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Composertron [Compositron]locked

  • Hugh Davies

An electronic composition machine developed at the National Research Council of Canada in Ottawa from 1948 by Osmond (‘Ken’) Kendall (b Spain, 1909, of British parents), an electronics engineer at the National Film Board of Canada (NFBC). Basing his experiments on a simplified form of the optical film soundtrack and the idea of graphic sound, on which his colleague Norman McLaren was working, Kendall devised the Composertron, which employed a system for drawing sound-waveforms on a television screen with a grease pencil (probably the first use of this technique in a musical instrument); rhythm was ‘notated’ on a strip of film. The waveforms were scanned and this process controlled electronic oscillators; the resulting sounds were then recorded on magnetic tape. At the same time Kendall constructed a machine for speech synthesis using the same principle. Working models of both machines were assembled by the Canadian Marconi Co. in Montreal about 1950. The Canadian composer Louis Applebaum was involved with development and financial backing for the instrument and undertook a series of studies with the Composertron in 1950–55. In 1955 Kendall left the NFBC to develop the Composertron commercially, aiming primarily at a domestic market, but the instrument was less successful than it might have been 20 years later. (T.L. Rhea: The Evolution of Electronic Musical Instruments in the United States (diss., George Peabody College, Nashville, TN, 1972), 190; section rev. as ‘Osmond Kendall’s Composer-Tron’, Contemporary Keyboard, vi/3 (1980), 75)

See also Graphic sound ; McLaren, Norman .