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Archive for the ‘Instruments’ Category

Nowadays lots of media artists, musicians and music software and hardware products are dedicated to translating visuals into sounds and vice versa. One of the pioneers in this area of “visual sound” was a British electronic composer called Daphne Oram. She was one of the founders of the famous BBC Radiophonic Workshop in 1958. But after hearing Poème électronique of Edgar Varese at the Brussels World’s Fair, she decided to leave the BBC and start her own electronic music studio a year later, the Oramics Studios for Electronic Composition. In this studio, she made one of the first synthesizers and quite likely the first audiovisual synthesizer in the beginning of the 1960s: the Oramics Machine.

With this (of course) analogue and largely mechanical machine, she drew shapes and waveforms onto a synchronised set of ten 35mm film strips which overlayed a series of photo-electric cells. These cells in turn generated electrical charges to control amplitude, timbre, frequency and duration of sounds generated by oscillators. This audiovisual way of music composition was called “Oramics” by Daphne Oram:

Daphne Oram died in 2003 at the age of 77 and oramics and the Oramic Machine were forgotten. But in 2011 the Oramics Machine has been salvaged and now is part of the collection of the Science Museum in London. The videos below document the rescue of this pioneering synthesizer by the Science Museum and explain some of the groundbreaking audiovisual concepts behind it:

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Ran into these guys yesterday in the Glaspaviljoen at the Bizarre Sound Creatures exhibition during the magnificent Dutch Design Week 2015 in Eindhoven:

Geluidsdrug, a collective organizing biweekly electronic jam sessions in Artspace Flipside, at walking distance from my home:

Everybody can join their jam sessions in Flipside, so I am going to pay them a visit soon..

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Found on Vimeo: a documentary on the making of the Chalice Symphony by Andy Cavatorta and his team for Belgium beer company Stella Artois. A “chalice‘ is a goblet for drinking wine or (in this case) beer.

The symphony contains four beautifully crafted instruments using the chalice as  a source of sound: On the website of Andy Cavatorta you can download  sound files of these four instruments in .exs (Logic) or .nki (NI Kontakt) format

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I recently bought a Moog Theremini for my ever expanding synthesizer studio. The Theremini is a new take by Moog Music on the age old Theremin, one of the first electronic musical instruments ever made. The original Theremin generated sinus waves, which were triggered by moving your hands along two antenna’s. The new Theremini does the same, but uses digital instead of analog sound synthesis. This means it is capable of generating many more sounds than just a simple sinus waveform. This is the Moog promo video of the Theremini by thereminist Dorit Chrysler demonstrating the versatility of this renewed Moog theremin:

I have been interested in the Theremin from the 1980’s onwards. I even wrote an article on it and other ancient electronic instruments – such as the Telharmonium and the Ondes Martenot–  for a popular science magazine in the  late ’80s. The instrument was invented in 1928 by Russian inventor (and spy: read: Theremin. Ether Music and Espionage by Albert Glinsky ) Lev Termen a.k.a “Leon Theremin” in the USA. This video shows him playing his invention:

The Theremin was used in modern 20th century composed music by composers such as Messiaen and Shostakovich, but is better known for its use in film scores, notably of sci-fi B movies like  The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Thing (From Another World) and in the British TV series  Midsomer Murders. In pop/rock music the Theremin was used by the likes of the Beach Boys (Good Vibrations), Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band (Electricity), Led Zeppelin (Whole lotta Love) and space rock band Hawkwind. During the ’90’s there was some kind of a theremin revival, which is sometimes credited to the Portishead song “Mysterons” from their Dummy album. However, the distinctive “theremin” sound on this track was made by a synthesizer (probably a Roland SH-101), not by a theremin:

It is hard to play a theremin due to the glissandi generated by the hand gestures: it is difficult to keep a pitch by not moving your hands while playing. So there are only a few contemporary thereminists of which Lydia Kavina,  Carolina Eyk and Dorit Chrysler (see above) are probably the most well-known. This video shows a demonstration of the new Moog Theremini by Lydia Kavina, in which she explains some playing techniques:

 The new Moog Theremini supports Midi and has a USB port, enabling it to be used as a Midi controller. So it introduces new possibilities for an instrument which is nearly 100 years old in electronic music. Check it out if you are interested in both the history and future of electronic music instruments.

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Back in 1979 I bought my first synth: a monophonic Korg MS-20 which I still own. The cause of it were a British post-punk band from Sheffield: Cabaret Voltaire, which I saw at the Effenaar venue in Eindhoven in the same year.

They are included in the BBC-4 documentary Synth Britannia, which focuses on the rise of synth pop in the post-punk era. Although the focus is on “”pop” bands like The Human League, OMD, Depeche Mode and individuals like Gary Numan, the influence of more “industrial” outfits like Cabaret Voltaire,  Throbbing Gristle and The Normal is also mentioned.

The BBC 4 documentary links the rise of synth pop to the bleak landscape, economics and politics of ’70 s Britain. So a very interesting video to check out if you are into electronic music (history).

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There seems to be something wrong with this video, but the result blends in nicely with the sounds generated by the zither:

 

 

Meng Qi is a  noise boxes builder from China and versions of this instrument seem to be for sale, see http://mengqimusic.com/AetherZither :

Aether Zither 以太筝 - built by Meng Qi, is an electro-acoustic musical 
instrument. It’s playing surface is assembled with springs, speakers, 
knobs and touch points. 
The combination of mechanical and electric aspects makes it an one 
of a kind and fully expressive instrument.
[...]
The Synthesis engine of AZ - Sidrassi, designed by Peter Blasser - 
is a true analog polyphonic synthesizer circuit. 
It has an unique approach regarding synthesis principle. 
There is a parameter called chaos - it controls the modulation depth 
among the voices, which would result in different level of noisy texture. 
Addtional to it, there are also touch points which allows the player to 
perform touch circuit-bend.

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Analog//Digital

                                                                         synths

Here I have both Musictech’s write up from this past year (2013) of the top ten best hardware synths and also Musicradar’s own list from 2009 of their greatest hardware synths of all time. Each are interesting reads; Musictech’s lineup of synthesizers can give you an idea of synths still on the market if you are a soon to be buyer, Musicradar’s review of all time great synths can show you some synths of the past that you probably can’t find anymore but could find samples of on youtube to hear them. Both articles give you a little bit of information of each synth which is sweet and to the point. Always you could look…

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