The ‘Archifooon’ or ‘Archiphone’. Anton De Beer & Herman van der Horst. The Netherlands, 1970.

The Archiphone 1970
The Archiphone at the Huygens-Fokker Foundation. Amsterdam NL –

The Archiphone was essentially a portable electronic version of the giant ‘Fokker Organ’ – a thirty one tone microtonal pipe organ designed by the Dutch Physicist Adriaan Fokker in 1950.

The new electronic instrument was designed and built by Herman van der Horst of the firm Neonvox (based in Wilp, Gelderland, Netherlands) at the request of the organist, microtonal composer and Fokker-Organ virtuoso, Anton De Beer. Only four finished versions of the instrument are known to have been built they are located at: (1&2)  Huygens-Fokker Foundation, Amsterdam NL (3) William Bromhead Coates, 140 Station Street Blackheath NSW 2785 Australia, (4) Webster College St. Louis, Missouri, USA.

Microtonal composer Bill Coates playing the Archiphone
Microtonal composer Bill Coates playing the Archiphone

The unique aspect of the Archiphone was it’s microtonal keyboard design. The instrument was played on an unusual five octave, 333 note black (sharps), white (naturals), blue (semi-sharps), dark grey (flats) and grey(semi-flats) keyboard based on Huygens’s microtonal scale of 5th-tones (Christiaan Huygens, who, in 1661 rejected well-tempered tuning and first posited the 31-tone system). The sound was generated by transistor oscillators mount on removable printed circuit boards and controlled in the usual organ stop method; combinable  Pipe Organ, Piano, Woodwind, Flute, Trumpet, Strings and a series of mixable filters, vibrato and Bass/Treble settings controlled by manual sliders.

The Archiphone was housed in a 116 × 40 × 15 cm wooden lacquered box, Which, with an external 50 watt amplifier and speaker boxes allowed a certain amount of portability.

The Archiphone's 333 note Keyboard
The Archiphone’s 333 note Keyboard
Diagram showing part of the keyboard layout of the 31 tone Archiphone
Diagram showing part of the keyboard layout of the 31 tone Archiphone
Keyboard of the original Fokker Organ c 1952
Keyboard of the original Fokker Organ c 1952

A number of microtonal compositions have been written for the archiphone by artists such as Adriaan Fokker, Henk Badings, Anton de Beer, and Joel Mandelbaum. An instruction manual was written by Anton de Beer: ‘Guide for the use of the Archiphone’ (1976).

Adriaan Fokker
Adriaan Fokker

Adriaan Daniel Fokker. Born; Buitenzorg (now Bogor), Java, Indonesia 1887 Died; Haarlem NL 1972

Adriaan Fokker, cousin of the famous aviation pioneer Anthony Fokker, was educated in the Netherlands initially as a mining engineer at the Delft University of Technology, and later as a physicist at Leiden University. In Leiden he earned his doctorate in 1913. Fokker’s name is best known for the Fokker-Planck equation– a partial differential equation of second order, which describes the time evolution of the probability distribution of a physical variable subjected to a stochastic force, in addition to friction and possibly other driving forces (a prototypical example being Brownian motion). The Fokker-Planck equation was contained in Fokker’s thesis, and was independently derived by Max Planck.

During 1913-14 Fokker worked in Zürich as Albert Einstein’s assistant, and published an article in general relativity with Einstein as co-author. In 1923 Fokker was appointed professor of physics at Delft University of Technology.


In 1940 The Netherlands was invaded by the German Army. To avoid having his skills as a physicist being used by the occupying Germans, Fokker turned to music theory – and in particular, tuning practice, microtonality and issues related to just intonation and the compromises embodied in equal temperament. His chief interests were the theories of Euler and Huygens. During the war, he constructed and had built a 12-key pipe organ with mean-tone tuning according to the principles of Euler’s ‘Generibus musicis’. Later, he had a 31-key organ built that realised an approximate pure tuned scale, based on Huygens’s microtonal scale of 5th-tones. Concerts involving the Fokker organ were given regularly since 1951. At the end of his life,  an electronic version, the ‘Archiphone’ was produced in 1970.

Anton De Beer. Born: 27 October 1924, Haarlem NL. Died: Haarlem, NL. 1 February 2000

De Beer playing the original Fokker Organ, Haarlem ,NL.
Anton De Beer playing the original Fokker Pipe Organ, Haarlem, NL.

Anton de Beer studied piano with Johannes Rontgen and Paul Frenckel, harpsichord with Richard Boer, and composition with Ernest W. Mulder. In 1951 he worked directly with Fokker and premiered 31-tone organ works by Badings, Kox, Joel Mandelbaum, Alan Ridout, and Wyschnegradsky. In 1970 at De Beers with Herman van der Horst of the firm “Neonvox” manufactured the Archiphone, an electronic portable version of Fokker’s larger pipe organ


Click to access FokkerOrganRepertory.pdf

The Motorola Scalatron. Herman Pedtke & George Secor. USA, 1974

The Scalatron was an unusual microtonal electronic instrument developed in the early 1970s by Motorola as a new venture into the instrument market. Promoted as the ‘first instant-performance instrument that plays in the cracks’ the Scalatron was aimed squarely at a more experimental, microtonal market – if such a market existed. The instrument itself was a rather basic synthesiser consisting of 240 square wave oscillators (one for each key) built into a wooden home-organ casing.

Scalatron with the
The Scalatron with a Secor Generalised Microtonal Keyboard

The instrument was controlled in early models by a dual manual and later using a multi-coloured ‘Bosanquet generalized keyboard’ designed by the Chicago microtonal composer George Secor.  The Secor keyboard consisted of 240 tuneable oval multicolored keys and allowed the user to create complex tunings

 “Earlier that year (1974) I had attended a demonstration of the Scalatron (digitally retunable electronic organ) prototype, and recognizing that conventional keyboards were not the best way to perform music with more than 12 tones in the octave, I unwittingly proceeded to re-invent the Bosanquet generalized keyboard and subsequently approached the Motorola Scalatron company with the proposal of employing it on their instrument.”… “Around that time several members of the xenharmonic movement had gotten in touch with Scalatron president Richard Harasek and sent him copies of the first two issues of Xenharmonikôn, which he passed on to me and which I promptly read. The second issue included Erv Wilson’s diagrams of a modification of Bosanquet’s keyboard, with hexagonal keys, at which point it became clear that my keyboard proposal was not new… For the remainder of the year I was heavily involved in the generalized (Bosanquet) keyboard Scalatron project and, after that, in using it to explore new tunings. In effect, the keyboard that I had discovered was destined to be overshadowed by the one that I had rediscovered.”

George Secor

Secor Keyboard
Secor Keyboard Diagram

Costing around  $6000-$10,000, the Scalatron was an expensive and unusual instrument. Less than 20 Scalatrons were ever made (including only 2 Secor versions). The Scalatron came with a black and white monitor to adjust each key’s pitch (using Motorola’s TV tuning technology) – a split screen showed horizontal bars representing  true pitch on the left side and the instruments variable pitch on the right side, and, for an additional $1000  a cassette interface was added with a number of tuning ‘programmes’. George Secor toured with the instrument playing works by Harry Partch (who also used the instrument towards the end of his life) and Ben Johnston.  The Scalatron is still much in favour – though very hard to find – by microtonal composers and was used on several albums by Jon Hassell, most notably ‘Vernal Equinox’.

“Finally they invented what I needed–forty years too late.”

Harry Partch via Kenneth Gaburo

A dual manual Scalatron at La Trobe University  Melbourne
A dual manual Scalatron at La Trobe University Melbourne. Each key can be tuned to one of 1024 different pitches

scalatron_02 scalatron_01