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 ‘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 ‘Voder’ & ‘Vocoder’ Homer Dudley, USA,1940

Homer Dudley's Voder 1940
Homer Dudley’s Voder 1940

The Vocoder (Voice Operated reCorDER) and Voder (Voice Operation DEmonstratoR)) developed by the research physicist Homer Dudley, was invented as a result of research into compression techniques for telephone voice encryption at Bell Laboratories, New Jersey USA and was the first successful attempt at analysing and resynthesising the humans voice.

The machine consisted of an analyser and a synthesiser. the analyser detected energy levels of successive sound samples measured over the entire audio frequency spectrum via a series of narrow band filters. The results of which could be viewed graphically as functions of frequency against time. The synthesiser reversed the process by scanning the data from the analyser and supplying the results to a feedback network of analytical filters energised by a noise generator to produce audible sounds.
The fidelity of the machine was limited; the machine being intended as a research machine for voice over copper-wire phone transmissions. However, Werner Meyer-Eppler, then the director of Phonetics at Bonn University, recognised the relevance of the machines to electronic music after Dudley visited the University in 1948, and used the vocoder as a basis for his future writings which in turn became the inspiration for the German “Electronische Musik” movement.

The Voder was first unveiled in 1939 at the New York World Fair (where it was demonstrated at hourly intervals) and later in 1940 in San Francisco. There were twenty trained operators known as the ‘girls’ who handled the machine much like a musical instrument such as a piano or an organ, but they managed to successfully produce human speech during the demonstrations. In the New York Fair demonstration, which was repeated frequently, the announcer gave a simple running discussion of the circuit to which the girl operator replied through the Voder. This was done by manipulating fourteen keys with the fingers, a bar with the left wrist and a foot pedal with the right foot.

“At the 1939 World’s Fair a machine called a Voder was shown . A girl stroked its keys and it emitted recognsable speech. No human vocal cords entered into the procedure at any point; the keys simply combined some electronically produced vibrations and passed these on to a loud-speaker.”
(“As We May Think” by Vannevar Bush, 1945. )
Voder at the world fair
Voder at the world fair
Voder at the world fair
Voder at the world fair
Voder diagram
Voder diagram


Voder keyboard and wrist controls
Voder keyboard and wrist controls


The ‘Univox’ Les Hills. United Kingdom, 1940

Univox 1940
Univox 1940

Developed by the Jennings Organ Company,West Hill, Dartford (later  Jennings Musical Industries; creators of the Vox range of organs and amplifiers) in the UK, the Univox was a monophonic, portable, piano attachment instrument similar to the Clavioline. It’s sound came from a vacuum-tube sawtooth generator (as opposed to the square wave of the Clavioline) which in turn was modulated by a diode waveform shaper circuit. The pitch range was extended to three octaves (five in later models) using a frequency division technique which also allowed the playing of multiple octaves of the same note from one key. The instrument was controlled by a three octave F to F miniature wooden keyboard and came with it’s own 6 watt amplifier and 8″ speaker all built into a leather carrying case;

“The Clavioline keyboard was on the UK market before the Univox..  Clavioline originated in France and was imported for the British market by the UK/French company “Selmer” (based in Charing Cross road, London). Their main product were woodwind & brass instrument sales. They were not really into electronic products though the Clavioline was a good product. It was also expensive.

Tom Jennings saw the market potential and already had a good slice of the keyboard sales for accordions etc. Tom found a local electronic engineer, Les. Hills, who studied the Clavioline and designed another circuit different to the existing French patent.  Unfortunately the product was not at all reliable, with most units breaking down almost as soon as they got to the end customer. Some of this problem was due to instability in the earlier circuit design but mostly due to choice of suitable components and mechanical shortcomings.

Les had only been employed for the circuit design. The mechanics having been cobbled together by the accordion service men at the time. I was head hunted by Tom to sort out the reliability problems. This took a few months of circuit, component testing plus improvements to the mechanics. This was in 1951 period.

In about 1951/1952 the Univox took off in a big way due to its competitive price and Tom’s country wide marketing program.  The first version was the J6, single keyboard model, later followed by the J10 with two rows of Tone & effect tabs. All models were supplied with metal screw-on clips, to fasten it under the right hand side of a piano. Later we designed an adjustable chromed stand that enabled the user to do gigs in other locations with out having to screw on fixing brackets each time.  Most customers in those days were either Pub owners or pianists playing Pub gigs.

So, No the Clavioline was not the same as the Univox, only catered for the same market.”

Derek Underdown. Technical Director/Chief Engineer at JMI/Vox from  1951-1967

Univox 1940
Univox 1940

The Univox keyboard had a unique a double contact system under the key allowed basic control over the note shape – striking the key harder caused a thyratron impulse generator make a shorter decay, creating a staccato effect, striking the key softly gave a long decay of up to two seconds. A vibrato oscillator was also provided to modulate the output and also to retrigger the thyratron tube to create ‘mandolin’ type repeated notes. The Univox’s front panel consisted of fifteen switches to further control the timbre of the instrument, three vibrato controls, a thryratron modulation control and an overall knee operated volume control.



The ‘Ondioline’ Georges Jenny, France, 1940

George Jenny's 'Ondioline'
Georges Jenny’s ‘Ondioline’

By the late 1930’s with the advent of reliable vacuum tubes and octave divider techniques it became possible to create small, portable electronic instruments that could, despite their size and simplicity, deliver a complex and variable sound. The  Ondioline was part of this new family (which includes the Clavioline, Tuttivox, Univox and others) and was designed as an affordable, versatile piano-attachment that could extend a solo pianists tonal range and repertoire – as such, the Ondioline became hugely successful with pianists, dance bands, light orchestras and cabarets  throughout the 1940’s and 50’s.

The first version of the Ondioline was created by Georges Jenny in 1938 whilst undergoing treatment in a tuberculosis sanatorium. Jenny continued to re-design and build new versions of the instrument at his Paris company “Les Ondes Georges Jenny” (later known as “La Musique Electronique”) until his death in 1976. The instruments were individually built by Jenny himself or supplied in kit form, eventually over a thousand instruments were sold in the USA alone. In an attempt to keep production costs low (Ondiolines originally sold for a mere $400) poor quality components were often used, and after a few years, the instrument became unplayable if not maintained.
The Ondioline was, like many other instruments of the time, a monophonic vacuum-tube instrument, but rather than relying on the heterodyning principle the Ondioline used a single multi-vibrator oscillator which gave the instrument a tone much richer in harmonics. The Ondioline was played using a small eight octave (switch-able through six octaves and tune-able via an octave transposer) touch sensitive keyboard mounted on internal springs that allowed the player to bend the notes using sideways pressure. Via a series of fifteen filters switches It was possible to create complex waveforms and additionally the sound wave could be shaped with the use of a touch wire, effecting the attack with a vertical finger movement or adding glissando or modulation by horizontal movement; this enabled the Ondioline to reproduce a wide range of sounds from soft strings to drum-like percussion. The overall volume of the machine was controlled by a knee lever allowing the player control the overall envelope of the instruments output.
The Ondioline was marketed in Germany as the “Pianoline” and in The Netherlands as the “Orcheline” and made a notable appearance during the Brussels World Fair (1958) when it was played on top of the Atomium building. A microtonal version of the instrument was built for the composer Jean-Etienne Marie during the sixties consisting of a four octave keyboard which could be tuned to a variety of microtonal systems.

Videos of the Ondioline


‘Ondioline’ Book. Georges Jenny  1957


G.Jenny: “L’initiation à la lutherie électronique” , Toute La Radio (1955) Jean Jacques Perrey.

The ‘Solovox’, Hammond Organ Co, USA, 1940

Hammond Solovox
Hammond Solovox

The Solovox was designed by engineers Alan Young, John Hanert, Laurens Hammond (speaker cabinet) and George Stephens of the Hammond Organ Co and manufactured in the United States between 1940 and 1948. The Hammond Solovox was a monophonic ‘keyboard attachment’ instrument intended to accompany the piano with organ type lead voices – similar to the Clavioline and Tuttivox. The three octave short keyed keyboard was stored on a sliding mounting under the piano keyboard with a knee operated volume control. The instrument was connected to an electronic sound generation box, amplifier and speaker housing by three thick cables and derived it’s sound from a single LC oscillator with  a one octave frequency range – the signal from which was then passed through a series of 5 frequency dividers to create a further two octaves.

Hammond Solovox
Hammond Solovox
The Solovox (J+K models) used two vibrating metal reeds modulate the oscillator frequency to create a vibrato effect, in later models this was replaced by a second oscillator acting as a vibrato oscillator.On the front of the instrument below the keyboard there were a series of large thumb operated buttons for oscillator range (switchable +/- 3 octaves: ‘soprano’, ‘contralto’,’tenor’ , ‘bass’), vibrato, attack time, ‘deep tone’, ‘full tone’, ‘1st voice’, 2nd voice’, ‘brilliant’ and a switch for selecting woodwind, string sound or mute. The Solovox was able to create a range of string, woodwind and organ type sounds and was widely used in light music of its time.

Solovox Production Models

  • Model J (1940–1946)
  • Model K (1946–1948)
  • Model L (1948–1950)

Solovox patent files:



The ‘Electronic Sackbut’ and the ‘Sonde’. Hugh Le Caine. Canada, 1945

“My primary concern was making an electronic instrument that was musically expressive.”
“My primary concern was making an electronic instrument that was musically expressive.”

Hugh Le Caine the Canadian composer, physicist and inventor was the producer of innovative instruments and technologies including many custom built electronic instruments and pioneering work with multi-track tape recorders, he was also at the forefront of the development of electronic music studios and an early advocate of “user-friendly” approaches to new technologies. Unlike better-known contemporaries such as Robert Moog, LeCaine never saw his major inventions developed directly into complete commercial products, most were one off devices which although were never commercial successes had great influence on the world of electronic music. Among his many creations were the “Electronic Sackbut” and the “Sonde”.


The Sonde was developed by Hugh LeCaine at the University of Toronto in 1945. The instrument was a touch sensitive keyboard voltage-controlled synthesizer with pitch, waveform, and formant controllers. A one-off, custom built for the University of Toronto, Ottowa, The Sonde had 30 fixed frequency oscillators arranged in a 10 X 20 matrix used to create 200 sine waves whose frequencies were spaced at 5hz intervals: from 5-1khz. Each frequency was routed to a key of a touch sensitive polyphonic keyboard.

Josef Tal at the electronic music studio Jerusalem
Josef Tal at the electronic music studio Jerusalem

Hugh Le Caine (May 27, 1914 – July 3, 1977)

Le Caine was brought up in Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay) in northwestern Ontario. After completing his Master of Science degree from Queen’s University in 1939, Le Caine was awarded a National Research Council of Canada (NRC) fellowship to continue his work on atomic physics measuring devices at Queen’s. He worked with the NRC in Ottawa from 1940 to 1974. During World War II, he assisted in the development of the first radar systems.

On an NRC grant he studied nuclear physics from 1948 to 1952 in England. At home he pursued a lifelong interest in electronic music and sound generation. In 1937, Le Caine designed an electronic free reed organ, and in the mid-1940s, he built the Electronic Sackbut, now recognised to be one of the first synthesizers. After the success of public demonstrations of his instruments, he was permitted to move his musical activities to the NRC and to work on them full-time in 1954.

Over the next twenty years, he built over twenty-two different new instruments. Between 1955 and his retirement from the NRC in 1973, Le Caine produced at least fifteen electro acoustical compositions and created a score of new devices and also presented his ideas and inventions to learned bodies and the general public. But while Le Caine did get excellent responses from both the learned bodies and the public, he did not get a satisfactory response from industry. Fortunately, a few people did eventually come into Le Caine’s life to make him feel his efforts were of some value. One of these people was Israeli composer Josef Tal. In the summer of 1958, Tal had travelled to Ottawa under a Unesco grant to visit major electronic music studios. Tal grew very excited about the instruments that Le Caine had built, but he did not realize what this meant to Le Caine until the next day while Le Caine, Tal, and several technicians were having lunch in a small restaurant. Tal noticed that, not only had Le Caine been rather silent on this day, but on close inspection at the table, Le Caine had tears running down his cheeks and falling silently into his soup. When an opportunity arose, Tal delicately asked one of the technicians about this and was told that Le Caine had felt no composer in Canada had a use for his instruments and that Tal was the first composer who had shown any interest in his work.

In 1962 Le Caine arrived in Jerusalem to install his Creative Tape Recorder in the Centre for Electronic Music in Israel, established by Josef Tal.  Le Caine also collaborated in the development of pioneering electronic music studios at the University of Toronto in 1959 and at McGill University in 1964.



“The Sackbut Blues : Hugh Le Caine, pioneer in electronic music” Young, Gayle, National Museum of Science and Technology, Canada 1989 . ISBN/ISSN :0660120062

The ‘Tuttivox’ or ‘Bode Clavioline’. Harald Bode, Germany,1946

Tuttivox Orchestra
Tuttivox Orchestra – with a bode Organ in the background
The Tuttivox was essentially a polyphonic German licensed version of Raymond Martin’s Clavioline, manufactured by the Danish company  Jörgensen Electronics, in Düsseldorf, Germany . This updated Clavioline was created by the pioneering German engineer, Harald Bode. The Tuttivox was a small portable one keyboard, amplifier and speaker combination buitl into a wooden carrying case. the keyboard was usually played attached to a piano and intended for use with commercial dance and popular music bands of the day. the instrument created it’s sound using fourtyE- series valves;  thirty six as audio oscillators with filtering provided by coils and capacitors. There are 3 foot positions available and 36 filter settings, which could be combined to enable a variety of tone colors. the Tuttivox remained in production until the 1960s.
Bode, in collaboration with French instrument maker René Seybold, later developed an extended version of the Clavioline with an extra two octaves on the keyboard called the ‘Concert Clavioline’ and a combination of the Concert Clavioline and the Tuttivox was marketed as the ‘Combichord’ “The smallest church organ in the world”.

Sounds of the Tuttivox/Bode Clavioline

(0:32). An ensemble of claviolines performing dance music with a range of orchestral sounds. From the Jörgensen (Düsseldorf) promotional tape, “6 Claviolines”.

Biographical notes

Harald Bode; October 19, 1909 Hamburg Germany – January 15, 1987 New York USA.
Harald Bode; October 19, 1909 Hamburg Germany – January 15, 1987 New York USA.

Bode Studied  mathematics, physics and natural philosophy at Hamburg University, graduating in 1934. In 1937, with funding support provided by the composer and band-leader, Christian Warnke, Bode produced his first instrument the ‘Warbo-Formant Orgel’ (‘Warbo’ being a combination of the names Warnke and Bode). Bode moved to Berlin in 1938 to complete a postgraduate course at the Heinrich Hertz Institute where he collaborated with Oskar Vierling and Fekko von Ompteda. During this period Bode developed the ‘Melodium’ ;  a unique monophonic touch-sensitive, multi-timbral instrument used extensively in film scores of the period.

When WWII started in 1939 Bode worked on military submarine sound and wireless communication projects “…We had the only choice in Germany, to go to military service or do work for the government. I praise myself lucky, that I was able to go to the electronic industry” and moved to the  small village Neubeuern in southern Germany, where in 1947 Bode built the first European post-war electronic instrument, the ‘Melochord’. In 1949 Bode joined the AWB company where he created the  ‘Polychord’ a simpler, polyphonic version of the ‘Melochord’ which was followed by the ‘Polychord III’ in 1951 and the  ‘Bode Organ’, a commercial organ which became the prototype for the famous Estey Electronic Organ. After leaving AWB, Bode’s designs included the ‘Tuttivox’, a miniature electronic organ and collaborated on a version of Georges Jenny’s ‘Clavioline’, both big sellers throughout Europe.

In 1954 Bode moved to the USA, settling in Brattleboro, Vermont where he lead the development team (and later, Vice President)  at the Estey Organ Corporation. In 1958, while still working at Estey, Bode set up the Bode Electronics Company where in March 1960 he created another unique instrument; a modular synthesiser “A New Tool for the Exploration of Unknown Electronic Music Instrument Performances” known as the  ‘Audio System Synthesiser’ which Robert Moog used as the basis for his line of new Moog synthesisers.

After the Estey Organ Company foundered in 1960, Bode joined the Wurlitzer Organ Co and moved to Buffalo, New York where he was one of the first engineers to recognise the significance of transistor based technology in electronic music.  Bode’s concepts of modular and miniature self-contained transistor based machines was taken up and developed in the early 1960’s by Robert Moog and Donald Buchla amongst others. 1962 saw the beginning of a long collaboration between Bode and the composer Vladimir Ussachevski at the  Columbia Princeton Center for Electronic Music which lead to the development of innovative studio equipment designs such as the  ‘Bode Ring Modulator’ and ‘Bode Frequency Shifter’. The commercial versions of these inventions were produced  under the Bode Sound Co and under license Moog Synthesisers.

Harald Bode retired in 1974 but continued to pursue his own research. In 1977 he created the ‘Bode Vocoder’ (licensed as the ‘Moog Vocoder’). In 1981 he developed his last instrument, the ‘Bode Barberpole Phaser’.


Tuttivox Homepage:

‘Hanert Electric Orchestra’ John M. Hanert, USA, 1945

 A 1942 photograph of the Electric Automatic Orchestra at the Hammond Sound Studio, Chicago with john Hanert at the controls. Showing (L) the ‘Time Sequence’ table and scanning carriage and (R) a bank of some of the vacuum tube tone generators. Photograph; Private collection of Douglas Jackson 2017.
A 1942 photograph of the Electric Automatic Orchestra at the Hammond Sound Studio, Chicago with john Hanert at the controls. Showing (L) the ‘Time Sequence’ table and scanning carriage and (R) a bank of some of the vacuum tube tone generators. Photograph; Private collection of Douglas Jackson 2017.

Once the phonograph had supplanted radio and the pianola as the predominant format for music sales in the 1930s, attention turned to refining and accelerating the production and manufacture of records. 1Dolan, Brian. Inventing Entertainment: The Player Piano and the Origins of an American Music Industry. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc 2009. Hammond Organ Inc’s chief Designer John M. Hanert – who was responsible for the design of the hugely successful tonewheel ‘Hammond Organ’ series as well as the vacuum tube based  ‘Solovox’ and ‘Novachord’ instruments – was contemplating a self-contained device that could be used as a composition system, sound synthesiser and gramophone production tool:

“My invention relates generally to apparatus for production as sound or as a signal for recording purposes, without the employment of musicians in anyway whatsoever.” 2 John M Hanert US Patent 2,541,051 Apparatus for automatic production of music,Feb. 13, 1951.

The result of Hanert’s experiment was the Electric Automatic Orchestra; a large, room sized machine installed at the Hammond Instrument Inc. sound studios at 2915 North Western Ave Chicago Illinois. The basic function of the machine were divided into three parts; a composition ‘Time Sequence’ table where the composer could write musical notation into the machine, a synthesis module which created sounds from the notation, and an output – in this case a lacquer disc-lathe to cut master recordings.

Diagram illustrating the notation card template with pitch on the X axis and duration/position on the Y axis. The scanning head travelled along the Y axis. (US Patent 2,541,051A 1945)
Diagram illustrating the notation card template with pitch on the X axis and duration/position on the Y axis. The scanning head travelled along the Y axis. (US Patent 2,541,051A 1945)

The ‘Time Sequence’ section was an eighteen meter table – extendable to the amount of room-space available – covered with overlapping ‘record notation’ cards of approximately 28 X 30 cm. These cards could be drawn on with conductive graphite or aquadag marks representing musical information. Above the table travelled a wheeled electric-motor driven ‘scanning carriage’ equipped with multiple phosphor-bronze contact brushes. When the brushes made contact with the conductive graphite marks on the cards below, an electronic signal was generated that triggered the relevant musical reaction in the sound generating part of the instrument. (Hanert also provided an alternate photoelectric set of scanning heads which could replace the contact brushes.)

Hanert’s design enabled the composer to a create ‘perfect’ compositions by writing, erasing and re-writing the music on the ‘Time Sequence’ table – which could be done on or off-site or as required. Once this perfect composition had been achieved, the machine could make a final run and cut a master recording to disc to be used for mass production.3 Rhea, Tom. ‘The Hanert Synthesizer’ Electronic Perspectives, Contemporary Keyboard September 1979 p78.

The record notation cards were pre-printed with a grid like template and could be marked to represent individual note pitch – measured in quarter tones, envelope, timbre, vibrato, position in the bar and volume as well as overall instrument volume. The final tempo of the piece could be controlled by simply varying the speed of the rail driven scanning carriage as it travelled along the table or paused, reversed or ‘looped’ by control marks on the cards. The length of the table defined the length of the piece, which on this model, consisted of 39 cards giving a maximum playing length of 96 bars.4T.L.Rhea:”The Evolution of Electronic Musical Instruments in the United States” (diss., George Peabody College, Nashville, Tenn, 1972)

1942 Photograph of the electronic scanning heads of the Hanert Electrical Orchestra. Photo; Private collection of Douglas Jackson 2017.
1942 Photograph of the electronic scanning heads of the Hanert Electrical Orchestra. Photo; Private collection of Douglas Jackson 2017.
1942 Photograph of the electronic scanning heads of the Hanert Electrical Orchestra. Photo; Private collection Thom Rhea

The tones themselves were created by six separate banks of polyphonic vacuum tube generators similar in design to Hanert’s Novachord (USA, 1940). The instrument was also able to create percussive xylophone and drum sounds created by random (white noise) generators. Combinations of sounds could be defined on the notation cards allowing the composer to immediately switch instrument sounds as the piece progressed.

1942 Photograph of the tone generators of the Hanert Electrical Orchestra. Photo; Private collection of Douglas Jackson 2017.
1942 Photograph of the tone generators of the Hanert Electrical Orchestra. Photo; Private collection of Douglas Jackson 2017.
1942 Photograph of the tone generators of the Hanert Electrical Orchestra. Photo; Private collection of Douglas Jackson 2017.
1942 Photograph of the tone generators of the Hanert Electrical Orchestra. Photo; Private collection of Douglas Jackson 2017.

Hanert’s instrument was unique in that for the first time a composer/producer could work in a nonlinear fashion: the composition cards could be erased or deleted simply by rubbing out the graphite mark or removing the card. Cards could be arranged in any order, enabling the composer to mix, transpose and reverse music themes and sounds, instrumentation could be changed at any point or applied to any written part of the composition. And, Hanert’s machine allowed the composer/producer the ability to monitor the results of the editing almost immediately. Hanert compared this facility to the practice of a visual artist:

The difficulties inherent in the orchestral production of a composition may be compared to those which would confront an artist who found it necessary in painting a picture to destroy the complete or partially complete picture he was painting every time he became dissatisfied with any slight detail of the picture. The painter is not subject to such stringent regulation but instead merely repaints such minor portion of the whole picture which does not represent the subject being painted sufficiently accurately to meet his artistic approval…In the method and apparatus of this invention the composer, arranger, or conductor has at his command means for controlling the quality of each note, its intensity, intensity envelope, the degree of accent, duration, and tempo without necessarily affecting any other note or tone of the composition.5US Patent 2,541,051A 1945,4.

Diagram from Hanert’s patent describing the sequence of tone filters and processors.

Despite its innovative qualities, the Electric Automatic Orchestra was never used commercially as Hanert had intended. In fact it seems that it was only ever used by Hanert himself and was not taken seriously by the Hammond company – who tended to humour Hanert’s  ‘technical eccentricities’  in order to maintain his interest in more mundane but commercial designs. In addition to Hammond’s lukewarm support, the commercial failure of the project was also down to a combination of the synthetic nature of its sound, the inability of composers of the day to grasp the new musical paradigm the instrument offered plus the ever increasing capability and quality of recording technology– microphones, mixing desks, magnetic pick-ups, tape recorders – made the need for such a solution less pressing. The Electric Automatic Orchestra was sidelined and eventually mothballed by the Hammond company sometime during the 1950s.

Shortly after the disappearance of Hanert’s machine, David Sarnoff, chairman of RCA corporation, commissioned a self-contained commercial music production machine that could mathematically analyse and re-synthesise pop music.

“Composers don’t need to be able to play an instrument because our synthesizer will allow them to create any kind of music they want…Musicians aren’t required if you have our synthesizer.”6 David Sarnoff, chairman of RCA during the 1950s. Excerpt From: Vail, Mark. The Synthesizer, Oxford University Press, 2014, p271.

What became known of as the RCA Synthesiser (the first time ‘Synthesiser’ was used in a musical context) was installed at the Columbia–Princeton Electronic Music Center and directly referenced Hanert’s work (8). The machine used the same, though perhaps less flexible  structure; a three stage process of music production – in this case a paper punch roll for composition, multiple banks of vacuum tubes for sound synthesis, and the same lacquer disc lathe for musical output.

Biography: John Marshall Hanert

John Marshall Hanert was born into a German-American family on 18th March 1909 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1932 Hanert was awarded a B.S. in Engineering and a BSE in Physics at The University of Michigan. An accomplished organist, Hanert had a special interest in electronic musical instruments and after graduation began working with Richard Ranger – inventor of the Rangertone Organ amongst other electronic musical devices – in New York on a Photo-Electrical musical instrument. In 1934 Hanert was appointed as the  Head of Research at the Hammond Organ Inc in Chicago where he spent the rest of his life as the chief designer of all of Hammond’s instruments; Hanert became known as the musically untrained Laurens Hammond’s ‘Ears’.Hanert was the co-inventor on the first Hammond tone-wheel organ and inventor of  the Solovox (1938) and Novachord (1939–42) one of the world’s first commercial synthesisers as well as many patents for vibrato and reverberation audio processors. Hanert continued working at the company After Laurens Hammond’s retirement in 1958 until he died on 23rd June 1962 at the age of 53 in a car accident near New Munster Wisconsin.7‘The Michigan Alumnus’ vol LXIX 1962-1963 page 63. Private collection of Douglas Jackson 2017.


  • 1
    Dolan, Brian. Inventing Entertainment: The Player Piano and the Origins of an American Music Industry. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc 2009.
  • 2
    John M Hanert US Patent 2,541,051 Apparatus for automatic production of music,Feb. 13, 1951.
  • 3
    Rhea, Tom. ‘The Hanert Synthesizer’ Electronic Perspectives, Contemporary Keyboard September 1979 p78.
  • 4
    T.L.Rhea:”The Evolution of Electronic Musical Instruments in the United States” (diss., George Peabody College, Nashville, Tenn, 1972)
  • 5
    US Patent 2,541,051A 1945,4.
  • 6
    David Sarnoff, chairman of RCA during the 1950s. Excerpt From: Vail, Mark. The Synthesizer, Oxford University Press, 2014, p271.
  • 7
    ‘The Michigan Alumnus’ vol LXIX 1962-1963 page 63. Private collection of Douglas Jackson 2017.


The ‘Clavioline’ M. Constant Martin, France, 1947

The selmer Clavioline
The Selmer Concert Clavioline

The Clavioline was designed to be a light portable electronic keyboard aimed at pop musicians of the time and became one of the most popular electronic instruments during the fifties. The Clavioline was a monophonic, portable, battery powered keyboard instrument. The first version of the instrument appeared in 1947 and was originally designed by M. Constant. Martin in 1947 at his factory in Versailles, France. The Clavioline consisted of two units: the keyboard with the controllable sound unit and a carrying case box fitted with an with amplifier and speaker. By using an octave transposer switch the single oscillator could be set within a range of five octaves (six in the Bode version). The keyboard unit had 18 switches (22 in the Selmer version) for controlling timbre ( via a high pass filter and a low pass filter ), octave range and attack plus two controls for vibrato speed and intensity. The overall volume was controlled by a knee lever. Martin produced a duophonic model of the Clavioline in 1949 shaped like a small grand piano and featuring a 2 note polyphonic system, the duophonic model never went into production.

The selmer Clavioline
The Selmer Clavioline with stand, amplifier and loudspeaker cabinet

The Clavioline made brass and string sounds which were considered very natural at the time and was widely used throughout 1950’s and 60’s by pop musicians such as the Beatles, Joe Meek’s ‘the Tornadoes’ (on’Telstar’)and by experimental the jazz musician Sun Ra.

The Clavioline was licensed to various to various global manufacturers such as Selmer (UK) and Gibson (USA). An expanded concert version was produced in 1953 by René Seybold and Harald Bode, marketed by the Jörgensen Electronic Company of Düsseldorf, Germany. In the 1940’s Claviolines were also built into large dance-hall organs by the Belgian company Decap and Mortimer/Van Der Bosch.


M.C.Martin: ‘L’apport de l’électronique à l’expression musicale’, Science et vie, ixxviii(1950),161
‘The Electronic Musical Instrument Manual’ A.Douglas. (London/5/1968)152