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Article

Ableton  

Brandon Smith

Music production software company based in Berlin, with a branch in New York. Ableton (Ableton AG) was founded in 1999 by Gerhard Behles, Robert Henke, and Bernd Roggendorf. Its main product is a computer program called Live, which was released in 2001. This is a digital audio workstation (DAW) environment for recording audio and MIDI with an emphasis on working in real time, essentially allowing the user to play the software as an instrument. Practically any operation can be controlled via MIDI. Since its introduction, Live has become popular among electronic music artists for its ability to allow spontaneous manipulation of audio in a performance situation. Many manufacturers of MIDI controllers have developed control surfaces for Live, bridging the gap between software and hardware.

Live is equally suited to arranging and production applications, with abilities similar to those of other popular recording platforms such as Cubase and Pro Tools. It can run in tandem with most other DAW systems using the ReWire protocol by Steinberg Media Technologies (the creators of Cubase), allowing Live and other programs to share audio and MIDI information with a host DAW. In many ways Live has redefined the role software and computers in general have had in music creation and production. It was among the first programs able automatically to ‘beat match’ (synchronize audio files with different tempos). An integrated Max/MSP platform (a visual programming language) allows users to program their own virtual instruments by linking together pre-made blocks or ‘objects’. Ableton also produces virtual instrument plug-ins and libraries of samples for their Live platform....

Article

Hugh Davies

Electronic organ, several models of which were developed by Heinz Ahlborn (formerly a designer (1951–4) with Apparatewerk Bayern), and (from the mid-1960s) by Otto Riegg; it has been manufactured by Ahlborn-Orgel GmbH in Heimerdingen, near Stuttgart, from 1955. Like companies in several other countries, Ahlborn fought a long legal battle for the right to use the word ‘organ’ in the name of its instruments (‘Elektronenorgel’); after ten years the suit was resolved in the company’s favour in 1969. Klaus Beisbarth, one of the principals of Ahlborg GmbH, was experimenting with electronic tone generation already about 1949. From 1974 the firm concentrated on making electronic organs that mimic the sounds of organ pipes. Ahlborn collaborated with Bradford University in England from 1977 in developing the BAC (Bradford Ahlborn Computer organ) in an effort to produce more realistic simulation; note attack characteristics were improved and analogue technology was eventually replaced by digital processing of recordings of pipe organs. A range of products was designed, from three- and four-manual instruments with traditional consoles to relatively inexpensive portable keyboards. Some installations combine electronic components with real pipes; one example was Ahlborn’s collaboration in ...

Article

Hugh Davies

An Electronic organ designed by Jerome Markowitz (1917–91) between 1937 and 1939, and manufactured from 1939 in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and from 1953 in nearby Macungie. The Allen Organ Co. was founded in 1945; besides many models of the organ, it has manufactured two electronic harpsichords (introduced in 1961 and 1982) and an electronic piano (from 1965). After Markowitz's death his son Steve Markowitz succeeded him as president.

The Allen organ was the first fully-electronic organ to become commercially available. A three-manual instrument was produced in 1946, and a four-manual one in 1954. In 1949 a two-speed rotating loudspeaker unit, the Gyrophonic Projector, was introduced. The company was one of the first to develop a fully transistorized organ (1959), and in the digital Computer Organ (1971) it pioneered the replacement of oscillators by a computer that generates sounds by means of digital waveform synthesis (based on recordings of pipe organ spectra). The original organ was designed for use in churches, but later models included concert and home organs. The concert models have frequently taken solo and obbligato roles in orchestras, under conductors such as Barenboim, Bernstein, Dorati, Karajan, Mehta, Ormandy and Stokowski. Four-manual touring organs were commissioned in the mid-1970s by Carlo Curley (380 loudspeakers) and Virgil Fox (over 500 loudspeakers)....

Article

Anne Beetem Acker

Electronic music controller produced by nu desine Ltd in Bristol, UK. Conceived by Adam Place (b Chatham, Kent, 1986) while studying sound design at Nagoya Zokei University in Japan, the prototype was developed in 2007 while Place was a student of music and visual art at Bristol University, where he was inspired by the electronic and bass-heavy sounds of Bristol’s underground music scene. Place founded nu desine in September 2010 to commercialize his design. Introduced at the Frankfurt Musikmesse in March 2012, the AlphaSphere entered commercial production later that year with the ‘Elite’ series. The firm, with six employees in 2012, also develops other new interfaces for human and computer interaction.

The AlphaSphere can communicate with other electronic devices such as computers, digital audio workstations, and synthesizers, by sending MIDI and OSC (Open Sound Control) messages over a USB connector. The OSC messages include specific network address information that allows the AlphaSphere to control multiple devices on a network. The AlphaSphere features six rows of eight circular, pressure-sensitive silicone pads arranged in rings encircling a pedestal-mounted sphere; sphere and pedestal together measure 26 × 26 × 32 cm and weigh about 2.5 kg. The pads incorporate a patent-pending touch technology; each pad offers independent aftertouch control affecting the audio output continuously during the duration of contact. The lowest pads are the largest and the uppermost pads the smallest. Pitches can be placed in different arrangements; for example, a major scale can be arranged around a row, with perfect 5ths playable by pressing the pads on opposite sides of the sphere. Coloured LEDs within the sphere light up between the pads and the LEDs can be controlled in different ways....

Article

Hugh Davies

A polyphonic digital synthesizer manufactured by the Syntauri Corp. of Palo Alto, California, from about 1981 until the company closed in 1984. It was the first electronic instrument based on a home computer, the widely used Apple II microcomputer; this made the AlphaSyntauri relatively inexpensive. It consisted of an eight-voice, polyphonic, four- or five-octave, velocity-sensitive keyboard and plug-in circuit boards that were inserted in the Apple II. The designers made the AlphaSyntauri software flexible and accessible to counteract some of the limitations of common hardware synthesizers of the time, and it was arguably one of the first true ‘softsynths’ (software synthesizers). As many as eight synchronized tracks could be recorded by the sequencer memory and played back at variable speeds. A music education course, MusicMaster, was designed for use on the AlphaSyntauri.

M. Vail: Vintage Synthesizers: Pioneering Designers, Groundbreaking Instruments, Collecting Tips, Mutants of Technology (San Francisco, 2/2000), 91–2

Article

Hugh Davies

(Fr. amplificateur; Ger. Verstärker; It. amplificatore)

An electrical circuit which increases the strength of its input, and normally acts as an interface between an otherwise incompatible input and output. Certain hi-fi systems and large-scale amplification installations feature separate power amplifiers, which drive one or more loudspeakers, and preamplifiers, which boost and match the different electrical characteristics of a variety of inputs; preamplifiers are otherwise incorporated into other devices, such as mixing consoles and stereophonic hi-fi amplifiers. At its simplest the amplification chain can be seen as microphone (or other source)–amplifier–loudspeaker. The rock music ‘amp’ (combination unit or ‘combo’) consists of a portable loudspeaker cabinet containing an appropriate power amplifier and preamplifier. See also Electronic instruments

In certain areas, primarily among hi-fi perfectionists and rock music keyboard players (and for diametrically opposed reasons), the precision or colouration of the sound produced by earlier amplifiers based on electronic valves is still preferred, and continues to be catered for by some manufacturers. In the case of rock music the valve-generated sound was coloured by distortion in louder music, in a manner very different from that produced by transistorized systems....

Article

ANS  

Hugh Davies

revised by Andrei Smirnov

Photoelectric composition machine (named from the initials of Aleksandr Nikolayevich Skryabin) developed from about 1950 in Moscow by Evgeny Murzin (c1913–70). The idea for such a machine dated back to 1938, when Murzin visited the acoustician Boris Yankovsky, who had collaborated in experiments on graphic sound with Arseny Avraamov and soon afterwards worked with Evgeny Sholpo in Leningrad on his composition machine, the Variophon. The ANS was remarkably close to the concept of the Mechanical Orchestra, a sound synthesis machine proposed by Sholpo in 1917. The ANS was based on a set of optical sine wave oscillators, adjusted on fixed frequencies, forming a discrete scale, and covering the whole audible range with very small intervals between successive pitches.

World War II delayed Murzin’s work, so the first model of the ANS was not completed until 1957. It was installed in an improved form in 1959 at the Skryabin Museum in Moscow, where it became the basis of the Soviet Union’s first electronic music studio (in ...

Article

Hugh Davies

revised by Anne Beetem Acker

Microcomputer designed by Steve Jobs (b San Francisco, 25 Feb 1955; d Palo Alto, 5 Oct 2011) with Steve Wozniak (b San Jose, CA, 11 Aug 1950) and manufactured in various versions from 1977 until 1993 by Apple Computer Inc. of Cupertino, California. It has been widely used in musical and other contexts. The Apple II consists of a single box for the logic circuitry (based on the MOS 6502 microprocessor) with an integral alphanumeric keyboard, and attached peripherals typically including a visual display unit, two disc drives, a printer, and joysticks. The original Apple II included a monophonic speaker and one-bit sound capability that could be made to sound like two or three simultaneous voices.

For higher-quality music production, by 1981 other firms began to produce various circuit boards (sound cards) to plug into the Apple II. Examples include ALF Products’ synthesizer card and Mountain Computer’s popular 16-oscillator digital synthesizer with software. Two commercially produced digital synthesizers with polyphonic keyboards, the alphaSyntauri (...

Article

Apps  

Anne Beetem Acker

[applications]

Specialized software programs that can be downloaded and run on handheld electronic devices including tablet computers and some mobile phones. Inexpensive apps have been developed that enable host devices to function as musical instruments (e.g. Ocarina, Pocket Guitar, Pianist, Pocket Shaker), radios (Pandora, Sirus Jango, Tuner Internet Radio), music players (iTunes, Google Music), sound mixers (DJ Mixer Pro, Audio Core Mixer), sequencers (Guitar Sequencer, BeatMaker), synthesizers (Moog Filtatron), effects creators, (AmpliTube, Sonic Vox), recorders (Pro Studio), DJ Scratch tools (MixMeister Scratch), and provide ‘toolkits’ such as chord dictionaries for various instruments (ChordMaster). Apps have been supplanting specialized devices such as mechanical and digital metronomes (iBeat) and electronic tuning aids (Cleartune)....

Article

Anne Beetem Acker

Experimental electronic instrument designed at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile by Claudio Bertin, Gabriel de Ioannes, Alvaro Sylleros, Rodrigo Cádiz, and Patricio de la Cuadra. First described publicly in 2010, it has an interface that responds to the user’s natural gestures, improves the audience observation experience, is easy to master, and allows exploration of tonal and rhythmic possibilities. The novel design methodology centred on formal analysis of video recordings of a focus group discussing characteristics of instruments and performance, as well as of video recordings of individual gestural responses to eight categories of sounds of diverse timbre, pitch, and dynamics. The results were used to describe the characteristics of the instrument being designed and to create mock-ups that led to the Arcontinuo. The instrument’s playing surface resembles a curved board that is placed vertically on the performer’s chest, with straps securing it over the shoulders and a prop resting against the player’s stomach. The board’s flexible magnetic surface measures three-dimensional data from several fingers simultaneously, using an embedded grid of Hall effect sensors. Software interprets the results to produce the sounds....