(Very) Early Electronic Instruments

When you think of ‘early electronic instruments,’ what period comes to mind?  European tape music of the 1950s?  Academic electronic music labs of the 1960s?  How about 1931?

Download a five-page article from Radio News 1931, on ‘The Electrical Future Of Music.’

DOWNLOAD: Radio_News_3107_Electronic_Music

It’s interesting to see her how the focus is primarily on the creation of instruments on which one could perform western tempered music (as opposed to music concrete or noise-music).  Although those more avant garde approaches to electronic music would come soon, this earlier approach – the electronic (as opposed to bellows) organ, the violin-simulating theremin – seems to be what has won out.  Eighty years later, most of us are not usually listening to atonal clusters of carefully organized noise – we’re still mostly listened to very diatonic, 4/4 folk-songs (essentially) performed and presented via wholly electronic means.

Above: the photo-electric organ

Above: the Theremin, still popular today in a variety of musical genres.

Above: an electronic organ built by Westinghouse, 1931.

Above: an electronic Carillion as built by RCA.  The principle employed here is also still very popular today.

Early attempt at acoustic isolation of an instrument for electronic pickup


One thought on “(Very) Early Electronic Instruments”

  1. How about the Tele-harmonium by Cahill, patented in 1898 !! or the Novachord by Hammond, two very distinctive instruments way ahead of their time ….!!

    The Tele-harmonium was actually the precursor to Hammond’s tone wheel organ only the tele-harmonium was built before amplification so Cahill’s tone wheels were hugh (along with the entire instrument) because they drove current directly into the phone lines … – here’s a link to some info on the instrument http://www.synthmuseum.com/magazine/0102jw.html

    The Novacord went into production in 1939, only a little over 1000 were made, here’s a link for some information. http://www.synthmuseum.com/hammond/hamnovachord01.html
    You can also search Youtube for actual recordings of restored units .. very cool …. and you thought the past was all “bear skins and stone knives !!!”

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