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

xxx

Franklin Cooper with the Pattern Playback machine

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

Diagram showing the function of the Pattern Playback machine

Diagram showing the function of the Pattern Playback machine

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

pp1

The Pattern Playback machine

Pattern Playback

The Pattern Playback machine

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


Sources

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

The history of speech synthesis

The ‘Hardy-Goldthwaite Organ’ Hardy & Goldthwaite, USA, 1930

The Hardy-Goldthwaite organ was a type of early  analogue sampler, similar to the Welte Licht-Ton Orgel,  using optical discs of photographed sound waves. The discs, created from translations of original instrumental sounds, rotate between a light a slit and a photo-electrical cell generating outputs of various timbres.


Sources:

A History of Sampling (Hugh Davies)

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

The ‘Vibroexponator’ Boris Yankovsky, Russia 1932

Boris yankovsky in 1939

Boris Yankovsky in 1939

Boris Yankovsky (1904-1973) worked with the Multzvuk group as a pupil of Arseney Araamov at Mosfilm, Moscow from 1931-32. However he grew disenchanted with what he considered to be an over simplified way of approaching acoustics. Yankovsky realised that pure uniform  waveforms do not represent timbre and that a more complex spectral approach needed to be developed. In 1932 Yankovsky left Multzvuk to pursue his ideas of spectral analysis, decomposition and re-synthesis . His project was based on his belief that it is possible to develop a universal language of sounds using combinations of hand drawn spectral ‘sound objects’ (similar to the much later cross-synthesis and phase-synthesis techniques).

“I found the idea of synthesis while I was laboriously working on ‘drawn sound’. And this is the chain of my consideration:
The colour of the sound depends on the shape of the sound wave;
Graphical colour of the sound wave could be analysed and represented as the Fourier series of periodic functions (sine waves);

Consequently the sound wave could be re-synthesised back with the same set of sine waves. Nobody did this before the invention of graphical (drawn) sound just because there was not a technical means and  methodology for sound reproduction from such graphical representations of sound. As with electrons (the neutrons and protons) the number of which defines the quality of the atom, so do the sine waves define the quality of the sound – it’s timbre.

Drawn scale with angles to create pitch shift

Drawn scale with angles to create pitch shift

The conclusion: why not initiate a  new science – synthetic acoustics?
It would make sense if we could define (at least in draft) a sort of periodic table of Sound Elements, like Mendeleev’s Periodic Table of Chemical Elements. The system of orchestral tone colours has gaps between the rows that could be filled by a means of synthesis, like the gaps between Mendeleev’s Periodic Table of Chemical Elements have been filled with the latest developments in chemistry [...] It is obvious that the method of selection and crossing of sound and instruments, which is similar to the method of Michurin (Ivan Michurin Russian Biochemist and Horticulturist), will give us unprecedented, novel ‘fruit hybrids’ that are technically unobtainable for a usual orchestra [...]
(Yankovsky 1932-1940; 15,45)

“It is important now to conquer and increase the smoothness of tone colours, flowing rainbows of spectral colours in sound, instead of monotonous colouring of stationary sounding fixed geometric figures [wave shapes], although the nature of these phenomena is not yet clear. The premises leading to the expansion of these phenomena – life inside the sound spectrum – give us the nature of the musical instruments themselves, but “nature is the best mentor” (Leonardo da Vinci) […] The new technology is moving towards the trends of musical renovation, helping us to define new ways for the Art of Music. This new technology is able to help liberate us from the cacophony of the well-tempered scale and related noises. Its name is Electro-Acoustics and it is the basis for Electro-Music and Graphical Sound”.
Yankovsky 1934

To implement these theories yankovsky invented the Vibroexponator; No images or diagrams have survived but the Vibroexponator appears to be a process using a modified rostrum animation stand that allowed the photographed ‘spectral templates’ to be translated into audible sound and then combined into complex sound.

“The Vibroexponator is a complex, bulky tool for optical recording of synthetic sounds to the soundtrack of ordinary 35mm film by means of a specially produced intensive negatives. the instrument is partly mechanised and provides various motions to the original negative. The automation of the direction control is partially broken and requires extra repairs and maintenance, [...] The slide copying tool is intended for production of intensive negatives from films with transversal soundtracks. it too is a massive construction. The gearbox at least a 100-fold safety factor and a great power”

Nikolai Zimmin from the MINI institute describes the Vibroexponator in 1939

Yankovsky spent the next decade working on his spectral theories and building a ‘Syntone Database’ of his spectral templates by recording and analysing hundreds of samples of instruments from Bolshoi Theatre as well as samples of vowels and speech.

Slide copying machine tool diagram

Slide copying machine tool diagram

Political repression in the USSR stopped the funding of Yankovsky’s work until 1939 when he met the young inventor Evgeny Murzin who shared Yankovsky’s vision of a universal synthesis tool (which later emerged as the ANS Synthesiser) . Yankovsky together with Murzin and Yevgeny Sholpo formed the ‘Laboratory for Graphical Sound at the Institute of the Theatre and Film’ where he completed the final version of Vibroexponator. Further development of the instrument and of Yankovsky’s theories of spectral sound was halted by the outbreak of World War Two, Yankovsky never returned to graphical sound.

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 ‘cientific Research Institute for Graphic Sound’. Leningrad, 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

Graphical Sound Andrey Smirnov, Moscow, 2011

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

‘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.


Sources

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’ Emerich Spielmann, Austria, 1927

Spielmann's Superpiano 1927

Spielmann’s Superpiano 1927

Emerich Moses Spielmann (*1873), an architect living in Vienna, succeeded in applying the principle of optical sound to a musical instrument. Others, however, had already begun working on this principle: it was first patented by Arthur French St. George in London in 1883 and became widely known through the sound-on-film motion pictures, which were first screened in Europe at the Alhambra cinema in Berlin in 1922. Numerous patent applications were filed for similar inventions. Spielmann’s instrument, which has survived to the present, was dubbed the “Superpiano” and was presented for the first time at a concert organized by the Österreichische Kulturbund on January 9, 1929. On this occasion, the composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold played a conventional piano with one hand and the new instrument with the other. The press covered the event in detail, reporting that Spielmann had conceived of an instrument like this 20 years previously but hadn’t been able to realize his ideas until major advances in radio technology were made, and that this invention would open up undreamed-of possibilities. It was described as a “ghost piano” and its sound as the “mysterious singing of electrowaves,” but according to the papers the acoustic impression didn’t differ substantially from the airwave music of Professors Theremin and Martenot. They also speculated that in the future a single player would be able to reproduce the entire instrumental range of an orchestra, and that it would not be long before composers would be mixing electrotone with conventional instrumental sounds.

Spielmann's patent for the photo-electrical sound generator

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

A few weeks later, on February 14, 1929, Spielmann presented the Superpiano as part of a program on the Vienna radio station RAVAG featuring lectures on the theme of Das Licht spricht, das Licht musiziert [Light speaks, light makes music]. He described his invention as an organ, harmonium and piano wrapped into one but with added expressive possibilities: continuous notes of any timbre plus transposition freedom (accomplished by changing the rotation speed of the disks, which was regulated by a kind of built-in tachometer). In addition, the instrument was to cost no more than a conventional piano. Since this instrument could record any sound source, it would also be possible to reproduce “Kreisler’s violin or Caruso’s voice” on the Superpiano, and even in different registers (Kreisler on double bass or Caruso as a bass) – at least this is what an advertisement promised and, indeed, today’s sampling techniques and soundfonts now make this a simple process. Then, after the radio feature, nothing more was heard about the Superpiano until 8 p.m. on April 8, 1933, when the Austrian radio aired a Superpiano duo concert, the instrument’s last documented sign of life.

The celluloid disks of the Superpiano for creating tones and harmonics

The celluloid disks of the Superpiano for creating tones and harmonics

Each of the twelve black celluloid disks has a pattern of slits or holes cut into it in concentric circles, representing seven octaves of a note, e.g. all Cs. Since the instrument is fitted with twenty-four disks, two rows of twelve, each encoded with different wave patterns, it is possible to produce harsher as well as softer tones. The graphic representation of the waveform is read by small lamps and selenium cells, and the signal is amplified. The brightness of the light sources is regulated by variable resistors, one for each key, with the effect that volume is controlled by the degree of pressure applied to the key.

Video of Peter Donhauser - Head of Division Fundamentals of Technology & Science at the Vienna Technical Museum - with the Spuperpiano: http://klangmaschinen.ima.or.at/db/pv.php?id=2013&lang=en&table=Object

Spielmann seems to have built several instruments: one of them consisted of two parts, with a detached keyboard and a separate cabinet to house the disks, the one shown is a unique model in the form of an upright piano which was sold by the pianomaker Hofmann to the Museum of Technology in Vienna in 1947, where it survived World War II. As to Spielmann’s whereabouts we have no further details. He was reportedly headed for London in 1939, but then he disappears without a trace.

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


 Sources

Peter Donhauser, Elektrische Klangmaschinen, Vienna 2007.

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.


Sources

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

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 ‘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 ‘Variophone’ Yevgeny Sholpo. Russia, 1932

Sholpo's Variophone

Sholpo’s Variophone 1949 Model

Developed in the Soviet Union in 1932 by Yevgeny Alexandrovitch Sholpo and Georgy Rimsky-Korsakov at the Central Laboratory of Wire Communication in Leningrad after several years research into performer-less music; the Variophone was an photo-electrical electronic instrument. The particular method used by the Variophone was a type of optical audio recording designed to allow the composition of lengthy polyphonic pieces of music. This was achieved by cutting sound waves into cardboard discs rotating in synch with a 35 mm movie film. This was then re-filmed and played back on a normal movie projector that and amplified through a speaker. In a simple ‘overdubbing’ process the process could be repeated to create multiple layered tones. Soundtracks were able to contain up to twelve voices, recorded as tiny parallel tracks inside the normal soundtrack film area. By 1931 with the help of Rimsky-korsakov, Sholpo produced soundtrack to the film ‘The Year 1905 in Bourgeoisie Satire’ and again in 1932 a synthesised soundtrack for ‘A Symphony of Peace’ and many other soundtracks for films and cartoons throughout the Thirties and Forties. At the end of the long 1941 Siege of Leningrad, the Variophon was destroyed during a missile attack. After World War Two, Evgeny Sholpo became the director of the new ‘Scientific‐Research Laboratory for Graphical Sound’ with Boris Yankovsky at the State Research Institute for Sound Recording, in Leningrad..

Yevgeny Sholpo and the Variophone

Yevgeny Sholpo and the Variophone

The fourth and final version of Variophone was never finished, despite promising experiments in musical intonation and the temporal characteristics of live musical performance. The laboratory was moved to Moscow and Sholpo was removed from his position as director. In 1951, after a long illness, Evgeny Sholpo died and his laboratory was closed.Archive material from the Variophone was recently transferred in 2007 to the Theremin Center.

Variophone diagram

Variophone diagram

Tone discs

Tone discs



Sholpo's Variophone

Sholpo’s Variophone 1949 Model

Developed in the Soviet Union in 1932 by Yevgeny Alexandrovitch Sholpo and Georgy Rimsky-Korsakov at the Central Laboratory of Wire Communication in Leningrad after several years research into performer-less music; the Variophone was an photo-electrical electronic instrument. The particular method used by the Variophone was a type of optical audio recording designed to allow the composition of lengthy polyphonic pieces of music. This was achieved by cutting sound waves into cardboard discs rotating in synch with a 35 mm movie film. This was then re-filmed and played back on a normal movie projector that and amplified through a speaker. In a simple ‘overdubbing’ process the process could be repeated to create multiple layered tones. Soundtracks were able to contain up to twelve voices, recorded as tiny parallel tracks inside the normal soundtrack film area. By 1931 with the help of Rimsky-korsakov, Sholpo produced soundtrack to the film ‘The Year 1905 in Bourgeoisie Satire’ and again in 1932 a synthesised soundtrack for ‘A Symphony of Peace’ and many other soundtracks for films and cartoons throughout the Thirties and Forties. At the end of the long 1941 Siege of Leningrad, the Variophon was destroyed during a missile attack. After World War Two, Evgeny Sholpo became the director of the new ‘Scientific‐Research Laboratory for Graphical Sound’ with Boris Yankovsky at the State Research Institute for Sound Recording, in Leningrad.

Early version of the Variophone

Early version of the Variophone

The fourth and final version of Variophone was never finished, despite promising experiments in musical intonation and the temporal characteristics of live musical performance. The laboratory was moved to Moscow and Sholpo was removed from his position as director. In 1951, after a long illness, Evgeny Sholpo died and his laboratory was closed. Archive material from the Variophone was recently transferred in 2007 to the Theremin Center.

Variophone diagram

Variophone diagram

Tone discs

Tone discs



9

In Russia from the 1920′s until the  1970′s there was a particular interest in photo-electrical synthesis; probably due to the influence of the theories and writings of Alexander Scriabin who proposed a uniting theory of sound and light.  The first ‘drawn’ soundtrack ever created by the avant-garde composer Arseny Avraamov who produced film soundtracks created by photographing series of drawings such as “Plan Velikikh Rabot” (Plan of great works) and “Kem Bit” (who to be) in 1930. Boris Yankovsky was developing a more complex spectral analysis, decomposition and re-synthesis technique, resembling the recent computer music techniques of cross synthesis and the phase vocoder. This process was also seen as a way of liberating the composer from the practical restrictions of instrumentation and musicians:

While most inventors of electronic musical instruments were developing tools for performers, the majority of methods and instruments based on Graphical Sound techniques were created for composers. Similar to modern computer music techniques, the composer could produce the final synthesised soundtrack without need for any performers or intermediates.”
Smirnov, Andrey, 2011 “Graphical Sound”

Sholpo's drawing of waveforms

Sholpo’s drawing of waveforms

The hand drawn optical synthesis technique was also used later in the 1960′s by Daphne Oram in England.


Sources:

Smirnov, Andrei. Sound Out of Paper. Moscow, November, 2007

http://asmir.theremin.ru/gsound1.htm

http://www.umatic.nl/tonewheels_historical.html

http://www.ruskeys.net/eng/base/variofon.php

Izvolov Nikolai.From the history of painted sound in USSR. Kinovedcheskie Zapiski, no.53, 2001, p.292

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

9

In Russia from the 1920′s until the  1970′s there was a particular interest in photo-electrical synthesis; probably due to the influence of the theories and writings of Alexander Scriabin who proposed a uniting theory of sound and light.  The first ‘drawn’ soundtrack ever created by the avant-garde composer Arseny Avraamov who produced film soundtracks created by photographing series of drawings such as “Plan Velikikh Rabot” (Plan of great works) and “Kem Bit” (who to be) in 1930. Boris Yankovsky was developing a more complex spectral analysis, decomposition and re-synthesis technique, resembling the recent computer music techniques of cross synthesis and the phase vocoder. This process was also seen as a way of liberating the composer from the practical restrictions of instrumentation and musicians:

While most inventors of electronic musical instruments were developing tools for performers, the majority of methods and instruments based on Graphical Sound techniques were created for composers. Similar to modern computer music techniques, the composer could produce the final synthesised soundtrack without need for any performers or intermediates.”
Smirnov, Andrey, 2011 “Graphical Sound”

Sholpo's drawing of waveforms

Sholpo’s drawing of waveforms

Early version of the Variophone

Early version of the Variophone

The hand drawn optical synthesis technique was also used later in the 1960′s by Daphne Oram in England.


Sources:

Smirnov, Andrei. Sound Out of Paper. Moscow, November, 2007

http://asmir.theremin.ru/gsound1.htm

http://www.umatic.nl/tonewheels_historical.html

http://www.ruskeys.net/eng/base/variofon.php

Izvolov Nikolai.From the history of painted sound in USSR. Kinovedcheskie Zapiski, no.53, 2001, p.292

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