donhauser - Head of Division Fundamentals of Technology & Science at the Vienna Technical Museum - with the Spuperpiano:

first show of the superpiano 2

Superpiano editorial in the Southeast Missourian Newspaper. 1929

Superpiano editorial in the Southeast Missourian Newspaper. 1929

Contemporary newspaper clippings The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954)

Contemporary newspaper clippings The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954)

Contemporary newspaper clippings. Straights Times, Singapore 1929

Contemporary newspaper clippings. Straights Times, Singapore 1929

Front view of the Superpiano showing tone-mixing knee lever, pedals and loudspeaker

Front view of the Superpiano showing tone-mixing knee lever, pedals and loudspeaker

naturalisation papers of Emerich Spielmann. 1944

U.S. naturalisation papers of Emerich Spielmann. 1944

Emerich(Ernst) Moses Spielmann – 23.06.1873  Vienna, Austria – 1952 Elmhurst, Queens, New York USA. Biographical notes

Emerich Spielmann, was a Viennese architect born into a Jewish family in the mid-19th century in Moravia. His father was a merchant Hermann Spielmann (1842-1925), his mother Josephine Franzos (1850-1918). Spielmann studied after high school from 1892 to 1899 at the Institute of Technology at King Karl and Karl Mayr Eder . He then worked until 1903 in the Wilhelm Stiassny and Friedrich Ohmann architectural practise. In 1904  he began a collaboration with the architect Alfred Teller working in the Viennese secessionist style and later to neo-baroque and classical forms, until 1932,  when he worked independently with his own practice. As a Jew, in 1938 Spielmann’s  license to practice was revoked by the Nazi authorities. He fled to London 1939  with his daughter Anna on May 6 and arrived on August 22, 1944 in New York where he became a naturalised citizen in 1944. He l died in New York in 1952.


Peter Donhauser, Elektrische Klangmaschinen, Vienna 2007.

The archive of  Regina Spelman, Deborah Lucas, Dan Lucas

The ‘Optophonic Piano’, Vladimir Rossiné, Russia and France. 1916


The Optophonic Piano

The Optophonic Piano

The Optophonic Piano was a one-off electronic optical instrument created by the Russian Futurist painter Vladimir Baranoff Rossiné (Born in 1888 at Kherson , Ukraine – Russia, died Paris, France 1944). Rossiné started working on his instrument c1916. The Optophonic Piano was used at exhibitions of his own paintings and revolutionary artistic events in the new Soviet Union, Rossiné later gave two concerts with his instrument (with his wife Pauline Boukour), at the Meyerhold and Bolchoi theatres in 1924. Rossiné was influenced by the ideas of Alexander Scriabin who connected sound and colour with music to produce a aesthetic synthesis – this current formed an important, almost mystical theme within Russian electronic music; through the photo-audio experiments of the 1930′s until the ANS Synthesiser (itself named after Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin- ANS) in the 1940s.

Painted glass disk of The Optophonic Piano

Painted glass disk of The Optophonic Piano

Detail of painted disk

Detail of painted disk

Vladimir Rossiné left the Soviet Union in 1925, emigrated to Paris where he continued to hold exhibitions of paintings and concerts of his instrument.The Optophonic Piano generated sounds and projected revolving patterns onto a wall or ceiling by directing a bright light through a series revolving painted glass disks (painted by Rossiné), filters, mirrors and lenses. The keyboard controlled the combination of the various filters and disks. The variations in opacity of the painted disk and filters were picked up by a photo-electric cell controlling the pitch of a single oscillator. The instrument produced a continuous varying tone which, accompanied by the rotating kaleidoscopic projections was used by Vladimir Rossiné at exhibitions and public events:
“Imagine that every key of an organ’s keyboard immobilises in a specific position, or moves a determined element, more or less rapidly, in a group of transparent filters which a beam of white light pierces, and this will give you an idea of the instrument Baranoff-Rossiné invented. There are various kinds of luminous filters: simply coloured ones optical elements such as prisms, lenses or mirrors; filters containing graphic elements and, finally, filters with coloured shapes and defined outlines. If on the top of this, you can modify the projector’s position, the screen frame, the symmetry or asymmetry of the compositions and their movements and intensity; then, you will be able to reconstitute this optical piano that will play an infinite number of musical compositions. The key word here is interpret, because, for the time being, the aim is not to find a unique rendering of an existing musical composition for which the author did not foresee a version expressed by light. In music, as in any other artistic interpretation, one has to take into account elements such as the talent and sensitivity of the musician in order to fully understand the author’s mind-frame. The day when a composer will compose music using notes that remain to be determined in terms of music and light, the interpreter’s liberty will be curtailed, and that day, the artistic unity we were talking about will probably be closer to perfection…”Extract of an original text by Baranoff Rossiné (1916) Copyright ©Dimitri Baranoff Rossine 1997 – Adherant ADAGP -
Vladimir Baranoff Rossiné. Born in 1888 at Kherson , Ukraine - Russia, died Paris, France 1944

Vladimir Baranoff Rossiné. Born in 1888 at Kherson , Ukraine – Russia, died Paris, France 1944


zdocuments of the collection of Dimitri Baranoff Rossine. Copyright © Dimitri Baranoff Rossine Paris 2010

Pravda. 2002.06.20/13:21

The ‘Cellule Photo Electrique’. Pierre Toulon & Krugg Bass, France, 1927.

Pierre Toulon's Patent for the Cellulophone

Pierre Toulon’s Patent for the Cellulophone

Invented by the French engineer Pierre Toulon aided by the electronic engineer Krugg Bass, the Cellulophone (“Cellule Photo-électrique”) made it’s debut as a prototype in France in 1927. The Cellulophone was an electro-optical tone generator instrument resembling an electronic organ controlled by two eight octave keyboards and a foot pedal board.

The sound was created by passing a light beam through slits in a vari-speed rotating disk. The single spinning disk was cut with a number of equidistant slits (54 slits for the lowest note) with different shaped masks to create varied timbres. The disks masked a light beam that flashed through the slits and on to a photoelectric cell, the speed of the rotating disk therefore determining the frequency of the output signal from a single vacuum tube oscillator.

One disk was used for all the notes of each octave therefore notes whose frequencies could not be generated by an integral number were out of tune. This system however gave the unique and unusual possibility of having a different timbres for each octave. The Cellulophone was one of a generation of instruments in the 1920-30′s using a photo-electric sound generation method; other examples being the “Licht-ton Orgel” , the “Photona” and the “Radio Organ of a Trillion Tones”. The increased sophistication and reliability of post war electronic circuitry marked the decline of light based synthesis after the 1940′s except for a few pioneers such as Daphne Oram who used a similar sytem not only to synthesise sounds but to sequence sounds.

Pierre Toulon proposed in the 1930′s a related technique of speech synthesis using fragments of optical film mounted on a rotating drum.


Donhauser, P.: Elektrische Klangmaschinen. Die in Deutschland und Österreich Pionierzeit, Boehlau Vienna 2007.

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 ‘ANS Synthesiser’ Yevgeny Murzin. Russia, 1958

The ANS Synthesiser

The ANS Synthesiser at the Glinka Museum Miscow.

The ANS Synthesiser takes it’s name and inspiration from the Russian composer Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin (A.N.S.), whose mystical theories of a unified art of sound and light had a huge effect on avant-garde composers and theoreticians in Russia during the early Soviet period. Murzin’s objective was to build an instrument that combined graphics, light and music that gave the composer an unlimited palette of sound and freed them from the restrictions of instrumentation and musicians; a direct composition-to-music tool.

The ANS was a product of a culmination of several decades of exploration in sound and light by composers and artists such as Andrei Aramaazov, Boris Yankovsky, Evgeney Sholpo and others. To generate sound it uses the established photo-optic sound recording technique used in cinematography; this technique makes it possible to obtain a visible image of a sound wave, as well as to realise the opposite goal – synthesizing a sound from an artificially drawn sound wave.

One of the 44 photo-optical glass disks of the ANS

One of the photo-optical glass disks of the ANS

One of the main features of the ANS that Murzin designed is its photo-optic generator, consisting of rotating glass disks each containing 144 optic phonograms (tiny graphic representations of sound waves which, astonishingly, were hand drawn on each disk) of pure tones, or sound tracks. A bright light beam is projected through the spinning disks onto a photovoltaic resulting in a voltage tone equivalent to the frequency drawn on the disk; therefore the track nearest to the centre of the disc has the lowest frequency; the track nearest to the edge has the highest. Given a unit of five similar disks with different rotating speeds the ANS is able to produce 720 pure tones, covering the whole range of audible tones.

The ink covered coding field of the ANS
The programming field of the ANS

The composer selects the tones by using a coding field (the “score”) which is essentially a glass plate covered with an opaque, non-drying black mastic. The vertical axis of the coding field represents pitch and the horizontal, time in a way that is very similar to standard music notation. The score moves past a reading device which allows a narrow aperture of light to pass through the scraped off part of the plate onto a bank of twenty photocells that send a signal to twenty amplifiers and bandpass filters. The narrow aperture reads the length of the scraped-off part of the mastic during its run and transforms it into a sound duration. The minimum interval between each of the tones is 1/72 of an octave, or 1/6 of a semitone, which is only just perceptible to the ear. This allows for natural glissando effects and micro tonal and non-western scale compositions to be scored. The ANS is fully polyphonic and will generate all 720 pitches simultaneously if required – a vertical scratch would accomplish this, generating white noise.

Stanislav Kriechi at the ANS

Stanislav Kriechi explaining the coding field of the ANS

The non-drying mastic allows for immediate correction of the resulting sounds: portions of the plate that generate superfluous sounds can be smeared over, and missing sounds can be added. The speed of the score – the tempo of the piece – can also be smoothly regulated, all the way to a full stop via a handle at the front of the machine.

Murzin built only one version of the ANS, a working version currently resides at the Glinka State Central Museum of Musical Culture in Moscow. Martinov, Edison Denisov, Sofia Gubaidulina, Alfred Schnittke, Alexander Nemtin.

“I began experimenting with the ANS synthesizer when I joined Murzin’s laboratory in 1961. The most attractive method of composing for me was the freehand drawing of graphic structures on the score, including random and regulated elements, which are also transformed into sounds, noises and complex phonations. This offers new possibilities for composing, especially using variable tempo and volume. [...]

An example of an ANS score, picturing graphic structures that were drawn freehand on the mastic-covered plate. In 1961 I composed the music for the film Into Space. Artist Andrew Sokolov’s cosmic paintings appeared as moving images in the film, smoothly changing into each other and dissolving into fragments by means of cinematic devices. The light and color of Sokolov’s cosmic landscapes generated complex phonations and sound transitions in All this makes it possible for the composer to work directly and materially with the production of mind. The movement of the cosmic objects on the screen initiated the rhythms of my music. I tried to express all this by tracing it on the ANS’s score, making corrections after listening to the resultant sounds in order to gradually obtain the suitable phonation. I finally felt that the sounds produced by the ANS synthesizer on the basis of my freehand graphic structures correlated perfectly with the pictures on the screen. From 1967 to 1968 I experimented with moving timbres on the ANS and studied different modes of animating electronic sounds. During this period, I composed the following pieces for performance on the ANS: “Echo of the Orient”, “Intermezzo”, “North Song” “Voices and Movement” and  “Scherzo”. All of these were composed traditionally for orchestra previous to my work with the ANS. When I coded these orchestra scores on the ANS, I wanted to solve the problem of animating electronic sounds, so that the phonation of the ANS could approach that of the orchestra. These pieces appeared on a recording entitled ANS, which was produced in 1970 by MELODIA record label.

Later I used the ANS to help me compose the music for a puppet show that incorporated the use of light called ‘Fire of Hope’, which was based on Pablo Picasso’s works. The play was performed in 1985 at a festival in Moscow and in 1987 at a festival in Kazan by the Moscow group Puppet Pantomime, under the artistic direction of Marta Tsifrinovich. My composition Variations, written for the ANS, was also performed during the 1987 Kazan festival.

In 1991, I began working on the music for the slide composition ‘Rarschach Rhapsody’ by P.K.Hoenich, who is known for his light pictures created with sunrays. The composition consisted of 40 sun projections with abstract and half-abstract forms. ‘Rorschach Rhapsody’ was performed at the symposium of the International Society for Polyaesthetic Education in September 1992 in Mittersill, Austria. In 1993, I collaborated with Valentina Vassilieva to compose a suite of 12 pieces entitled The Signs of the Zodiac. These compositions used the ANS along with the sounds of voices, natural noises and musical instrumentation. I am currently working on a fantastic piece named “An Unexpected Visit,” for ANS synthesizer with transformed natural noises and percussion instruments”

Stanislav Kreichi 2001

Yevgeny Alexandrovich Murzin. Russia 1914 - 1970

Yevgeny Alexandrovich Murzin. Russia 1914 – 1970

Biographical Information:

Murzin began his academic life studying municipal building at the Moscow Institute of Engineers. When Nazi Germany invaded the USSR in 1941 he joined the soviet Artillery Academy as a senior technical lieutenant. During his time in military service Murzin was responsible for developing an electro-mechanical anti aircraft detector which was later adopted by the soviet army. After the war Murzin joined the Moscow Higher Technical School where he completed a thesis on Thematics and was involved in the development of military equipment including an artillery sound ranging device, instruments for the guidance of fighters to enemy bombers and air-raid defence systems.

Murzin had a reputation as an admirer of jazz but when a colleague introduced him to the works of Scriabin, Murzin became obsessed with the composers work and synaesthetic concepts. It was these ideas that inspired Murzin to begin his ‘Universal Synthesiser’ project around 1948 which was to lead to the ANS synthesiser some decades later. Murzin presented his proposal to Boris Yankovsky and N.A.Garbuzov at the Moscow Conservatory where, despite initial reluctance, he was given space to develop the instrument. Despite almost universal disinterest in his project Murzin continued over the next decade to develop the ANS prototype with funds from his own finances and working in his spare time with the help of several friends (including composers E.N Artem’eva, Stanislav Kreychi, Nikolai Nikolskiy and Peter Meshchaninov).

The first compositions using the ANS were completed in 1958 and exhibited in London and Paris. The ANS was moved to the Scriabin Museum in 1960 (ul. Vakhtangov 11, Moscow) and formed the basis of the USSR’s first electronic music studio which was used throughout the sixties’ by many world famous composers including Schnitke, Gubaydulina, Artem’ev, Kreychi, Nemtin and Meshchaninov.

Murzin and the ANS

Murzin and the ANS


Andrei Smirnov: Sound in Z – Experiments in Sound and Electronic Music The Theremin Institute, Moscow

Boris Yankovsky “The Theory and Practice of Graphic Sound”. Leningrad, 1939-1940

“Composer As Painter” excerpt from “Physics and Music”, Detgiz, 1963
Bulat M. Galeyev, “Musical-Kinetic Art in the USSR,” LlonardoU, No. 1, 41-47 (1991)

‘Oramics’ Daphne Oram. UK, 1959.

Daphne Oram working at the Oramics machine

Daphne Oram working at the Oramics machine at Oramics Studios for Electronic Composition in Tower Folly, Fairseat, Wrotham, Kent

The technique of Oramics was developed by the composer and electronic engineer Daphne Oram in the UK during the early 1960s. It consisted of drawing onto a set of ten sprocketed synchronised strips of 35mm film which covered a series of photo-electric cells that in turn generated an electrical charge to control the frequency, timbre, amplitude and duration of a sound. This technique was similar to the work of Yevgeny Sholpo’s “Variophone” some years earlier in Leningrad and in some ways to the punch-roll system of the RCA Synthesiser. The output from the instrument was only monophonic relying on multi-track tape recording to build up polyphonic textures.

Oram worked at the BBC from 1942 to 1959 where she established the Radiophonic Workshop with Desmond Briscoe. She resigned from the BBC in 1959 to set up her own studio the ‘Oramics Studios for Electronic Composition’ in a converted oast-house in Wrotham, Kent. With the help of the engineer Graham Wrench, she built “with an extremely tight budget and a lot of inverted, lateral thinking” the photo-electrical equipment she christened ‘Oramics’ which she used to compose and record commercial music for not only radio and television but also theatre and short commercial films.

“There was an octagonal room,” remembers Graham, “where she’d set up her studio, but on a board covering a billiard table in an adjoining reception room was displayed the electronics for Oramics. There wasn’t very much of it! She had an oscilloscope and an oscillator that were both unusable, and a few other bits and pieces — some old GPO relays, I remember. Daphne didn’t seem to be very technical, but she explained that she wanted to build a new system for making electronic music: one that allowed the musician to become much more involved in the production of the sound. She knew about optical recording, as used for film projectors, and she wanted to be able to control her system by drawing directly onto strips of film. Daphne admitted the project had been started some years before, but no progress had been made in the last 12 months. I said I knew how to make it work, so she took me on. I left my job with the Medical Research Council and started as soon as I could.”

“Graham Wrench: The Story Of Daphne Oram’s Optical Synthesizer’ Sound on Sound magazine Steve Marshall february 2009

Oramics machine

Oramics machine

The attraction of this technique was a direct relation of a graphic image to the audio signal and even though the system was monophonic, the flexibility of control over the nuances of sound production was unmatched in all but the most sophisticated analogue voltage controlled synthesisers. Daphne Oram continued to use the process throughout the sixties producing work for film and theatre including; “Rockets in Ursa Major”(1962), “Hamlet”(1963) and “Purple Dust” (1964).

Devizes, Wilts, 1925; Maidstone, Kent, 2003

Daphne Oram. Born Devizes, Wilts, 1925;Died Maidstone, Kent, 2003


Jo Hutton ‘Radiophonic Ladies’

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


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

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

Radio Organ of a Trillion Tones (1931)

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

The Polytone Organ (1934)

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

The Singing Keyboard (1936)

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


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

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


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