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..
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.
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”
The hand drawn optical synthesis technique was also used later in the 1960’s by Daphne Oram in England.
Smirnov, Andrei. Sound Out of Paper. Moscow, November, 2007
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
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 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 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.
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 sound.my 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
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.
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
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).
Syntronic Organ was an electro-optical tone generator based instrument engineered by Ivan Eremeef and his supporter and consultant, the world-renowned conductor Leopold Stokowski (who also premiered many of Edgard Varese’s works in the 1920s). The Syntronic Organ was a dual keyboard organ whose sound was optically generated using rotating tone-wheels and was said to be able to produce “one-hour of continuous variation”.
The WCAU Photona
Ivan Eremeef later created the “Photona” electro-optical tone generator instrument, developed with the John Leitch at the engineering department of WCAU broadcasting station in Philadelphia, USA. The Photona had twelve rotating optical discs illuminated by nine hundred six volt lamps. The instrument was played with two six octave manual keyboards and two foot pedals for volume and tremolo.
Front view of the Photona showing the 12 optical discs.
Eremeef’s patents for a photo-electrical instrument using film strips 1935-6
Eremeef’s patent for an electro-optical instrument using film strips.
Rollin Smith. ‘Stokowski and the Organ’
Nicholas Collins, Margaret Schedel, Scott Wilson. Electronic Music. Cambridge press 2013
Smithsonian Institution Science Services.
“WCAU’s Photona organ,” Electronics, vol. 8, p. 123; April, (1935).
The Computer Music Tutorial. Curtis Roads MIT 1961
The “Radio Organ of a Trillion Tones” was created and developed by Arnold Lesti and F. Sammis in the USA during 1931. The Radio Organ used a similar photo-electrical technique as the Celluphone, Superpiano and other variants. However the The Radio Organ generated a much more complex sound by projecting the light beam through two sets of glass disks – a ‘Pitch disk’ generating a pitched fundamental plus it’s ascending harmonics and a Timbre disk modifying the tone using a drawn representation of the sound wave of a real instrument (horn ,violin, clarinet, oboe and a human voice). The principle was improved in the next version called 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 Welte Light-Tone was one of the last instruments designed by Edwin Welte (1876-1958) of the famous Welte-Mignon mechanical instrument manufacturers. Welte had become fascinated with the possibility of using optical disks since 1925 and produced a number of prototypes using clay optical disks before completing the glass-disk based production version of the Lichttonorgel. The sounds of the Lichttonorgel consisted of photographically drawn ‘recordings’ of different models of famous organs of the day but in theory could play back any recording of any instrument.
The organ premiered on November 6th 1936 at the Berlin philharmonic played by the virtuoso German organist Kurt Grosse and received enthusiastic review from the National Socialist newspaper the Völkische Beobachter (9. November 1936) “ A unique miracle, perfection in the entire realm of concert instruments” and speculated that it would be a perfect instrument for National Socialist rallies – on the strength of this endorsment, The German Telefunken comany negotiated a production deal. Any potential the instrument had was destroyed by the Nazi’s discovery of Welte’s marriage to a German Jew and Telefunken’s immediate withdrawal of their contract. After the war Welte continued to try and make a commercial success of the instrument but eventually foundered due to the complexity of the photo-electric system and from increasing competition from cheaper and more efficient instruments such as the Hammond Organ. Welte. Only three production models of the Lichtonorgel were completed.
The instruments sound generation unit consisted of 12 glass disks which were printed with 18 different looped waveforms in concentric rings. The glass ‘tone wheel’ disks were rotated over a series of photoelectric cells, filtering a light beam that controlled the sound timbre and pitch. The resulting combinations of tones gave 3 different timbres for all the octave registers of each note on the keyboard. The German arm of the Welte-Mignon company in Frieburg was completely destroyed in 1944 by allied bombing and all of the companies closely kept secret designs were lost forever.
Edwin Welte (1876-1958) and his brother-in-law, Karl Bockish, developed the Welte-Mignon reproducing piano in 1904 for M. Welte & Soehne of Freiburg, Germany. Music roll recording commenced in 1905. The recording piano and the reproducing system were entirely new inventions which astounded the musicians and fans in Europe. In 1906 (?) he established “The Welte Artistic Player Piano Company” in a showroom in New York and soon was producing pianos and music rolls for American customers.
The Welte Company
The Welte Company was a German organ firm which was first established in 1832 at Vörenbach (Black-Forest) by automata manufacturer Michael Welte (1807-1880). In c1865 he moved to Freiburg/Breisgau and the firm was registered there as M. Welte & Söhne. During the remainder of the 19th century the Welte firm expanded considerably and became particularly noted for their orchestrions. Welte’s “Cabinet player”, a reproducing piano without keyboard which bore the Mignon label, was first patented in 1904 while the firm was under the direction of Edwin Welte (1876-1958, grandson of the founder). The prototype was exhibited during late 1904 in Leipzig and became commercially available from early 1905. The Vorsetzer came on the market in 1908.
Mignon was integrated into their upright pianos in 1909, and into their grand pianos from 1913. In 1908 the technology was adapted and applied to the Welte “Philharmonic Autograph Organ”. This was the forerunner of the “Welte-Philharmonie Organ” which was first publicly displayed at the Turin Exhibition of 1911. The firm then went on to successfully market player organs, cinema organs and, later, when their market contracted during the 1930s, church organs. They concurrently produced rolls of performances by the greatest organists of the day and sold them with considerable commercial success. From 1865-1917 they also ran a branch in New York (M. Welte & Sons) under Emil Welte (1841-1923, eldest son of the founder), but it was closed during World War I as an “alien enterprise”.
Welte’s instruments became status symbols and the epitome of entertainment in their day. They were installed in stately houses, palaces, schools, department stores (Harrods in London had one), yachts, ships (one was manufactured just too late to be aboard the Titanic) and even apparently a “house of pleasure” (the Atlantic Garden orchestrion). Around the world they were dispersed throughout Europe, USA, with their market is known to have extended much further – to Istanbul, Russia, China and Sumatra for example. The top of Welte’s Orchestrion/player-organ range was the “Welte-Philharmonie”. Very few of the full- sized model were ever manufactured. From about 1926 Welte began to be threatened by a rapidly growing radio and recording industry. Business declined so much that, in 1932 they narrowly escaped bankruptcy. At about this time they were also involved in a collaboration with the Telefunken Company which was terminated because Edwin Welte’s first wife, Betty Dreyfuss, was Jewish.
This stalled collaboration involved the development of electronic organs. Using (analog) sampling and photo-cells, truly prophetic developments at that time, had Welte been successful they might well have eliminated the Hammond organ from the pages of history. It was World War II which finally precipitated the total demise of the firm. The Freiburg premises – all stock, instruments and historical documents – were effectively annihilated by British bombing in November 1944. The bombed out factory was something of a landmark by the Freiburg railway station for at least decade until the mid-1950s. (from: Museum of Music Automatons, Seewen)
Museum of Music Automatons Seewen (http://www.musee-suisse.ch/seewen)
Michael Gerhard Kaufmann : Organ and National Socialism. Kleinblittersdorf 1997. ISBN 3-920670-36-1 .
The Organ: An Encyclopedia. edited by Douglas Earl Bush, Richard Kassel
NS-Kulturgemeinde (Germany), Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter-Partei. Amt Musik. M.Hesse, 1936
The Siemens Synthesiser or ‘Siemens Studio For Electronic Music’ was a German development similar to the RCA Synthesiser originally to compose live electronic music for Siemens’s own promotional documentary films. Like the RCA MkII, The Siemens Studio was a modular ‘composition and synthesis system’ that generated musical sequences and synthesised and recorded the results. The Siemens Synthesiser was developed by Helmut Klein and W.Schaaf at Siemens Halske in Munich, Germany in 1959 for the Studio Für Elektronische Musik in Munich. The Siemens system linked and controlled the studio using a similar system to the RCA Synthesiser, a set of four punch paper vari-speed rolls controlling the timbre, envelope, pitch and volume of a bank of 20 oscillators, a white noise generator, a Hohnerola (a hybrid electronically amplified reed instrument marketed by Hohner-similar to the ‘Multimonica‘) and an impulse generator. The synthesiser had a tonal range of seven octaves.
Siemens studio Equipment:
Hohnerola: “An electronic tongue-instrument of 84 tones from C to H”
An impulse or sawtooth generator with 84 tones
1 white noise generator
A generator for statistic impulses which are made from white noise with the help of a trigger
4 sine tone generators [20 – 20’000 Hz]
20 special sine generators. These generators a 3 frequency spectrum, from 1r5 – 160 Hz, 150 – 1600 Hz and 1500 – 16000 Hz, with the option of continual change from sine to square wave.
A tone generator based on photo-electric principles
Echo frequency transformer
Additional input devices were also developed for the Siemens Synthesiser; a drawn sound technique (photoelectrically generated sounds) allowed the scanning of photographic slides using Siemens’s specially designed ‘Bildabtaster’ technology. The German painter Günter Maas used this device to translate several of his paintings into musical compositions. Later models also had a Siemens Vocoder built in as a sound controller uniquely for its time, allowing the musician to give the sound vocal envelope characteristics.
The development of the Siemens synthesiser continued after the Munich studio had relocated to Ulm and came to an end when the studio was dissolved in 1969. The Siemens system was used by many European experimental composers throughout the 50’s and 60’s including Mauricio Kagel, Bengt Hambreus, Milko Kelemen and the director of the Munich Studio Für Elektronische Musik, Josef Anton Riedl.
Coding of the Punch-tape reader:
Pitch: The pitch is defined by two strips. One strip chooses the octave, the second the tones within the octave. There are 7 octaves , and 12 tones within those octaves, making 84 tones in total. They can be chosen in fixed tuning with the electronic tuner or in a tuning that can freely be chosen with the impulse generator and sine generators. Combinations allow the choice of several different generators.
Volume: The volume can be defined in 32 steps of 1,5 dB.
Timbre: The colouring (timbre) by a choice of 14 band filters or filter combinations
Duration: The duration of the signal is defined by the number of equal hole combinations in connection with the reading speed of the punch-paper strip. There are three different speed settings of the paper strip, 64, 90 or 128 signals a second. The normal speed is 64 signals per second, i.e. a duration of 16 ms per signal. The duration is a quarter note, played in Mäzel’s Metronome MM = 120, is 0,5 s which equates to 32 equivalent hole combinations, an eighth note is then 16, a sixteenth note 8 hole combination.
H.Klein:”Uber ein Apparatur zur Steuerung und Verformung von Klängen”,Nachrichtentechnische Fachberichte,cv(1959),31 Répertoire international des musiques expérimentales (Paris,1962),36.