Old iron: electronic tools that are lost in the depths of history

    Electronic musical instruments have a rich history. True, many, including the extremely curious, are forgotten. Recall some of them.

    Meet the microphone, optophonic piano and super piano . Photo Martijn Nijenhuis / CC BY-ND

    Electron and Partitrophon

    Before becoming an electronic music enthusiast, German Jörg Mager was a teacher and organist. On one of the hot days, he discovered that the heat had slightly changed the sound of the organ. This phenomenon captured Jörg Mager and was the reason for his fascination with microtone music and scale, containing intervals of a quarter tone. He wrote a scientific work on this subject and in 1912 developed a quarter -tone harmony , capable, as the name implies, make sounds in increments of a quarter tone.

    A few years later, Mager did not leave his passion for microchromaticand joined a group of musicians led by Italian composer Ferruccio Busoni, who sought to go beyond the European 12-stage uniformly temperament system. Jörg was sure: to achieve this goal, it makes no sense to modify classical instruments, it is better to create your own.

    He proposed using radio tubes as the basis for the instruments of the new era. Mager was a utopian and idealist and had no doubt that the future of music lies in radio technology. So, in 1921, an electrophone appeared .

    It was a monophonic instrument, the principle of which resembled theremin. He used two 50-kilohertz oscillation generators, the frequencies of which were superimposed on each other. As a result, a signal was formed in the range distinguishable by the human ear.

    Mager's innovation was that the pitch was not controlled by keystrokes, but by moving a metal handle. Under the handle there was a semicircle plate with marking according to chromatic scale. Continuous sound was extracted from the microphone and the ability to reproduce glissando was provided .

    In the future, Jörg finalized his instrument - he added a second knob, the movement of which interrupted the constant glissando with a different note, as well as two pedals to control the volume of both sounds. A modified tool has become known under a different name - a spherophone .

    In the summer of 1926, at the music festival in Donaueschingen, Mager played on his sphere phone, and the instrument began to gain fame in professional circles. For example, Georgy Rimsky-Korsakov, the grandson of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, wrote a number of experimental quarter-tone sketches for him, and the German composer Paul Hindemith strongly advocated the continuation of the development of Mager.

    And Jörg continued to improve his invention. For example, I replaced the handles with two rows of keys and got a sphere phone with a keyboard. Later, he added three more rows to transmit with their help the tones of various orchestral instruments, and called the new device a partitrophon . However, he was not destined to gain wide popularity.

    In 1930, the trautonium saw the light (we talked about it last time ) - the invention of the German engineer Friedrich Trautwein, which overshadowed the tool of Mager. Trautonium used format filters and provided the broadest timbral variety. Plus Trautvine did not focus on microtone music, which nevertheless remained the destiny of a narrow circle of connoisseurs.

    Then the Second World War began, and not a single tool of Mager survived.

    Optophonic piano: instrument and art object

    In 1916, avant-garde artist Vladimir Baranov-Rossine began developing an instrument in which he tried to combine music and light. So the optophone was born - a small piano with a three-octave keyboard, where the sound, as in the case of the electron, was produced due to the difference of two high-frequency signals.

    At the same time, the musical instrument not only made sounds, but also projected the image onto flat surfaces. A set of glass disks and filters that the artist painted himself was responsible for the “optical function” of the device: simple monochromatic prisms, lenses, and mirrors turned out.

    As a result, the instrument reproduced music and simultaneously projected kaleidoscopic patterns onto the surface. It turned out something like a multimedia installation. Later, the artist developed his idea and in 1920 made a version of an optophone , where each key corresponded to a certain sound and color, and its brightness was changed by filters.

    It was possible to hear the instrument mainly at the exhibitions of Baranov-Rossine himself. In Russia, he gave two concerts at it - at the Meyerhold Theater and at the Bolshoi, but more often performed in Europe. In the future, the optophone still found itself on the sidelines of the story: the concept of synthetic art, with the unification of light and music, remained in the space of art experiments and did not reach the general public.

    Super Piano and Symphony

    In 1927, the Austrian architect and inventor Emmerich Spielmann patented the super piano , an instrument in which sound production was based on a photo-optical system. A ray of light in it fell through a rotating glass disk onto a photovoltaic cell. Due to regular interruptions of the beam, an oscillating sound arose.

    In the construction of the super piano, black celluloid disks arranged in two rows of 12 pieces were used. Holes of various shapes were made in the disks, grouped into seven centric circles (each corresponding to one octave). Thanks to the combination of pure tone and harmonics, the sound was lively and deep.

    Photo: 120years.net / PD / Super Piano

    In 1929, Spielmann introduced the super piano on Vienna's RAVAG radio, giving a lecture on “Light can speak, light creates music”.

    The inventor planned to sell his creation at a price of $ 300 . It was supposed to be a tool for home music making and simple sampling: holes could be made in celluloid disks, which hypothetically made it possible to imitate the whole range of orchestral instruments.

    A little later, Shpilman developed another instrument with a similar principle of action - the symphony . It combined the sounds of various musical instruments, from winds to strings, and there were fifteen combinations of timbres.

    With the onset of World War II, the Shpilman project faded, and the super piano never went on sale. Only one copy of this instrument survived the war - in 1947 it was exhibited at the Vienna Technical Museum.

    Shpilman himself moved to New York, where he continued to work on his instrument, but apparently it was eclipsed by a light and sound organ - the brainchild of Edwin Welte. And in the future, the Hammond organ took possession of the home music instrument market (we talked about it in our blog ).

    The history of electronic instruments is the history of ideas in the air and the will of chance. Not all inventions, even original ones and promising ones, have become famous or become commercially successful, but the innovations of their creators are truly inspiring.

    Further reading - from the "World of Hi-Fi» and Telegram-channel "Audiomanii": Sound on the wire: history telegrafona Bobinniki: A Brief History reel tape «Highway Hi-Fi»: history turntable for cars

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