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Article

Brandon Smith

Creation of new connections inside sound-generating electronic devices to provide sounds unintended by their original designers. A wide range of effects can be achieved, and extra tactile controls such as potentiometers, switches, photocells, and body contacts can be added to control the new effects, the most frequent modification being for pitch control. Often various ‘bends’ are found accidentally by arbitrarily connecting two different points on the circuit board. Circuit bending has attracted considerable attention among persons interested in experimental electronic music and synthesizers, and it can be achieved with limited electronics knowledge and construction skills. Because circuit bending calls for unauthorised, sometimes radical changes to the circuitry’s original pathways, it risks damaging or destroying the device being modified. Toys are often exploited for circuit bending because of their ubiquity and low cost and the small risk of electrical shock from their low voltage. Battery-operated toys such as the Texas Instruments Speak n’ Spell and the Casio SK-1 have latent sonic potential and are prime targets for tinkerers seeking such sounds inexpensively or at no cost and because they tend to ‘glitch’ easily, spewing out fragmented bits of digital speech and strange sounds. Examples of circuit-bent creations include electronic keyboards, sound modules, drum machines, effects pedals, and karaoke machines. Video bending uses these same methods to modify video-game consoles to make abstract visual patterns in addition to novel sounds....

Article

Hugh Davies

[Compositron]

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 ...

Article

Hugh Davies

revised by Anne Beetem Acker

[Elektronmusikstudion] (Swed.: ‘electronic music studio’)

The Swedish national centre for electronic music and sound art, in Stockholm. It was preceded by a smaller studio run by the Worker’s Society of Education from 1960. EMS was established by Swedish Radio in 1964 under music director and composer Karl Birger Blomdahl (1916–68), who hired the composer and performer Knut Wiggen (b 1927) to take charge of creating the studios. In 1965 an old radio theatre studio called the klangverstan (‘sound workshop’) opened for composers. Construction of a new facility was begun, but after Blomdahl’s death EMS became independent, funded only in small part by Swedish Radio, and otherwise by Fylkingen (a society for experimental music and arts) and the Swedish Royal Academy of Music.

Wiggen envisioned EMS as both a place to produce electro-acoustic music and a research institution that would give the composer ‘the possibility of describing sounds in psychological terms’. The studio was equipped accordingly. The sound sculpture ...

Article

GAME  

Hugh Davies, Annette Vande Gorne and Anne Beetem Acker

[Générateur automatique de musique électronique] (Fr.: ‘automatic electronic music generator’)

Composition machine developed by the Belgian composer Léo Küpper (b Nidrum, 16 April 1935) in Brussels between 1968 and 1978. Küpper had begun experimenting with electronic music in 1959 while a student at Liège University, using two Brüel & Kjaer oscillators and a tape recorder. In 1962 he began work in Brussels at APELAC, the first Belgian electronic music studio, and joined the musical sound-effects department of the RTBF. The GAME system formed the basis of Küpper’s electronic music studio in Brussels, the Studio de Recherches et de Structurations Electroniques Auditives, which he founded in 1967. The first version of the GAME, completed in 1971, was used in concerts and installations. It consisted of 60 separate modules, using a combination of analogue and digital techniques, which could be freely selected and combined. The modules were programmed in an upright console approximately 4 × 2 metres by making a large number of patchcord interconnections, so that the surface of the console was festooned with cables. Most of the controls operated during a performance were placed in front of the console....

Article

Anne Beetem Acker

Interactive computer network used as an extended musical instrument, played by a San Franciso Bay–area experimental computer network band also called The Hub. The band, founded in 1985 by Tim Perkis and John Bischoff, evolved from the League of Automatic Music Composers (1978–83). The concept of The Hub is to create live music resulting from the unpredictable behaviour of the interconnected computer system. The composer/performers consider their performances a type of ‘enhanced improvisation’.

Initially The Hub provided a custom-built central ‘mailbox’ computer and made use of a MIDI network providing communication between the composer/performers’ synthesizers. With the maturation of commercial MIDI equipment, the band shifted to using the Opcode Studio V multiport MIDI interface for their hub. Since MIDI is designed to allow one player or computer to control a group of synthesizers but not to allow a network of synthesizers to interact, band member Scot Gresham-Lancaster devised a way to program the system so the Opcode Studio V could route messages among all the synthesizers in the network....

Article

KIM-1  

Anne Beetem Acker

(Keyboard Input Monitor)

Computer designed by Chuck Pedal and Bill Mensch, both formerly engineers with the Motorola Corporation, and released by MOS Technology Corporation of Norristown, Pennsylvania, in 1976. It was next produced by Commodore Business Machines of Palo Alto, California, after they acquired MOS in 1977. It was originally intended as a training and development system for industrial applications. The TINY BASIC programming language could be run on the KIM-1 with extra memory, making programming far more accessible. Hence, the KIM-1 was the first microprocessor adopted by experimental composers and performers as an easier alternative to making their own custom circuitry. Jim Horton, an improvisational flutist and analogue synthesizer player, was perhaps the first to realize the musical potential of microprocessors. He purchased a KIM-1 in 1976 and mentored many of his colleagues in using it. The KIM-1 could directly generate audio or act as a controller for other electronic sound generators. Most important, it provided memory, so that the user could program a time-varying sequence of events; in other words, the program became the musical score. In ...

Article

Alexander Bonus

[iPhone, Android, smartphone]

Portable electronic communication device. These have become robust platforms for digital audio production, composition, and music performance since the beginning of the 21st century. Recent compositions for mobile-phone ringtones might represent an emerging music genre. Since 2008, many commercial apps have transformed mobile devices into miniature synthesizers. Popular virtual-instrument programs such as Ocarina (2008) by the Smule Corporation and Band (2008) by MooCowMusic harness the phone’s numerous interfaces in various ways. Multi-point touch screens offer players the ability to manipulate graphical fingerholes, fretboards, drum pads, and keyboards, thus approximating the playing experience of acoustic wind, string, percussion, and keyboard instruments. Beyond its use in voice recording and transmission, a device’s microphone can register breath intensity, enabling users to initiate tones and alter dynamics as though playing a wind instrument.

Some mobile sound-production programs feature real-time voice manipulation, including auto-tune or pitch correction. Additional levels of musical functionality can be mapped to a phone’s accelerometer (an internal speed and direction detector). When the device is swung, shaken, or tilted, the accelerometer can trigger alterations in timbre, vibrato, pitch, and other variables. More advanced uses have been proposed. For example, a phone’s camera, acting as a real-time motion sensor, could affect many aspects of sound synthesis and sequencing; and the GPS (global positioning system) indicator has the potential to take location markers from other phones across the planet and turn those data into sonic information....

Article

Anne Beetem Acker

Table-height electronic display and controller (interface) with a touchscreen top that can detect two or more simultaneous points of contact on its surface. Multi-touch tables typically include an integral computer to process the screen’s input and output as well as any other associated outputs such as audio. The screen surface (a sheet of glass or polymer) is lit by an array of infrared LEDs around the edge of the screen inside the table, and a short-throw projector displays an image (e.g. a keyboard) on the screen from below. Some form of optical touch technology such as surface capacitance, SAW (surface acoustic wave), infrared grid technology, or FTIR (frustrated total internal reflection) is used to detect and locate touches on the image. An internal camera sends data to the computer, which then deduces where the fingers have pressed and uses that information to control an application (app). Multi-touch tables use either custom software or a touchscreen package such as Touchlib....

Article

An electronic composition machine (not a synthesizer in the current sense of the word). It was developed by Harry F(erdinand) Olson (b Mount Pleasant, IA, 28 Dec 1902; d Princeton, NJ, 1 April 1982) and Herbert F. Belar at the RCA Laboratories in Princeton in 1951–2, but not publicly demonstrated until ...

Article

Hugh Davies

revised by Andrei Smirnov

(b Porhov, Pskov province, Russia, April 23, 1891; d Leningrad, USSR, Jan 5, 1951). Russian inventor of pioneering photoelectric composition machines. In 1908 he finished college in Pskov and entered the Institute of Civil Engineers in St Petersburg, which he left to pursue a career as a freelance musician. He was a founding member (with Arseny Avraamov and Sergei Dianin) in the summer of 1917 of the Leonardo da Vinci Society in Petrograd, whose aims were to investigate and improve music scientifically. At the same time Sholpo, inspired by the ideas of Avraamov, wrote a science fiction essay titled ‘The Enemy of Music’ in which he described a sound machine named the ‘Mechanical Orchestra’ capable of synthesizing any sound and producing music according to a special graphic score without a performer. It prefigured the ANS synthesizer, built 40 years later in Moscow by Evgeny Murzin.

From 1918 to 1922...