The “Ekvodin”, Andrei Volodin , Soviet Union, 1931

Designed and built by the Russian inventor Andrei Volodin (1914-1981) the Ekvodin was a sophisticated and versatile electronic keyboard instrument. The instrument was unique at the time in allowing the player a high level of control over the timbre and shape of the sound. Apart from the standard keyboard manual the player was given extra control with various knee levers, sliders and foot pedals. The player could add vibrato effects to the note by manipulating the pressure sensitive keyboard directly. The instrument was also one of the first instruments to include what would become a standard feature in much later synthesisers, a bank of preset sounds which was said to accurately imitate musical instruments of the symphony orchestra including percussion. Volodin continued developing the instrument throughout the 1940s which culminated in a commercial model in the 1950s. However Volodin’s instrument was at the mercy of the Soviet Government who decided to stop funding the project in the mid 1960s after only twelve of the instruments were sold. Volodin continued research into musical acoustics and teaching at the Moscow State Conservatory as well as privately developing a polyphonic version of the Ekvodin and other electronic instruments, none of which were ever built.

EKVODIN is a professional musical instrument intended for universal use in various ensembles and orchestras and for solo performances including concerts with the accompaniment of piano and other instruments. The EKVODIN is suitable for different musical genres.The sound is produced in the EKVODIN on purely electrical principle. The instrument is noted for wide variety and brightness of timbres, broad range and high limit) power of the sound, and also for rational and highly-developed system of reproduction means (vibrating keyboard, loudness pedals, portamento, etc.). This ensures expressiveness and accuracy of performance. The profession of a piano player is closest to that of a man playing the EKVODIN. This similarity, however, does not determine the application of the EKVODIN which is, first of all, an ensemble and orchestra instrument.The EKVODIN comes in two design versions : one-voice and two-voice versions. A thoroughly developed system of timbres, varied with the aid of a special switch (and also depending upon the methods of performance), makes it possible to obtain an expressive and pleasant sound. The EKVODIN imitates quite fully the sound of symphonic orchestra instruments (bow, wood and brass groups, as well as certain percussion and pizzicato instruments) and also folk instruments. The EKVODIN allows to obtain sound personality in new timbres of modern style. The instrument can be used in mixed ensembles and orchestras for supporting and emphasizing different groups of solo parts performed on the usual (mostly string and brass) instruments, when their natural power is not quite sufficient for overruling the orchestra and for creation of new sounds. In incomplete orchestras and ensembles the EKVODIN can handle practically any part (the two-voice will handle two parts) of the bow, wood or brass groups. A special ensemble consisting of EKVODINS allows to obtain, for a very small number of instruments (sextet or octet), a multifarious, fluent and high – power sound in original and common timbres.Both design versions of the instrument come in semi-stationary (dismountable-transportable) construction and high-class finish. The extension loudspeaker unit, supplied with the instrument, can be located independently up to a distance of 5 m. The loudspeaker unit is installed depending upon the location of listeners. When carried or transported from place to place, the instrument is packed in two units of suitcase type. For operation the instrument is connected to alternating current mains (127 or 220 V).

The EKVODIN is not sensitive to fluctuations of the mains voltage. The one-voice version weighs about 35 kg, and its power consumption does not exceed 90 VA. The output power of the sound channel reaches 10 V. The two-voice version weighs about 65 kg, and its power consumption does not exceed 200 VA. The output power is up to 10 Win each channel, the timbre setting being independent for each voice. To double the. power of solo parts and timbre effects the voices can merge in unison, octave and two octaves.

Details from the Moscow Theremin Centre


Theremin Centre, Moscow. interview with A.Smirnov by Simon Crab
Theremin centre website:
Volodin, A. “Generation of sounds controlled by the force of the blow on the keys of electronic musical instruments (Electropiano),” Invention certificate, No. 66, USSR Cl. 154 (1946).
Volodin, A. “Acoustical-psychological aspects of the evaluation of musical sounds,” in Proc. of the 7th USSR Acoustical Conference (L., 1971).
Volodin, A. “Electrical synthesis of musical sounds as a basis for research on perception,” Voprosi psychologii, No. 6, p. 54-69 (1971).
Volodin, A. “Multifunctionality of the formants of musical sounds,” in Proc. of the 8th USSR Acoustical Conference (M., 1973).
Volodin, A. “Perception of vibrato in musical sounds,” in New research in psychology and age physiology, No. 2 (M., 1972).
Volodin, A. “Psychological aspects of the perception of musical sounds,” Candidate dissertation (M., 1972).
Volodin, A. “Perception of vibrato in musical sounds,” in New research in psychology, p. 3-5 (M., 1974).
Volodin, A. “The role of harmonic spectrum in perception of pitch and timbre,” in Musical Art and Science, issue 1, p. 11 (M., 1970).

The ‘Clavivox’ Raymond Scott, USA, 1952

Raymond Scott's Clavivox
Raymond Scott’s Clavivox

The Clavivox was invented by the composer and engineer Raymond Scott circa 1950. Scott was the leader of the Raymond Scott Quintet working originally for the CBS radio house band and later composing eccentric but brilliant scores for cartoons for Warner Bros such as ‘Loony Tunes’ and ‘Merrie Melodies’. Scott incorporated elements of Jazz, Swing, pop music and avant-garde modern music into his compositions using a highly personal and unusual form of notation and editing. To the exasperation of his musicians, Scott would record all the band sessions on lacquer discs and later, using a cut and paste technique, edit blocks of music together into complex and almost unplayable compositions.In the 1946 Scott founded Manhattan Research, a commercial electronic music studio designed and built by Raymond Scott, featuring Scott’s own electronic devices and other electronic instruments of the period. The studio had many unique sound processors and generators including ‘infinitely variable envelope shapers’, ‘infinitaly variable ring modulators’, ‘chromatic electronic drum generators’ and ‘variable wave shape generators’. Scott built his first electronic musical instrument in 1948 dubbed ‘The Karloff’ this machine was designed to create sound effects for advertisements and films and was said to be able to imitate sounds such as voice sounds, the sizzle of frying steak and jungle drums.

Raymond Scott in his studio with the Clavivox
Raymond Scott in his studio with the Clavivox

In the 1950’s Scott started to develop a commercial keyboard instrument the Clavivox or keyboard Theremin (completed circa 1956). The Clavivox was a vacuum tube oscillator instrument controlled by a three octave keyboard (with a sub assembly circuit designed by a young Bob Moog). The instrument was designed to simulate the continuous gliding tone of the Theremin but be playable with a keyboard. The machine was fitted with three ‘key’ controls on the left of the keyboard that controlled the attack of the note or cut of the note completely, these keys could be played with the left hand to give the enevelope characteristics of the note. Other controls on the Clavivox’s front panel were for fine and coarse tuning and vibrato speed and depth. Scott used the Clavivox in his cartoon scores for sound effects (similar to the ‘eerie whine’ of the Theremin) and stringand vocal sounds. The Clavivox was inteneded for mass production but the complexity and fragility of the instrument made this venture impractical.

During the 1960’s Scott built a number of electronic one off instruments and began experimenting with analogue pitch sequencing devices. One of the prototype instruments built during the sixties was a huge machine standing six feet high and covering 30 feet of scott’s studio wall. The pitch sequencer was built using hundreds of telephone exchange type switch relays and the sounds were generated from a bank of 16 oscillators, a modified Hammond organ, an Ondes Martenot and two Clavivoxes. The noise produced by the clicking switches had to be dampened by a thick layer of audio insulation.Scott used the machine to compose several early electronic music pieces in the 1960’s including three volumes of synthesised lullabys “Soothing Sounds for Baby” (1963) predating minimalist music’s (Phillip Glass, Steve Reich) use of repetition and sequences by 20 years.

Trailer of’Deconstructing Dad‘ a documentary on Raymond Scott.

Scott’s final and most ambitious machine christened the ‘ Electronium’ (not to be confused with the Hohner Electronium ) was the culmination of his work using pitch and rhythm sequencers (the design used a number of Moog-designed components, who had also contributed to the Clavivox) . Scott described the machine as an;

“instantaneous composition-performance machine, The Electronium is not a synthesizer — there is no keyboard [it was manipulated with knobs and switches] — and it cannot be used for the performance of existing music. The instrument is designed solely for the simultaneous and instantaneous composition-performance of musical works”

Raymond Scott

In 1972, Scott became the head of electronic music research and development for Motown Records. After his retirement, Scott used MIDI technology to continue composing until 1987, when he suffered the first of several debilitating strokes. Raymond Scott died in 1994.

Raymond Scott: born Harry Warnow September 10, 1908, Brooklyn,NY
Raymond Scott: born Harry Warnow September 10, 1908, Brooklyn, NY, February 8, Died 1994 North Hills, Los Angeles, California



The Raymond Scott Archive. P O Box 6258,Hoboken.New Jersey 07030. USA.

‘Oramics’ Daphne Oram. UK, 1959.

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

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

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

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

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

Oramics machine
Oramics machine

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

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


Jo Hutton ‘Radiophonic Ladies’

The ‘Multimonica I & II’, Siegfried Mager, Harald Bode, Germany, 1950

Bode's 'Multimonica'
‘Multimonica II’. The front panel controls of the Multimonica II, from left to right are: power switch and volume knob; six switches for different presets; tuning knob; two switches for different harmonic filtering; three switches for vibrato speed and amplitude; and power switch for the blower fan.
The ‘Hohner Multimonica’ was one of the first mass-produced analogue synthesisers. It was designed probably as early as 1940 but only came onto the market in Germany after the Second World War in the late 1940s. The instrument was marketed by the German company Hohner GmbH (known at the time for their acoustic harmoniums and mouth-organs) based on a design by Siegfried Mager (The son of German electronic music pioneer Jörg Mager) called the “Mager-Straube-Kleinorgel” (MAGER, SIEGFRIED, & CO.  Hacklandweg 9, Wuppertal-Elberfeld, Germany – closed in 1970) with circuitry designed by the engineer Harald Bode – an important figure in electronic instrument design who was hugely influential on future electronic instrument and synthesiser design.

The Multimonica was a  commercial hybrid electronic/acoustic instrument with two keyboards; the lower one a 41 note wind-blown reed harmonium instrument,  and the upper, an electronic monophonic sawtooth synthesiser. Housed in a modernist, streamlined black and white Bakelite casing, the instrument features a loudspeaker, tube-generated electromechanical vibrato, (The circuits were based on the Philips 13204 X, Philips EL41,  Telefunken EF41 tubes in the Multimonica I, and EL41; ECC40; EF40 tubes for the Multimonica II ) 6 pre-set synth sounds, 2 switches for harmonic filtering, and 3 switches for the vibrato speed and amplitude, as well as a knee lever for volume control – some versions of the Multimonica I even had a medium wave radio built in; presumably to allow the owner to play along to broadcast music.

The Multimonica II released in 1953 featured one loudspeaker and provided more types of harmonics filtering than the earlier Multimonica I, and the electro-mechanical vibrato was changed to a more sophisticated neon-gas-tube-based design.

The audio software company Precision Sound created a virtual Multimonica Digital instrument in 2014.

Images of the Multimonica II


“Living For Sound- The Inventor Harald Bode And The Evolution Of Electronic Music”

The Electrophon (1921), Sphäraphon(1924), kurbelsphärophon (1926), Klaviatursphäraphon(1928), Partiturophon (1930) and Kaleidophon(1939). Jörg Mager, Germany.

Jörg (Georg Adam) Eichstätt Mager  born  November 6, 1880 Aschaffenburg, Bavaria, Died Aschaffenburg 1939
Jörg (Georg Adam) Eichstätt Mager born November 6, 1880 Aschaffenburg, Bavaria, Died Aschaffenburg 1939
 “Whoever has occupied himself even a little with electric sounds will be forced to the conclusion: there are yet things in music of which our book-learning cannot dream.” Jörg Mager

Jörg Mager’s lifelong fascination with micro-tonal music began accidentally during the hot summer of 1911 when he heard an out of tune organ playing notes beyond the fixed tempered scale. Fascinated by the instruments strange sounds he began to explore the concepts of half and quarter tone music which he eventually self-published in his ‘ Vierteltonmusik’ of 1915. At the same time he began to design an instrument that was capable of delivering micro-tonal and quarter tone scales, the first of which was an acoustic harmonium, the ‘Vierteltonharmonium’ (Four-Tone harmonium)  in 1912.

After his participation in the failed 1918 communist coup in Bavaria, Mager left for Berlin. Here he joined a small circle of microtonal musicians (Mager, Alois Hába, Richard Stein, Ivan Wischnegradsky ) under the wing of renowned composer and theorist Ferruci Bussoni. This circle of musicians were united in their aim to liberate music from the tyranny of fixed-tonality, however, rather than adapt existing instruments, Mager decided to create an entirely new instrument based on the emerging radio technology of the time.

To survive in post WW1 hyper-inflationary Berlin, Mager accepted any unskilled labour he could find. It was while working in a radio vacuum tube factory that he hit upon the idea of using vacuum tubes as the basis for his first electronic microtonal instrument, the Electrophon in 1921. The Electrophon was a simple monophonic instrument based on the same heterodyne principal as that of the Theremin; a method by which two frequencies are combined within the radio frequency spectrum (not perceptible by the human ear) to produce a third frequency that is equal to the difference between the latter two frequencies and that itself is within the audible spectrum humans. In case of Electrophon two  50 Khz frequency oscillators were used. The novel feature of the Electrophon was that rather than being controlled by a fixed tone manual, notes were instead triggered by rotating a metal handle, creating a glissando type effect on a continuous tone. Under the handle was a semicircular plate marked with chromatic scale intervals. Changes in  timbre could be applied through various filters. Further developments of the Electrophon were christened the Sphärophon after the Pythagorean legend of the music of the spheres.

“The music of the future will be attained by radio instruments! Of course, not with radio transmission, but rather direct generation of musical tones by means of cathode instruments! […] Indeed, the cathode-music will be far superior to previous music, in that it can generate a much finer, more highly developed, richly coloured music than all our known musical instruments! ”
Jörg Mager: ” Eine Neue Epoch Der Music Durch radio” (Berlin 1924)

Mager’s proposal in ” Eine Neue Epoch…” was that the medium of radio should be used to create and deliver a new type of utopian ‘free’ music by means of new electronic cathode-ray musical instruments, rather than just a means of transmitting mass content:

“…Radio firms have mobilised more energy for transmission of a radio-music but have hardly shown any interest in the most important problem: the production of music itself.”

“…the music of the future will be implemented largely by radio instruments not only in the sense that they can be easily transmitted, but especially that musical sounds can be produced directly through cathode-ray instruments . “

Mager’s fellow Microtonalist Czech composer Alois Hába added:

 “This is a new era in the development, not only in building instruments, but in music in general . “

Further developments of the Sphärophon lead to the kurbelsphärophon unveiled at the 1926 Donaueschingen summer music festival (alongside Leon Termen’s Theremin). This adaptation added a second manual dial that allowed the player to interrupt the instrument’s continuous output and avoid the continuous glissando of the Sphärophon  by queuing up another note and added two pedals to control each note’s volume and envelope.

Mager playing the kurbelsphärophon
Mager playing the Kurbelsphärophon

Though mostly ignored at the time,  Mager’s instrument quickly gained notoriety throughout Germany; the composer Georgy Rimsky-Korsakov (Grandson of the Russian composer) composed some quarter-tone experimental pieces and Paul Hindemith enthusiastically  endorsed Mager’s instrument. This support lead to the the formation in 1929 of the ‘Studiengesellschaft für Elektro Akustische Musik’  (‘Society for Electro-acoustic Music) in Darmstadt to support his research (funded by the city of Darmstadt, the Heinrich Hertz Institut für Schwingungsforschung and the Reichsrundfunk radio station) . The society was housed in a large, luxurious castle in Darmstadt and staffed with skilled technicians including the future electronic instrument designer Oskar Vierling.

The Klaviatursphäraphon
The Klaviatursphäraphon

With this resource at his disposal Mager continued to develop his instrument design, creating the Klaviatursphäraphon in 1928. In this model he replaced the handles of the Kurbelsphäraphon with two short keyed monophonic keyboards – the shorter keys allowing the player to play both keyboards simultaneously thereby producing a duophonic tone. It was also possible by adjusting the capacitance of the sound generating circuit to alter the intervals between each key and scale the acoustic length of the keyboard. An octave could be made as small as a major second, so that each successive step represented an interval of a 12th tone. Additional tone colour was added by mechanical resonators, series of filters and specially formed resonant speakers.

Jorg Mager and the The Partiturophon
Jorg Mager and the The Partiturophon

By now, Mager’s focus was moving from micro-tonality towards audio timbre. The “Partiturophon” (from the German ‘Partitur’ or musical score, reflecting his aim of capturing the varied combinations of orchestral timbre) was a four (in later models, five) keyboard and five voice version of the Klaviatursphäraphon produced in 1930. This instrument allowed the player to play four (or five) voices at once, one voice per keyboard:

“Mager produced today and organ with many registers on which four voice playing is possible. So far there is only one difficulty; that is, that each voice must have its own keyboard, thus the four voice movement must be played on three manuals and the pedal. For this reason the manuals must be close to each other and the keys short, so that one can easily play on several manuals with one hand. For this reason the keys are somewhat narrower than those on a regular organ or piano keyboard. Apart from these difficulties, which require a special adjustment to the playing of the new instrument, it is surprising in its infinite multiplicity of sound possibilities, through dynamic wealth of shading and through the possibilities of expression in the tones”

The critic and historian Frederick Prieberg on the Partiturophon

1932 marked the high point of Mager’s success. He had become a household name in Germany and  received commissions, from Winifred Wagner herself, to provide the sound effects for the annual Beyreuth Wagner festival, and he was also commissioned to mark the centenary of Gothe’s death with a micro-tonal piece  for thirty theatrical interpretations of drama Faust , which took place in Frankfurt and Darmstadt. Other plaudits came from  composers and conductors Arturo Toscanini and Wilhelm Furtwängler , the latter the director of the orchestral interpretation of Parsifal in 1931.

The Kaleidophon
The Kaleidophon

Yet this success was short lived. A new electronic instrument had emerged in 1930; Dr Friedrich Trautwien’s ‘Trautonioum’. In contrast to Mager’s amateur enthusiasm, Trautwien was a trained engineer and managed to produce an instrument that was both novel, reliable and wasn’t shackled by the complexity of Mager’s devotion to micro-tonality. The final blow to Mager came in 1933 when Hitler’s National Socialists took power. Experimental music was labelled  ‘Entartete’ or ‘degenerate’ and un-German; the great flowering of German musical innovation had come to an abrupt end. Mager tried to ingratiate himself into the new party “to get on the gravy train” but became increasingly paranoid and irritable, driving away many of his collaborators and supporters. In the struggle to develop the Partiturophon as a commercial domestic instrument, the contract for the  ‘Studiengesellschaft für Elektro Akustische Musik’ lapsed and funding dried up. Mager spent the rest of his life leading an impoverished semi-nomadic existence. His state of health was increasingly precarious due to diabetes and growing disorientation and mental confusion. His daughter Sofie, brought him back to Aschaffenburg, where he died on April 5, 1939, at the age of 59.

spite the oppressive new political climate, Mager was commissioned to create sound effects with the Partiturophon in the 1936 film "Stärker Paragraphen als"  by Jürgen von Alten , with music by Rudolf Perak.
spite the oppressive new political climate, Mager was commissioned to create sound effects with the Partiturophon in the 1936 film “Stärker Paragraphen als” by Jürgen von Alten , with music by Rudolf Perak.

None of Mager’s instruments are known to have survived the Second World War, The castle at Darmstadt was heavily bombed by the Allies, obliterating the last traces of the Partiturophon and it’s predecessors. The last of Mager’s family of instruments was the Kaleidophon completed in 1939 and only survives in notes as “…a monophonic electronic instrument with kaleidoscopic sound mixtures following the tonal precepts of Arnold Schoenberg and Ferruccio Busoni.”

Mager's colleague Alois Hába playing the Partituropohn
Mager’s colleague Alois Hába playing the Partituropohn

Mager’s instruments ultimately failed because of, on one hand, Mager’s single minded devotion to microtonality which had virtually no repertoire and was little accepted even by the avant garde of the time ( even Mager’s close circle of friends Hába, Wischnegradsky and Stein never realised their promises to compose  for the instruments) and on the other, the fact that the instruments were in continual development, unstable and never completely finished making it difficult to become anything more than an interesting curiosity.


Jörg Mager: ” Eine Neue Epoch Der Music Durch radio” (Berlin 1924)

Peter Donhauser, “Electric sound machines. Pioneer days in Germany and Austria,” Böhlau Verlag, ISBN 9783205775935

Fred Prieberg, “Music in the Nazi state,” Dittrich Verlag, ISBN 392086266XElena monster, “As the electronic music was ‘invented’ ,” Schott Verlag, ISBN 3795718910

MAGER Jörg: Eine neue Epoche der Musik durch Radio, Berlin-Neukölln 1924. : Vierteltonmusik, Aschaffenburg [1915].

The ‘Free Music Machine’. Percy Grainger & Burnett Cross, USA/Australia , 1948

The Free Music Machine (1948) or "The Electric Eye Tone Tool Cross-Grainger for Playing Graingers Free Music"
The Free Music Machine (1948) or “The Electric Eye Tone Tool Cross-Grainger for Playing Grainger’s Free Music”
The ‘Free Music Machine’ was created by musician and singer Burnett Cross and the Australian composer Percy Grainger. Grainger a virtuoso Pianist and pupil of Bussoni, had been developing his idea of “free music” since 1900: based on eighth tones and complete rhythmic freedom and unconventionally notated on graph paper. Grainger had experimented using collections of Theremins and changing speeds of recorded sounds on phonograph disks and eventually developed his own instruments. Graingers experiments with random music composition pre-dated those of John Cage by 30 years with “Random Round” written in the 1920’s. Graingers first experiments used a Pianola “player piano” controlling three Solovoxes by means of strings attached to the Pianola’s keys, this combination was abandoned as it was not possible to create a continuous glissando effect from the Pianola. Grainger started work on a more elaborate but eccentric machine in collaboration with Burnett Cross and his wife, Ella Grainger. The Free Music Machine was a machine that controlled the pitch, volume and timbre of eight oscillators.Two large rollers fed four sets of paper rolls over a set of mechanical arms that rolled over the cut contours of the paper and controlled the various aspects of the oscillators.
The Kangaroo Poutch Free Music Machine (Grainger's diagram)
The Kangaroo Poutch Free Music Machine (Grainger’s diagram)
Graingers notes describing the above diagram, April 1952:
” 8 oscillators, able to play the gliding tones and irregular (beatless) rythms of Graingers FREE MUSIC (first thought of around 1892), are manipulated by paper graphs, towered discs and metal arms.A sheet of light brown wrapping paper 80 inches high (called “main paper”), is rolled continually from the “Feeder” revolving turret into the “Eater” revolving turret, passing through a metal cage on its way (the cage keeps the Main Paper, the graphs and ths discs in place). Each of the 8 oscillators has its own special pitch control graph and sound strength control graph. To the front of the main paper are attached 4 pitch-control graphs (mauve and greenish paper) and 4 tone-strength control graphs (pinkish paper), their top edges cut into “hills and dales” in accordance with the intervals & tone strength desired. These graphs operate oscillators 1,2,3,4. To the back of the Main Paper are attached 4 additional pitch control graphs & 4 additional tone strength control graphs, operating oscillators 5,6,7,8 The bottoms of these 16 graphs are sewn onto the main paper at various heights but the top of each graph is left unattached. Into each pouch thus formed (between the main paper and thegraph paper) is inserted a towered metal disc, the tower riding the upon the top edge of the graph & following its up and down movements. These movements are passed on to the axle and tone strength control box of each oscillator by means of metal arms, causing whatever changes in pitch and volume are intended. The blue-and-white discs controlling tone strengths are smaller than the variously coloured discs controlling pitch. In the above sketches the connecting electric wires are not shown.”
DCP_00figure 2. Detail view of one of the valve oscillators (photo R.Linz)
Grainger specified the requirements of his Free Music Machine to be:

  • To play any pitch of any size, half, quarter or eighth tones, within the range of 7 voices.
  • To be able to pass from pitch to pitch by way of a controlled guide as well as by leap
  • Complex irregular rhythms must be able to be performed past the scope of human execution. Dynamics were to be precisely controlled.
  • The machine had to be to be run and maintained by the composer.

Grainger was a continual experimenter picking up skills where necessary, amongst some of the eccentric instruments he produced were:

  • The first sliding pipes for playing gliding tones.
  • The electrical reproducing Duo Art grand piano 1932, for beat-less music and irregular barring.
  • The portable folding harmonium.
  • The Burnett Cross movie-film gliding soundtrack, (abandoned as it did not allow Grainger to deal directly with the sounds themselves)
  • The Smith’s Organ Flute Pipe, set up with hanging mops, rolling pins.
  • A range of experiments with reeds in boxes used as tone tools played with vacuum cleaners (1944-6)
  • The sewing machine and hand drill (to act as an oscillator for playing variable tones) October 1951.
  • The “Kangaroo Pouch”, Grainger’s own efficient framework design with the skatewheel mountings suggested by his collaborator, Burnett Cross and four vacuum-tube oscillators built by Branch, an electronics student, from the local White Plains High School.
  • The Butterfly Piano conversion tuned in 6th tones, (1952)
  • The electric eye tone tool Cross-Grainger 1957-59, the last remaining component.
percy grainger_Free Music Tone-Tool Machine
Percy Grainger’s description of Free Music. December 6th, 1938
FREE MUSIC (Tablet 2)

“Music is an art not yet grown up; its condition is comparable to that stage of Egyptian bas-reliefs when the head and legs were shown in profile while the torso appeared – the stage of development in which the myriad irregular suggestions of nature can only be taken up in regularised or conventionalised forms. With Free Music we enter the phase of technical maturity such as that enjoyed by the Greek sculptors when all aspects and attitudes of the human body could be shown in arrested movement.Existing conventional music (whether “classical” or popular) is tied down by set scales, a tyrannical (whether metrical or irregular) rhythmic pulse that holds the whole tonal fabric in a vice-like grasp and a set of harmonic procedures (whether key-bound or atonal) that are merely habits, and certainly do not deserve to be called laws. Many composers have loosened, here and there, the cords that tie music down. Cyril Scott and Duke Ellington indulge in sliding tones; Arthur and others use intervals closer than the half tone; Cyril Scott (following my lead) writes very irregular rhythms that have been echoed, on the European continent, by Stravinsky, and others; Schoenberg has liberated us from the tyranny of conventional harmony. But no non-Australian composer has been willing to combine all these innovations into a consistent whole that can be called Free Music.It seems to me absurd to live in an age of flying and yet not to be able to execute tonal glides and curves – just as absurd as it would be to have to paint a portrait in little squares (as in the case of mosaic) and not to be able to use every type of curved lines. If, in the theatre, several actors (on the stage together) had to continually move in a set theatrical relation to each other (to be incapable of individualistic, independent movement) we would think it ridiculous, yet this absurd goose-stepping still persists in music. Out in nature we hear all kinds of lovely and touching “free” (non-harmonic) combinations of tones, yet we are unable to take up these beauties and expressivenesses into the art of music because of our archaic notions of harmony.Personally I have heard free music in my head since I was a boy of 11 or 12 in Auburn, Melbourne. It is my only important contribution to music. My impression is that this world of tonal freedom was suggested to me by wave movements in the sun that I first observed as a young child at Brighton, Vic., and Albert Park, Melbourne. (See case I)

Yet the matter of Free Music is hardly a personal one. If I do not write it someone else certainly will, for it is the goal that all music is clearly heading for now and has been heading for through the centuries. It seems to me the only music logically suitable to a scientific age.

The first time an example of my Free Music was performed on man-played instruments was when Percy Code conducted it (most skilfully and sympathetically) at one of my Melbourne broadcast lectures for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, in January, 1935. But Free Music demands a non-human performance. Like most true music, it is an emotional, not a cerebral, product and should pass direct from the imagination of the composer to the ear of the listener by way of delicately controlled musical machines. Too long has music been subject to the limitations of the human hand, and subject to the interfering interpretation of a middle-man: the performer. A composer wants to speak to his public direct. Machines (if properly constructed and properly written for) are capable of niceties of emotional expression impossible to a human performer. That is why I write my Free Music for theramins – the most perfect tonal instruments I know. In the original scores (here photographed) each voice (both on the pitch-staves and on the sound- strength staves) is written in its own specially coloured ink, so that the voices are easily distinguishable, one from the other.

Percy Aldridge Grainger, Dec.6, 1938″

percy grainger_Facing PercyJB


The Free Music Machines of Percy Grainger. Rainer Linz

The ‘Emicon’. Nicholas Langer & John Halmagyi , USA. 1931

The Emicon at the
The Emicon at the National Music Museum (Vermillion, South Dakota, USA)

‘The Emicon’ (Model S) was developed in the USA by electronics engineer Nicholas Langer and Hungarian instrument designer, John Halmagyi. The Emicon was a monophonic 32 note keyboard controlled instrument based on the same type of heterodyning vacuum tube oscillator technology first used in the  Thereminvox a decade earlier. Langer designed the instrument to be able to create more complex tones than the standard vacuum tube sine wave and therefore used neon gas-discharge tubes to produce a type of sawtooth wave with richer harmonics; “In general, pure sinusoidal  oscillations, when converted into sound, are not satisfactory from the musical  point of view as they impress us as empty and meaningless” – Langer’s Emicon was said to be able to produce tones similar to a cello, saxophone, oboe, trumpet, mandolin, guitar and bagpipe and was said to be the instrument that inspired Harald Bode to start designing electronic musical instruments.

Charles D. Stein shows a model how to play the emicon at the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas in June 1936.
the Emicon at the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas in June 1936.
Langer's patent for the Emicon
Langer’s patent for the Emicon

The instrument was manufactured and marketed by Emicon, Inc., Deep River, Connecticut, CA from 1932. A later portable travelling model was built into case with an amplifier in separate case similar to later instruments such as the Ondioline. A single example of the Emicon survives at the ‘Charles D. Stein Collection of Early Electronic Instruments’ National Music Museum, Vermilion, South Dakota, USA.


‘Charles D. Stein Collection of Early Electronic Instruments’
Shrine to Music Museum
University of South Dakota
414 East Clark Street
Vermillion, SD, USA
‘Radio News’ December 1943

The ‘Givelet’ or ‘Coupleux-Givelet Organ’ Armand Givelet & Edouard Eloi Coupleux, France. 1930

Armand Givelet & Edouard Coupleux at the paper-punch controls of the 'Givelet'
Armand Givelet & Edouard Coupleux at the paper-punch controls of the ‘Givelet’ c1932

The last instrument of the Givelet – Coupleaux collaboration was the ‘Coupleaux -Givelet Organ’ or ‘Givelet’. The Givelet was a unique instrument that combined vacuum tube oscillators with a sound control system using a punched paper roll in a way similar to a player piano to define the sound synthesis. Pitch, volume, attack, envelope, tremolo and timbre could be controlled by cutting and splicing paper rolls and like the “Wave Organ“, the Givelet was polyphonic. The technique of using punched paper “programs” was not exploited until fifteen years later in the 1950’s with the RCA Synthesiser.  Givelets and Coupleaux’s instrument was designed to be a commercial and cheap replacement for pipe organs and utilise the ability for ‘silent recording’ or direct injection into radio transmitter. The Givelets were installed in churches around France and at a broadcasting radio station in Paris. The Givelet eventually lost out commercially to the more efficient and less complex  Hammond Organ.

Givelet of 1930
The Givelet-Coupleux Organ of 1930 played by Armand Givelet

Patent Documents


A.J.Givelet: ‘Les Instruments de Musique à oscillations électriques: Le Clavier à Lampes ‘, Génie civil, xciii(1928)

The ‘Electrochord’ and the ‘Kraft Durche Freude Grosstonorgel’. Oskar Vierling & Winston E. Kock, Germany, 1933

Oskar Vierling  born: 24. January 1904 in Straubing, Germany -  Died 1986
Oskar Vierling born: 24. January 1904 in Straubing, Germany – Died 1986

Oskar Vierling was an important figure in the development of electronic musical instruments and electro-acoustic instruments during the 1930’s to the 1950’s. Vierling was a trained electronic engineer who, after studying at the Ohm Polytechnic, Nuremberg filed over 200 patents. In 1935 Vierling moved to Berlin where he received his doctorate in physics at the Technical University and then continued to work at the  Heinrich-Hertz-Institute of Vibration Research (HHI) under Fritz Sennheiser.

The Electrochord

Electrochord at the Deutsches Museum in Munich
Electrochord at the Deutsches Museum in Munich

Vierling’s first musical instrument was the ‘Electochord’ an electro-acoustic piano designed and built in collaboration with  Benjamin Franklin Mießner and was commercially marketed by August Förster Piano Factory in Lõbau. The Elechtrochord worked by converting resonating piano strings via electro-magnets into electronic sounds in a similar way to Vierling’s Neo-Bechstien Piano (an early electro-acoustic piano designed by Vierling and Walther Nernst in 1931).

Oskar Vierling working on the first version of the ‘Electrochord’

The vibrations from a normal piano string were recorded and amplified electronically. Various register circuits enabled the player to change the sound’s timbre ranging from “a delicate Spinettte, the lyrical tone of a parlour organ to the powerful sound emission of a grand piano”. A restored model of the Electrochord is kept in the music collection of the Deutsches Museum in Munich. During the early 1930’s Vierling worked closely with Jorg Mager at his Darmstadt research centre on the construction of Klaviatursphäraphon amongst other instruments.

Jorg Mager and Oskar Vierling working on the Sphäraphon at Mager's laboratory in Darmstad.
Jorg Mager and Oskar Vierling working on the Sphäraphon at Mager’s laboratory in Darmstadt.
The Neo-Bechstien Electro-acoustic piano
The Neo-Bechstien Electro-acoustic piano

The ‘Kraft Durche Freude Grosstonorgel’

Keyboard fo the Grosstonorgel
Keyboard of the Kock-Vierlin KDF Grosstonorgel

Vierling went on to develop another large electronic organ; the ‘Grosstonorgel’ (together with  Karl Willy Wagner and the American engineer Winston E. Kock both at the Heinrich-Hertz-Institute. Winston Kock came to Berlin in 1933 as an exchange student at the Technical University of Berlin where he built an electronic organ for his diploma thesis. Since vacuum tubes were very expensive, he designed an instrument that relied instead on the smaller and cheaper neon tubes for the oscillators . He filed a patent for a use of inductive neon oscillators and sound-colour generation. It’s likely that the Grosstonorgel used similar neon or vacuum tube technology.

Joseph Goebbels at the GrosstonOrgel
Joseph Goebbels at the GrosstonOrgel. HHI Berlin 1935
The workshop at the HHI. The GroostonOrgel being built.
The workshop at the HHI. The GrosstonOrgel being built.
Winston Kock (seated) and Oskar Vierling at the keyboard of their Grosstonorgel.
Winston Kock (seated) and Oskar Vierling at the keyboard of their Grosstonorgel.

Work on the Grosstonorgel was funded by the National Socialist ‘Kraft Durche Freude’ cultural association (‘Strength Through Joy’  Set up as a tool to promote the advantages of National Socialism to the people,which became the world’s largest tourism operator of the 1930s) . The Grosstonorgel, as well as a Vierling designed 500 watt PA system, was a one-off instrument specifically designed to provide the musical accompaniment to the 1936 Olympic Games. A year later the instrument was also used at the Reich Party Congress of the National Socialist Party in Nuremberg. The new improved model was said to be able to produce “beautiful bell sounds” to accompany the Nazi propaganda spectacle.

Fritz Sennheiser (seated) and Oskar Vierling with the kdf Grosstonorgel. HHI Berlin 1935.
The first broadcast of a concert consisting exclusively of electric instruments orchestra, organized by the "Radio Hour ', Berlin, 19 10 1932  The instruments were a Neo-Bechstein piano, Trautonium Heller ion, electric violin and cello, and two theremin instruments. Behind each instrument the corresponding speaker
The first electronic group? an purely electronic orchestra  organised by  “Radio Hour ‘ broadcast, Berlin, 19.10.1932. The instruments were a Neo-Bechstein piano, Trautonium, Hellertion, electric violin, electric cello, and two Theremins with a corresponding loudspeaker behind each instrument.
Jospeh Goebels tries the Grosstonorgel. HHI Berlin 1935.
Jospeh Goebels tries the Grosstonorgel. HHI Berlin 1935.

Vierling had joined the National Socialist Party (NDSAP)  in the late 1930s and in 1941 established the Vierling research group  with a staff of 200 employees co-operating directly with the Wermacht high command. The secret research establishment was located in Burg Feuerstein, Ebermannstadt disguised as a hospital with red-cross emblems on the roof to avoid allied bombing.

Burg Feuerstein home of the secret Vierling Research Group
Burg Feuerstein home of the secret Vierling Research Group

Research included audio-controlled torpedoes (codenamed “wren” and “vulture” where the torpedoes located their target from the propeller noises of enemy ships ), encryption technology (with Erich Hüttenhain and Erich Fellgiebel on a voice encryption method of the legendary SZ 42 cipher ), anti radar submarine coating (codenamed “chimney sweep”) as well as radio control equipment and electronic calculators. The Vierling company still exists as a family run business in Ebermannstadt.

The remains of the Vierling after Allied bombing in 145
The remains of the Vierling research laboratories in Burg Feuerstein after Allied bombing in 1945

After the fall of Nazi Germany the Burg Feuerstein castle was sealed-off by the British troops. Vierling revealed his previously secret work which he had hidden in secret walled off chambers in the castle and collaborated openly with the new occupiers:

“Another major opportunity arose in the capture of the Feuerstein Laboratory on a small mountain near Ebermannstadt, which conducted research and preliminary development of experimental communications equipment. Its director Dr. Oskar Vierling, was picked up and interrogated.  He proved cooperative, reassembled most of his staff and put them back to work, allowing TICOM to exploit the target.”

Report from TICOM Team 1.

At this time Vierling met the British mathematician and the ‘Father of Computing’  Alan Turing (then working for TICOM ; Target Intelligence Committee), to discuss details of encryption and specifically the Enigma machine and Vierlings work on encrypted radio transmissions. Vierling then worked at Gehlen Organisation (an American run espionage organisation employing hundred of ex-Nazis ) on the design of bugging devices for the American occupation (echoing the career trajectory of Lev Termen) and from 1949 to 1955, having escaped the De-Nazification process through his collaboration with the occupying powers, became professor of physics at the Philosophical-Theological College in Bamberg, Germany. Vierling continued working at Vierling AG in Ebermannstadt and died in 1986.

Vierling research laboratories in 1060
Vierling research laboratories in 1960


Kock and Vierling in Berlin

Excerpt from Hans-Joachim Braun’s ‘Music Engineers. The Remarkable Career of Winston E. Kock, Electronic Organ Designer and NASA Chief of Electronics’

“In the spring of 1933, after finishing his studies in Cincinnati, Kock became exchange fellow at the Technical University of Berlin. He had heard of Karl Willy Wagner’s work and wanted to conduct doctoral research with him at the Heinrich Hertz Institute. Kock’s counterpart as an exchange student from Berlin to Cincinnati was Sigismund von Braun, Wernher von Braun’s eldest brother. In Berlin Kock wrote a Ph. D. thesis on oscillations in inductive glow discharge circuits and, with Oskar Vierling, another student of Wagner’s, designed an improved electronic organ on the formant principle. Oskar Vierling, Kock’s collaborator on the Kock-Vierling organ, had studied electrical engineering at an engineering school and in 1925 joined the Laboratory of the German Research Institute for Telegraphy headed by Karl Willy Wagner. In 1928 he followed Wagner as his assistant to the newly founded ‘Institute for Vibration Research’ conducting acoustic research and designing electrified pianos and electronic organs. Together with the Nobel Laureate Walter Nernst he in 1931 designed the Neo-Bechstein piano, an electrostatic piano and from 1928 to 1935 developed his Electrochord for the piano manufacturer Förster. The National Socialist Strength through Joy organization sponsored Vierling’s ‘Strength through Joy Organ’ which was played at the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936. This enlarged and improved version of the Kock-Vierling model created a sensation as did his electrically generated bell sounds which he presented at the National Socialist Party Rally in Nuremberg a year later.8 Fascination by technology, electricity and electronics,surprising effects, glorious sounds, this was food for the masses and much appreciated by the party propagandists. Vierling’s mentor Karl Willy Wagner must have watched his former assistant’s success with very mixed feelings, having himself been forced to resign from his directorate of the Heinrich Hertz Institute in 1936. There is an irony in the fact that Kock,who played a significant role in the US War effort during World War II, contributed, although unintentionally, to enhancing Nazi propaganda efforts.”


Mariahilfer Strasse 212, 1140 Vienna

Hans-Joachim Braun ‘Music Engineers. The Remarkable Career of Winston E. Kock, Electronic Organ Designer and NASA Chief of Electronics’

‘Tarnname Schornsteinfeger’ by Thadeusz, Frank ‘Was wurde im Geheimlabor der Nazis auf Burg Feuerstein erforscht? Der Erfinder Oskar Vierling soll dort akustische Leitsysteme für die Wehrmacht entwickelt haben.’ Der Spiegel 18.04.2011

Wolfgang Voigt: Oskar Vierling, ein Wegbereiter der Elektroakustik für den Musikinstrumentenbau, in: Das Musikinstrument vol. 37, Nr 1/2, 1988, 214-221 und Nr. 2/3, 172-176.

Final Report of TICOM Team 1. National Archives and Record Administration, College Park (NARA). RG 457, Entry 9037 (Records of the NSA), Box 168.

The ‘Hellertion’ and The ‘Heliophon’. Bruno Hellberger & Peter Lertes, Germany, 1929-1936

The Hellertion
The Hellertion

The Hellertion (1929)

The Hellertion, christened after the combination of the inventor’s names, was a monophonic vacuum tube instrument developed collaboratively by Peter Lertes, an electrical engineer in Leipzig and Bruno Helberger from Frankfurt, a well-known pianist of his time. Several variants of the instrument were constructed with the assistance of Schneider-Opel in Frankfurt, Germany the last of which was known as the Heliophon.
Bruno Hellberger at the Hellertion
Bruno Hellberger at the Hellertion attached to a grand piano
The Hellertion was the first electronic instruments to use a fingerboard/continuous controller instead of a keyboard manual and was much copied in other later instrument designs such as the Trautonium and the Sonar. The fingerboard was a flat metal resistance strip covered in leather which when pressed completed a circuit. Depending on where the strip is pressed, a different resistance in the circuit is created altering the voltage sent to the oscillator and thereby producing different pitches. The force of the pressure controlled the volume of the output signal. The fingerboard was marked to help the performer find the correct pitch on the strip and had a range of approximately five octaves.
The wire manual of the Hellertion with an added key reference guide. (image; Radio Wien. 1932)
(image; Radio Wien. 1932)
The original instrument had just one fingerboard strip which was gradually increased to four and then on the later models, six aligned in parallel horizontally at the height of a piano keyboard. The four and six strip models allowed four and six voice polyphony when the strip could be played simultaneously with fingers and thumbs. The Hellertion was occasionally used in concerts as a piano addition, the melody being played with one hand on the Hellertion and the accompaniment being played with the other hand on the piano. A version of the Hellertion was produced in 1931 microtonally tuned to 10 divisions of an octave.
Diagram showing the sliding control of the Hellertion.
Diagram showing the sliding control of an early model of the Hellertion.
Peter Lertes’ book on Electronic Music “Elektrische Musik. Eine gemeinverständliche Darstellung ihrer Grundlagen, des heutigen Standes der Technik und ihrer Zukunftsmöglichkeiten, etc” Theodor-Steinkopff-Verlag 1933

Patent documents of the Hellertion


The Helliophon (1936)

Bruno Helberger's 'Heliophon'
Bruno Helberger’s ‘Heliophon’
development of the Hellertion by Bruno Hellberger. The first version of the Heliophon was completed in Berlin, 1936 but destroyed during WW2. Hellberger continued the development after the war and built a second model in 1947 in Vienna, Austria and continued the development of the Heliophon until his death in Vienna in 1951 (subsequent development was taken over by Wolfgang Wehrmann). The sound of Heliophon was produced, as with the Hellertion, by heterodyning vacuum tube oscillators but with the Heliophon the sound was controlled by two 58 note pressure sensitive keyboard manuals instead of a series of fingerboard strips. Each keyboard had the ability to be split into three different pitches and timbres simultaneously, the output volume being controlled by foot pedals with a knee lever to add vibrato. Each keyboard had a Hellertion style fingerboard to add glissando and timbre variations. The Heliophon was used by Hellberger throughout the 1940s and ’50s for theatrical and musical productions, the instrument was said not only to be capable of producing realistic imitations of orchestral instruments but able to imitate human vocal sounds.
Helberger’s patent documents for the Heliophon
Bruno Helberger and the Hellertion as a Grand Piano attachment.
Bruno Helberger and the Hellertion as a Grand Piano attachment.


A survey of ‘modern’ electronic instruments was published by Peter Lertes in 1933: “Elektrische Musik:ein gemeinverständliche Darstellung ihrer Grundlagen, des heutigen Standes der Technik und ihre Zukunftsmöglickkeiten” (Dresden & Leipzig, 1933)J.Marx:”Heliophon, ein neues Musikinstrument”, Ömz,ii(1947),314

 “Das Hellertion, ein neues electrisches Musikinstrument,” Funkbastler, July 3, (1931).

“The Invisible Weapon : Telecommunications and International Politics, 1851 …”
By Daniel R. Headrick Professor of History Roosevelt University

‘Electronic and Experimental Music: Pioneers in Technology and Composition’
By Thomas B. Holmes, Thom Holmes

Peter Donhauser: “Elektrische Klangmaschinen”, Böhlau Verlag, 360 S., ISBN 978-3-205-77593-5

‘Radio Wien’ 1932 ‘Elektrische Musik’