“Light Music”: talk about four unusual electronic tools with photocells

    The first half of the 20th century was a turbulent time for music. The creative avant-garde was looking for a new artistic language. Composer tools changed radically with the spread of sound recording and sound synthesis.

    Unusual musical instruments were born at this intersection, such as the Hardy-Goldthwaite organ, the Vibro-Exhibitor, the Rhythmicon and the Saraga-Generator. Today we will talk about the appearance, structure and fate of these tools. Photo 120years.net / Boris Yankovsky in 1939

    Hardy-Goldtwaet organ: physicists get down to business

    Arthur Hardy and Sherwood Brown of MIT were renowned experts in the field of optics. It was to them that engineer DuVal R. Goldthwaite turned to for help, who in the early 30s had the idea to create a musical instrument based on an optical sensor. In 1931, the work of the team was completed, and the World saw the Hardy-Goldtwate Organ.

    Despite its name, the instrument was not a real organ - rather a samplerwhose timbre was determined by the contents of the removable photo disc. A visual representation of sounds of different heights was applied to the disk in concentric circles. This disk was placed between the light source and the photosensitive element. The way in which the light was distorted affected the characteristics of the reproduced sound and allowed the product to simulate the timbre of various acoustic instruments (depending on the selected disc on the Hardy-Goldthwa organ, the sound of a real organ, piano, or strings could be reproduced). It was controlled using a conventional three-octave keyboard.

    Despite the relative commercial attractiveness, the device has not gained mass popularity.

    Vibro-Exhibitor Boris Yankovsky - Sound Alphabet

    In the 1920s and 1930s, Soviet acoustic engineer Boris Yankovsky was carried away by the idea of ​​systematizing sound. He wanted to create a sound alphabet - a library of basic sound elements. He called his method "synthetic acoustics . " Yankovsky wanted to give composers access to a full range of “synthetic” sounds, including those that could not be extracted with classical acoustic instruments, and create a “sound table” similar to the periodic table. As the author himself wrote in his work “Acoustic synthesis of musical colors”:
    “The color of sound depends on the shape of the sound wave, the graph of which can be mathematically expanded in a Fourier series, i.e. into individual components - sinusoids, and therefore, vice versa - can be harmoniously composed of sinusoids. It never occurred to anyone to do this simply because before the appearance of the graphic (or drawn) sound, the very technique and methodology of reproducing sound from such acoustic charts was absent. ”
    For practical implementation of the conceived, a vibro-exponent was created. This unit allowed optical recording of synthesized sounds (the so-called “synthons”) onto a 35 mm film. In total, Yankovsky managed to record 110 spectral patterns of “synthons”.

    The Stalinist persecution of the vanguard slowed down the development of the project, and during the Great Patriotic War, all known photographs and drawings of the instrument were lost. Only verbal descriptions have come down to us: in an excerpt from the 1936 animated film The Animated Film, it is stated that the instrument looked like a “flat box with a frosted glass bottom”.

    But not everything is in vain - at the end of the fifties the experience gained in the process of creating a vibro-exponator formed the basis of the legendary ANS synthesizer .

    Rhythmicon - the first rhythm machine

    The world's first rhythm machine was also a product of the avant-garde. The American composer Henry Cowell was convinced of the need to create automatic instruments to overcome human limitations in working with rhythm (the new instrument, according to Cowell, was supposed to allow several complex rhythmic patterns to be performed simultaneously). Having met in 1930 with Leo Theremin (in the 30s, Theremin lived and worked in the USA), he voiced his idea, which the inventor liked.

    The result of their collaboration was a synthesizer with an integrated sequencer, called the "rhythmicon" ( device photo ). The sound of the instrument was controlled by two rotating disks - the first determined the height of the signal, the second - the rhythmic pattern.

    The rhythmicon was equipped with a 17-key keyboard and allowed you to create complex polyrhythms, but did not give the musician full control over the rhythmic structures, as modern drum machines do. Having written two compositions for the instrument, Cowell lost interest in him and turned to ethnic music.

    In total, two instances of the instrument were created in the United States, one of which, according to legend, was thrown out as unnecessary. It would seem that the experiment failed, but the history of the rhythmicon did not end there. In the 1950s, music producer Joe Meek, famous for his innovative approach to sound recording, accidentally discovered an instrument in a New York pawn shop. Thanks to this find, the rhythmicon has found recognition among experimental musicians and film composers. It can be heard on the soundtrack for "Doctor Strangelove", as well as on the albums Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream.

    Returning to Moscow, Leo Termen created the latest, most compact version of the rhythmicon , which still works and is stored in the museum of the inventor in Moscow.

    Saraga Generator - body music

    In 1931, a German engineer of Jewish origin Wolja Saraga created an unusual synthesizer for musical accompaniment of theatrical performances. A low-power neon lamp was placed on one side of the stage. The actors, moving around, created interference, fixed by the photocell located on the other side. The nature of the interference determined the timbre and pitch of the instrument.

    Later variations of the apparatus, dubbed Saraga-Generator, were controlled more conventionally. The timbre was controlled by a separate module, the volume was regulated by the foot pedal, and only the pitch was determined by the movement of the hand in the beam of light.

    In the late 30s, Saraga forcedly emigrated to the UK, where he tried to find new applications for his instrument. But the Second World War greatly complicated his search, and with the advent of transistor synthesizers, his product finally lost its relevance.

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