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Early Electronic Music Instruments: Time Line 1899-1950

Author(s): Curtis Roads


Source: Computer Music Journal, Vol. 20, No. 3 (Autumn, 1996), pp. 20-23
Published by: The MIT Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3680817
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CurtisRoads
Les Ateliers UPIC
18 rue Marcelin Berthelot
94140, Alfortville, France
and
Departement Musique
Universite Paris 8
Saint-Denis, France
100407.574@compuserve.com

The study of electronic music history helps us appreciate the fascinating instruments created by visionary musical engineers. The size and pace of development of the present music industry makes
it easy to forget how many instruments were invented in the first half of the 20th century. Some
accounts of this period leave the impression that
there was little development of electronic music before the cataclysm of WorldWarII. This time line
shows that development was incessant, even if it
was often relegated to the sidelines of official musical life. Most electronic music inventors labored
against the grain of a conservative musical establishment. The business climate for electronic instruments was immature, and sometimes, as in the
case of Theremin, for example, the political circumstances were dangerous.
The first column in the time line names each
instrument. The dates in the second column indicate each instrument's first public demonstration,

Electronic Music
Instruments:
Time
Line
1899-1950

Early

rather than the date of its earliest conception.


Every attempt has been made to be precise and
comprehensive, but a few uncertainties remain. In
some cases, for example, the precise date is not
clear from the sources consulted, or different
sources conflict. Corrections or additions to this
list are welcome.
The time line terminates at 1950. Priorto this
date almost all instruments were designed for live
performance.The full compositional implications
of electronic sound were not always understood by
most musicians (with the notable exceptions of EdgardVareseand John Cage). After 1950 a page of
music history turned with the birth of composition theories such as elektronische musik, musique
concrete, and "tape music," and the merging of
electronic music technology with studio techniques of recording,editing, mixing, and sound
transformation.To this epoch belongs another
time line.

Computer Music Journal,20:3, pp. 20-23, Fall 1996


? 1996 Massachusetts Institute of Technology

20

Computer Music Journal

Table 1. Electric and electronic musical instruments: 1899-1950


Instrument

Date of
Demonstration

Singing Arc
Choralcello electric organ

1899
1903

Telharmonium
Audio oscillator and Audion piano
Synthetic Tone musical
instrument
Theremin

1906
1915
1918

Electrophon
Staccatone

1921
1923

Sphaerophon
Electric Harmonium
Pianorad

1926
1926
1926

SuperPiano
Electric guitar prototype

1927
1927

Electronic violin

1927

Spielman electric piano harp

1928

Ondes Martenot
Dynaphon
Hellertion

1928
1928
1929

Crea-tone
Givelet-Coupleaux organ

1930
1930

Trautonium

1930

Magnetoelectric organ
Westinghouse organ

1930
1930

Ondium Pechadre

1930

Hardy-Goldwaitheorgan
Radiopiano
Trillion-tone organ
Radiotone

1930
1931
1931
1931

Rangertoneorgan
Emicon

1931
1932

Gnome

1932

1920

Inventor/Notes
W. Duddell/early electric keyboardinstrument
Farrington,C. Donahue, and A. Hoffman/electromagnetic
instrument
T. Cahill/rotating tone generators,massive synthesizer
L. De Forest/firstvacuum-tube instrument
S. Cabot/rotating tone wheels to generate current, which
drovemetallic resonating bars
L. Theremin/antenna instrument played with hands in air;
based on heterodyne tone generator
J. Mager/heterodynetone generatorwith filter
H. Gernsback/sharpattack, inductance-controlledkeyboard
instrument
J. Mager/improvedElectrophonwith keyboard
L. Theremin/1,200 divisions per octave
H. Gernsback/polyphonic,based on vacuum-tube
oscillators
E. Spielmann/"Light-chopper"
instrument
Les Paul/solid-bodyconstruction with electromagnetic
pickups
E. Zitzmann-Zirini/space control of pitch similar to the
Theremin, but switched control of volume
J. Bethenod/microphoneand speaker feedback to sustain
oscillations
M. Martenot/first of many versions
R. Bertrand/multivibratoroscllator
B. Helbergerand P. Lertes/vacuum-tubeoscillator with
feedback;continuous linear controllers
S. Cooper/electric piano with feedback circuits for sustain
J. Givelet and E. Coupleaux/automated additive synthesis;
oscillators controlled by paper tape
E Trautwein/neon-tubesawtooth tone generators;
resonance filters to emphasize formants
R. H. Ranger
R. Hitchcock/research instrument based on vacuum-tube
oscillators
? /Theremin-like instrument with a volume key instead of
antenna
A. Hardyand S. Brown/electro-opticaltone generators
L. Hiller/amplified piano
A. Lesti and E Sammis/electro-optical tone generators
Boreau/string-inducedradio-receivertone generatorwith
filter circuits
R. Ranger/rotatingtone wheels
N. Langerand Hahnagyi/gas-dischargetube oscillator,
controlled by keyboard
I. Eremeef/rotatingelectromagnetic tone wheels

Roads

21

Table 1. Electric and electronic musical instruments: 1899-1950 (cont)


Instrument

Date of
Demonstration

Miessner electronic piano


Rhythmicon

1932
1932

Mellertion
Electronde

1933
1933

Cellulophone
Elektroakustische orgel

1933
1934

La Croix Sonore
Ethonium
KeyboardTheremin

1934
1934
1934

LoarVivatone
Polytone
Syntronic organ

1934
1934
1934

Everett Orgatron
Partiturphon
Kaleidaphon
Hammond electric organ
Photona

1934
1935
1939
1935
1935

Variophone
Electrone

1935
1935

FoersterElectrochord
Sonotheque

1936
1936

"Kraft-durch-Freude"
Grosstonorgel
Welte Light-Toneorgan
National Dobro VioLectricviolin
and Suproguitar
Electric Hawaiianguitar

1936

Singing keyboard

1936

WarboFormant organ

1937

Oscillion
KrakauerElectone
Melodium
RobbWaveorgan
Allen organ
Neo Bechstein piano

1937
1938
1938
c. 1938
1939
1939

22

1936
1936
1936

Inventor/Notes
B. F.Miessner/88 electrostatic pickups
H. Cowell, L. Theremin, B. Miessner/complex rhythm
machine
? /10-division octave
L. or M. Taubman/battery-powered,space control of pitch
like the Theremin, with volume pedal
P. Toulon/electro-optical tone generators
O. Vierling and Kock/12 vacuum-tube master oscillators;
other pitches derivedby frequency division
N. Oboukhov/heterodyningoscillator
G. Blake/emulation of the Theremin heterodyne oscillator
L. Theremin/bank of tone generatorscontrolled by
traditionalorgan keyboard
L. Loar/amodified acoustic-electric guitar
A. Lesti and E Sammis/electro-optical tone generators
I. Eremeefand L. Stokowski/electro-optical tone generators;
one-hour of continuous variation
E Hoschke and B. Miessner/amplified vibratingbrass reeds
J.Mager/five-voiceSphaerophonwith three keyboards
J. Mager/"kaleidascopic"tone mixtures
L. Hammond and B. Miessner/rotating tone generators
I. Eremeef/12 electro-optical tone generators;developed at
WCAU radio, Philadelphia
Y. Sholpo/photo-electric instrument
Compton OrganCompany/basedon design of L. Bourn;
electrostatic rotary generators
O. Vierling/electro-mechanicalpiano
L. Lavalee/codedperformanceinstrument using
photoelectric translation of engravedgrooves
O. Vierling and staff of Heinrich-Hertz-Institut,Berlin/
played at 1936 Olympic games
E. Welte/electro-optical tone generators
J. Dopyera/commercialinstruments with electromagnetic
pickups
L. Fender/commercialinstrument with electromagnetic
pickups
E Sammis/playedelectro-optical recordings,precursorof
samplers
H. Bode and C. Warnke/four-voicepolyphonic; envelope
shaping;key assignment; two filters
W. Swann and W. Danforth/gas-dischargetube oscillator
B. F Miessner/early electric piano
H. Bode/touch-sensitive solo keyboard
M. Robb/rotatingelectromagnetic tone generators
J. Markowitz/vacuum-tubeoscillators
O. Vierling and W. Nernst/electric piano

Computer Music Journal

Table 1. Electric and electronic musical instruments: 1899-1950 (cont)


Instrument

Date of
Demonstration

Amplified piano

1939

Novachord

1939

ParallelBandpassVocoder
Dynatone
Voderspeech synthesizer
Violena
Emiriton
Ekwodin
Solovox

1939
1939
1939
1940
1940
1940
1940

Univox

c. 1940

Multimonika

1940

Ondioline

1941

Melotone
Hanert Electrical Orchestra

c. 1941
1945

JoergensenClavioline
Rhodes Pre-Piano
Wurlitzerelectronic organ
Conn organ
Electronic sackbut

1947
1947
1947
1947
1948

Free Music Machine

1948

Mixturtrautonium

1949

Heliophophon
Mastersonic organ
Wurlitzerelectronic piano
Melochord

1949
1949
1949
1947-1949

Bel organ

c. 1947

Elektronium Pi

1950

Radareedorgan
Dereux organ

1950
c. 1950

Inventor/Notes
B. Miessner/variabletonal quality dependingon the
position of the pickups
Hammond Company/severaltube oscillators; divide-down
synthesis; formant filters
H. Dudley, Bell Laboratories/analysisand cross-synthesis
B. Miessner and A. Amsley/electric piano
H. Dudley/voice model played by a human operator
W. Gurov
A. Ivanovand A. Rimsky-Korsakov/neon-tubeoscillators
A. Wolodin
L. Hammond/monophonic vacuum-tube oscillator with
divide-downcircuitry
Univox Company/vacuum-tubesawtooth generatorwith
diode waveform shaper circuit
Hohner GmbH/lower manual is wind-blown, upper manual
has sawtooth generator
G. Jenny/multistablevibratorand filters; keyboard
mounted on springs for vibrato
Compton OrganCompany/electrostatic rotarygenerators
J. Hanert/programmableperformancecontrolled by
punched paper cards
M. C. Martin/monophonic, three-octavekeyboard
H. Rhodes/metal tines amplified by electrostatic pickups
WurlitzerCompany/basedon the Orgatronreed design
Conn OrganCompany/individualoscillators for each key
H. LeCaine/voltage-controlledsynthesizer, pitch,
waveform,and formant controllers
B. Cross and P. Grainger/electronicoscillators and
continuous automated control
O. Sala/Trautoniumwith noise generator,"circuit-breaker"
sequencer, frequency dividers
B. Helberger
J. Goodell and E. Swedien/rotatingpitch wheels
WurlitzerCompany/basedon patents by B. Miessner
H. Bode/later installed at North West German Radio,
Cologne
Bendix Electronics/12 vacuum-tube oscillators, other
pitches obtained by divide-downcircuit
Hohner GmbH/monophonic vacuum-tube oscillator with
divide-downcircuitry
G. Gubbins/amplifiedreeds fitted with resonators
Societe Dereux/electrostatic rotarygenerators,waveforms
derivedfrom oscillogram photographs

Roads

23