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.


Sources:

‘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 ‘Rangertone Organ’. Richard H.Ranger, USA, 1932

Richard Ranger at the Rangertone Organ
Richard Ranger at the Rangertone Organ

The Rangertone Organ was a large electronic tone-wheel based organ developed by the electronics engineer and pioneer of audio recording Richard Ranger in the 1930’s. The instrument was marketed by Ranger from his own company ‘Rangertone Incorporated’ on Verona Ave. in Newark, NJ. Very few of the instruments were sold, one of which was installed at the Recital hall of Skinner Hall of Music, Vassar College. After the failure to sell the instrument Ranger went on to develop a series of high fidelity phonograph devices that never went into production. During WW2 Ranger spent time investigating German electronic equipment for the US Army and it was here that he picked up and removed for his own use the German AEG Magnetophone tape recorder. Ranger returned to the U.S. and in 1947 announced his new Rangertone Tape recorder, based on the Magnetophone, which finally gave the Rangertone Inc the financial success it needed until squeezed out of the domestic market by larger companies such as Ampex.

magnetophone
AEG Magnetophone. The first tape recorder, Germany 1944
Richard Ranger with the  wireless facsimile system
Richard Ranger with the wireless facsimile system. in 1924, Richard Ranger invented the wireless photoradiogram, or transoceanic radio facsimile, the forerunner of today’s fax machines. A photograph of President Calvin Coolidge sent from New York to London in November 1924 became the first photo picture reproduced by transoceanic radio facsimile.
The Rangertone Organ was one of the early tone wheel organs, similar to the Hammond Organ and much earlier Telharmonium (1906). Uniquely, the Rangertone Organ had its pitch stability controlled by tuning forks, therefore it was possible to change the temperament by changing the tuning of the forks. Timbre was controlled by push-buttons to the right of the keyboard, and/or by switching between six different amplifier/speaker combinations, which had different tremolo and tonal qualities.The original version was a huge machine, with more than 150 valves. A portable single-keyboard model was built for concert performance.
Ranger made the first public demonstration of his huge  ‘pipeless organ’ at Newark, New Jersey in 1931.
Press telegram announcing Ranger's new instrument
Press telegram announcing Ranger’s new instrument in 1931
Pitch controls of the Rangertone Organ
Pitch controls of the Rangertone Organ

“Ranger’s apparatus consisted essentially of twelve separate sets of motor-driven alternators precisely maintained at given rotational speeds, by tuning-fork control apparatus. One of these sets of alternators, as shown in Fig. 5, generated all the required C’s; another all the C sharps; another the D’s, and so forth. From these alternators he obtained all the desired fundamentals and their true harmonic frequencies for the tempered scale. Timbre control switches selected the partials and their amplitudes for any desired tone quality. Amplifiers were, of course, used with reproducers to translate the feeble audio currents into sound.

Ranger’s improvements over the basic work of Cahill were made possible by the advent of the vacuum tube. For example, he provides means for automatic selection of different amplifiers, for different simultaneously produced tones, to prevent cross modulation in a single amplifier; means for avoiding keying transients, for accentuating high or low frequencies, for restricting tremolo to specific components of a complex tone, and at different tremolo rates, means to provide glissando effects, for regulating the temperament, for providing damped wave trains in simulation of percussive tones, and numerous other details.”

Proceedings of the institute of Radio Engineers November 1936 Volume 24

Richard Howland Ranger 1899, Indianapolis, Indiana, d 1961
Richard Howland Ranger 1899, Indianapolis, Indiana, d 1961

Sources

Biographicall details by: Dr. David L. Morton, Jr. Research Historian IEEE Center for the History of Electrical Engineering
Proceedings of the institute of Radio Engineers November 1936 Volume 24
ELECTRONIC MUSIC AND INSTRUMENTS. By Benjamin F. Miessner. (Miessner Inventions, Inc., Millburn, New Jersey)

the ‘Syntronic Organ’& ‘Photona’. Ivan Eremeef. USA, 1935

The Photona at WCAU
The Photona at WCAU

Syntronic Organ

Syntronic Organ was an electro-optical tone generator based instrument engineered by Ivan Eremeef and his supporter and consultant, the world-renowned conductor Leopold Stokowski (who also premiered many of Edgard Varese’s works in the 1920s). The Syntronic Organ was a dual keyboard organ whose sound was optically generated using rotating tone-wheels and was said to be able to produce “one-hour of continuous variation”.

The WCAU Photona

Ivan Eremeef later created the “Photona” electro-optical tone generator instrument, developed with the  John Leitch at the engineering department of  WCAU broadcasting station in Philadelphia, USA. The Photona had twelve rotating optical discs illuminated by nine hundred six volt lamps. The instrument was played with two six octave manual keyboards and two foot pedals for volume and tremolo.

Front view of the Photona showing the 12 optical discs.
Front view of the Photona showing the 12 optical discs.
Photo-cell behind a revolving disc.
Photo-cell behind a revolving disc.
The WCAU Photona at the Smithsonian Institution
The WCAU Photona at the Smithsonian Institution
The driving pulleys for the tone discs and transformers used for lighting and nine hundred six volt lamps
The driving pulleys for the tone discs and transformers used for lighting and nine hundred six volt lamps
Rear view of the "WCAU Photona", several drive pulleys for tone discs and tremolo mechanism. The tremolo worked on a rocker arm which varies the pitch of the note.
Rear view of the “WCAU Photona”, several drive pulleys for tone discs and tremolo mechanism. The tremolo worked on a rocker arm which varies the pitch of the note.

Eremeef’s patents for a photo-electrical instrument using film strips 1935-6


Sources

Rollin Smith. ‘Stokowski and the Organ’

Nicholas Collins, Margaret Schedel, Scott Wilson. Electronic Music. Cambridge press 2013

Smithsonian Institution Science Services.

“WCAU’s Photona organ,” Electronics, vol. 8, p. 123; April, (1935).

The Computer Music Tutorial. Curtis Roads MIT 1961

The ‘Radio Organ of a Trillion Tones’ (1931), The ‘Polytone Organ’ (1934) . Arnold Lesti, Leo Tiedemann & Fredrick Minturn Sammis. USA, 1934

 

The Trillion Tone Organ
Lesti and Tiedemann’s  Trillion Tone Organ of 1931

Radio Organ of a Trillion Tones (1931)

The “Radio Organ of a Trillion Tones” was created and developed by Arnold Lesti and F. Sammis in the USA during 1931. The Radio Organ used a similar photo-electrical technique as the Celluphone, Superpiano and other variants. However the The Radio Organ generated a much more complex sound by projecting the light beam through two sets of glass disks – a ‘Pitch disk’ generating a pitched fundamental plus it’s ascending harmonics and a Timbre disk modifying the tone using a drawn representation of the sound wave of a real instrument (horn ,violin, clarinet, oboe and a human voice).  The principle was improved in the next version called the “Polytone”.
The "Radio Organ of a Trillion Tones" (1931)
The “Radio Organ of a Trillion Tones” (1931)
Diagram showing the tone and pitch disks
Diagram showing the tone and pitch disks

The Polytone Organ (1934)

A. Lesti and F. Sammis’s development of the Radio Organ of a Trillion Tones was christened the ‘The Polytone Organ’, this instrument was a three keyboard manual organ using the same sound production system as the ‘Radio Organ’ – rotating photo-electrical tone-wheel sound generation. The instrument was completed in 1934 and was one of the first multi-timbral instruments.
polytone organ. Electronics USA Feb 1934 p39

Sources:

The ‘Hammond Organ’. Laurens Hammond, USA, 1935

The original Hammond Organ was Designed and built by the ex-watchmaker Laurens Hammond and  John M Hanert in April 1935. Hammond set up his ‘Hammond Organ Company’ in Evanston, Illinois to produce electronic organs for the ‘leisure market’ and in doing so created one of the most popular and enduring electronic instruments ever built.
Hammond’s machine was designed using technology that relates directly to Cahill’s ‘Telharmonium’ of 1900, but, on a much smaller scale. The Hammond organ generated sounds in the same way as the Telharmonium, the tone wheel – The tone generator assembly consisted of an AC synchronous motor connected to a gear train which drove a series of tone wheels, each of which rotated adjacent to a magnet and coil assembly. The number of bumps on each wheel in combination with the rotational speed determined the pitch produced by a particular tone wheel assembly. The pitches approximate even-tempered tuning.
This method of creating tones was maintained  until the mid 1960’s when transistors replaced tone wheels
The Hammond had a unique drawbar system of additive timbre synthesis (again a development of the Telharmonium) and stable intonation – a perennial problem with electronic instruments of the time. A note on the organ consisted of the fundamental and a number of harmonics, or multiples of that frequency. In the Hammond organ, the fundamental and up to eight harmonics were available and were controlled by means of drawbars and preset keys or buttons.A Hammond console organ included two 61-key manuals; the lower, or Great, and upper, or Swell, and a pedal board consisting of 25 keys. The concert models had a 32-key pedalboard. Hammond also patented an electromechanical reverb device using the helical torsion of a coiled spring, widely copied in later electronic instruments.
As well as being a successful home entertainment instrument, The Hammond Organ became popular with Jazz, Blues and Rock musicians up until the late 1970’s and was also used by ‘serious’ musicians such as Karlheinz Stockhausen in “Mikrophonie II”

Hammond patent documents

The ‘Novachord’ Laurens Hammond, John Hanert & C.N.Williams. USA, 1939

The Hammond Novachord
The Hammond Novachord. Image :Dan Wilson, Hideaway Studio (www.hideawaystudio.co.uk)

The Hammond Novachord was manufactured by the Hammond Organ Co in the USA from 1939 to 1942, designed by Laurens Hammond, John Hanert and C.N.Williams. A total of 1096 models were built.The Novachord was a polyphonic electronic organ and was Hammonds first electronic tube based instrument – a departure from his usual tone-wheel designs. The Novachord was a much more complex instrument than the Solovox Hammond’s other electronic tube-based instrument. The Novachord had 169 vacuum tubes to control and generate sound and was played on a seventy two note keyboard with a simple pressure sensitive system that allowed control over the attack and timbre of the note. The sound was produced by a series of 12 oscillators that gave a six octave range using a frequency division technique; the Novachord was one of the first electronic instruments to use this technique which was later became standard in electronic keyboard instruments.

Novachord fron panel
Novachord fron panel

The front panel of the instrument had a series of 14 switch-able rotary knobs to set the timbre, volume, ‘resonance’,bass/treble, vibrato (six modulation oscillators were used) and ‘brightness’ of the sound. A set of 3 foot operated pedals controlled sustain,and volume the third pedal allowing control of the sustain by either foot. The final signal was passed to a pre-amplifier and then to a set of internal speakers. The Novachord was able to produce a range of sounds imitating orchestral instruments such as the piano, harpsichord, stringed and woodwind instruments as well as a range of it’s own new sounds. In May 1939 ‘The Novachord Orchestra’ of Ferde Grofé performed daily at the Ford stand at the New York World Fair with four Novachords and a Hammond Organ and in Adrian Cracraft’s ‘All Electronic Orchestra’, the Novachord also featured in several film scores (Hans Eisler’s “Kammersinfonie” 1940) but seems to have fallen from favour due to the instability of it’s multiple tube oscillators and playing technique. The Novachord was discontinued in 1942. A Hammond employee comments:

“The Novachord made beautiful music if played well, but it was not well adapted either to either an organists style or a pianists style. Thus it required development of a specific style, which not many musicians were prepared to do. it also had technical problems, requiring frequency adjustments to keep it operating chiefly because the frequency dividers and electronic components before the war were not nearly as good as those available in later years. The hammond Organ Company could have revived it after the war, and could have made it better in light of available technology at the time, but sales had been disappointing ad so it was not considered a good commercial product”
The Hammond Novachord from a 1940s promotional brochure. Image :Dan Wilson, Hideaway Studio (www.hideawaystudio.co.uk)
The Novachord in 'Popular Mechanics' magazine USA 1939
Laurens Hammond and the Novachord in ‘Popular Mechanics’ magazine USA 1939
The Novachord in 'Popular Mechanics' magazine USA 1939
The Novachord in ‘Popular Mechanics’ magazine USA 1939
Hammond Novachord in “New Horizons” 1940
A restored Novachord
Novachord Orchestra: Introduction of The Hammond Novachord at the New York World’s Fair 1939 – 1940.

Sources:

F.D.Merril jr: “The Novachord”, Electronics,xii/11 (1939),16

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-Worlds-Fair-Pamphlet
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

Sources:

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:

Manuals


Sources:

‘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.


References:

  • 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.

 

‘Dr Kent’s Electronic Music Box’, Dr Earle Kent, USA, 1951

Dr Earle Kent's Music Box
Earle Kent and his ‘Music Box’ circa 1951

The Electronic Music Box was a synthesis and composition device designed and built as a personal project by Dr Earle.L.Kent while employed at the C.G.Conn Ltd Company, USA, to design electric organ circuits.1Margaret Downie Banks, Dynamic Research: Earle L. Kent and Conn’s Research Department, National Music Museum,The University of South Dakota. The Music Box was an analogue ‘beat frequency’ vacuum tube based synthesiser controlled by a punched paper strip device as used previously in the 1930’s by instruments such as Coupleaux’s Givelet and later, the RCA mkII and Siemens Synthesiser amongst others. The punch paper strip was a system similar to a ‘pianola’ paper reader and allowed the composer to produce musical sequences that were beyond the manual dexterity of the performer:

“The goals established for the music Box involved wider flexibility of performance than is possible in any conventional musical instrument. It was felt that it should not be confined to the usual limitations of manual keying. It should be capable of grater speed and wider combinations than are possible by manual or pedal dexterity, and it should not be limited to the equally tempered scales as are most keyed instruments. It was recognised that virtually any speed or combination could be obtained by keying with a perforated paper roll with the loss of some of the vital control usually exercised by a musician while making music and also with the loss of its conventional acceptance as a musical instrument. However, it was felt that a musician usually “records” his manual manipulation rather precisely in his brain before a concert by repetitive rehearsal and that the losses by recording this operation on paper would be exceeded by the gains”
Dr Earle.L.Kent
Dr Earle Kent
Dr Earle Kent at the C.G.Conn Ltd CompanyLabs c 1950

Although based on the established ‘beat frequency’/heterodyning principle, Kent’s instrument employed a more complex system of frequency changers to create a more interesting range of timbre and control over the shape of the note. The Music Box was designed to allow control off the ‘slurring’ of the note, formant filtering control and control of volume and depth and rate of tremolo. The Electronic Music Box was influential on the development of electronic musical instruments, Dr Kent was visited by Harry Olson who later adapted features of his RCA synthesiser to incorporate functions of the Music Box, but the Conn company chose not to exploit the commercial possibilities of the instrument.

Percy Grainger (L) and Earle Kent (R) with and ‘Dr Kent’s Electronic Music Box’ at Kent’s Research Engineering Department for the Conn Company, Elkhart, USA. image: Grainger Museum Archive, 99.6700.1

The Australian ‘Free Music’ composer Percy Grainger contacted Earle Kent shortly after Kent had completed his PhD at the University of Michigan. Grainger was looking for an instrument that would be suitable for his concept of free music:

“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 glide as well as by leap, to play precisely controlled, complex irregular rhythms past the scope of human execution.”

Grainger visited Kent’s research department at the Conn Musical Instrument Company in Ekhart USA in 1951 to witness the Electronic Music Box which shared many features of Grainger’s somewhat crude constructions. However for undisclosed reasons, Grainger was unsatisfied with the Music Box and returned to his own Free Music experiments in Australia.2Grainger Museum Archive. https://omeka.cloud.unimelb.edu.au/grainger/


References

  • 1
    Margaret Downie Banks, Dynamic Research: Earle L. Kent and Conn’s Research Department, National Music Museum,The University of South Dakota.
  • 2
    Grainger Museum Archive. https://omeka.cloud.unimelb.edu.au/grainger/