The ‘Singing Keyboard’ Fredrick Minturn Sammis & James Nuthall. USA, 1934

sss

James Nuthall(l), Frederick Sammis (r) and performer at the Singing Keyboard in 1934

Frederick 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.

Let us suppose that we are to use this machine as a special-purpose instrument for making “talkie” cartoons. At once it will be evident that we have a machine with which the composer may try out various combinations of words and music and learn at once just how they will sound in the finished work. The instrument will probably have ten or more sound tracks recorded side by side on a strip of film and featuring such words as “quack” for a duck, “meow” for a cat, “moo” for a cow. . . . It could as well be the bark of a dog or the hum of a human voice at the proper pitch.

(Frederick Sammis, quoted in Rhea [1977]

Sammis had moved to Hollywood in 1929 to lead RCA into the era of film sound. Sammis was already familiar with the Moviola, a sound- and filmediting table that incorporated photoelectric cells. Using methods that were being developed for the new ‘talkies’, he recorded sung and spoken words onto individual strips of film. He then attached the resulting strips to the keyboard in such a way that a specific strip would be drawn across the optical cell when he depressed a corresponding key.  More recent instruments such as the Mellotron and Chamberlin use a similar technology of triggered and pitched magnetic tape recordings.

Sources

‘The Computer Music Tutorial’ Curtis Roads

Invention and Technology Magazine. Mathew Nicholl. Volume 8, Issue 4. 1993

Musser Maestro Marimba Metron. Clair Omar Musser. USA, 1949

Musser's

Musser’s ‘Maestro Marimba Metron’

“Musser Maestro Marimba Metron” or  “Rhythm Machine” was an early ancestor of the drum machine invented by marimba virtuoso and band leader Clair Omar Musser sometime after 1949. The instrument was  an analogue percussion sequencer designed to accompany Musser’s marimba performances and to teach rhythm to his students at Northwestern University and in his music room at Studio City, California.

The Rhythm machine was a hybrid electronic and electro-acoustic instrument built into an art-deco styled wooden box 18″ wide, 34″ deep, 32″ tall with a top control panel of switches, buttons and dials. The sound was generated using vacuum tube oscillators plus a set of ‘real’ cymbals that were struck with an electro-magnetic solenoid.

musser

The Marimba Metron was able to re-play 13 electronically generated “tempi figures” – rhythmic accompaniments – such as the bolero, waltz, rhumba, cha-cha, tango, samba, and beguine. In addition to the pre-set loops, percussion sounds could be activated using push-button controls. Sounds included  bass drum, tom-toms, temple blocks, woodblock, claves, and maracas sounds, along with the two real cymbals struck by the electronic solenoid.

Clair Omar Musser (1901–1998) Biographical notes

was a marimba virtuoso, a conductor and promoter of marimba orchestras, a composer, a teacher, a designer of keyboard percussion instruments, an inventor, and an engineer for Hughes Aircraft. Musser was born in Pennsylvania and began to study the xylophone in the 5th grade. Upon witnessing a performance of Teddy Brown playing marimba with the Earl Fuller’s Rector Novelty Orchestra, Musser was inspired to study with Brown’s former teacher, Philip Rosenweig. Musser soon became recognized as a virtuoso in his own right, performing as a soloist, with orchestras, and in an early Warner Bros. Vitaphone film.


Sources

http://rhythmdiscoverycenter.org/onlinecollection/mussers-rhythm-machine/ 

The ‘Polychord’ Harald Bode, Germany, 1949

The Polychord II

Bode’s Polychord III 1951

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

Early version of the Polychord

Early version of the Polychord

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

 

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

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

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

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

 


Sources

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

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

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

Early Model of Winston Kock's Baldwin organ

Winston Kock’s Baldwin Organ Model Five 1947

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

Tone modifying circuits of the Baldwin organ

Tone modifying circuits of the Baldwin organ

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

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

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

Electronic Generator of the earlt model Baldwin Organ

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

Kock’s 1938 Patent of the Baldwin organ

Winston Kock playing an early experimental design for an electric instrument

Winston Kock playing his early experimental electronic instrument 1932

Winston E. Kock Biographical Details:

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

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

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

Kock's Sonar device during WW2

Kock’s Sonar device during WW2

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

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

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

NASA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

lenses

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


Sources:

Hugh Davies. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians

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

The ‘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 ‘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 ‘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.


Sources

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

The ‘Orgue des Ondes’ Armand Givelet & Edouard Eloi Coupleux, France. 1929

Organist Charles Tournemire at the Orgue Des Ondes in the église de Villemomble 1931

Organist Charles Tournemire at the Orgue Des Ondes in the église de Villemomble 1931

In 1929 the radio engineer Armand Givelet began a long collaboration with the organ builder Edouard Eloi Coupleux with the ambition to build on his experience with the ‘Clavier à Lampes‘ to create a popular electronic organ for use in churches, cinemas and concert halls. The resulting instrument, the ‘Orgue des Ondes’ or ‘Wave Organ’ was based on the same vacuum tube technology as the Theremin and Ondes-Martenot. Uniquely, the “Wave Organ” had an oscillator for each key therefore the instrument was polyphonic, a distinct advantage over its rivals – despite the amount of room needed to house the huge machine.

the multiple oscillators of the 'Orgue Des Ondes'

Some of the thousand tubes of the ‘Orgue Des Ondes’

The organ had over 700 vacuum oscillator tubes to give it a pitch range of 70 notes and ten different timbres – for each different timbre a different set of tubes was used. The Organ may have used as many as 1,000 tubes in total for oscillators and amplifiers. The sound of the organ was said to be particularly rich due to small variations in the tuning between each note creating a chorus like effect – in fact, the organ was capable of an early type of additive (addition of sine or simple waveforms) and subtractive (filtering complex waveforms) synthesis due to its number of oscillators and distortion of the sine waves produced by the LC oscillators. Despite it’s initial success, the “Wave Organ” eventually succumbed to the practicality and portability of the American built Hammond Organ and banknotes the Givelet-Coupleux partnership.


Sources

“1900-1935 L’aventure industrielle des frères Coupleux”, by Olivier Carpentier.

the ‘Clavier à Lampes’ or ‘ “Piano Radio Èlectrique’ Armand Givelet, France. 1927

Armand Givelet , an engineer and physicist at the radio laboratory at the Eiffel Tower in Paris produced his first instrument the ‘Clavier à Lampes’ in 1927 as a way of solving audio technical problems at the radio station. Because microphones of the time were of poor quality, it was impossible to record or broadcast decent quality sound. Givelet’s response was to build an electronic organ that could be directly injected into the transmitter without using microphones. The resulting instrument, the ‘Clavier à Lampes’ was a monophonic keyboard instrument that used vacuum tube oscillator for the sound source.


Sources

“1900-1935 L’aventure industrielle des frères Coupleux”, by Olivier Carpentier.