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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....

Article

Term used to describe the system adopted in partially polyphonic electronic keyboard instruments to determine which of several keys depressed at any one time shall give rise to a signal. Partially polyphonic instruments are those in which two or more sounds (usually no more than 16) can be generated simultaneously; if more keys are held down at once than the instrument has ‘voices’, the assignment system causes a certain selection of keys (the highest, lowest, latest, etc.) to generate sounds....

Article

Hugh Davies

Electronic keyboard instrument (not a piano) developed by Lee de Forest (b Council Bluffs, IA, 26 Aug 1873; d Hollywood, CA, 30 June 1961) in New York from 1915. De Forest introduced his Audion triode valve (vacuum tube) in 1906. A more sensitive development of John A. Fleming’s diode valve, it was to prove a major step in the development of electronics, especially radio. About 1915, while devising an electronic oscillator based on the valve, he discovered that it created an audible frequency that could be changed by holding the hand close to or touching certain parts of a circuit (the principle on which the theremin and Ondes Martenot are based). This led to the development of the Audion piano, the first vacuum-tube instrument, and the first to use a beat-frequency or ‘heterodyning’ oscillator system as well as to use body capacitance to control pitch and timbre. A prototype, using one triode valve per octave, permitted the playing of only a single note at a time within each octave. The output was heard through loudspeakers that could be placed for a stereophonic effect. A planned polyphonic version was to allocate a separate oscillator for each note, but because at that time de Forest’s Audion valves were unreliable and unstable, it seems that he was unable to complete a working instrument. De Forest’s French patent of ...

Article

Hugh Davies

An Electronic organ, several models of which were manufactured between 1951 and the mid-1950s by Apparatewerk Bayern (AWB) in Dachau. The first model was the entertainment organ Polychord III, designed by Harald Bode. It had two five-octave manuals and a 30-note pedalboard. The sounds were produced by an oscillator for each note, and a second system of 12 oscillators, using frequency division, supplied some of the timbres. The Polychord III was one of the first electronic organs manufactured in Germany after World War II; many of its principles were continued in later models of the AWB organ. After Bode left the company at the end of 1952 he was replaced by his assistant Heinz Ahlborn, who adapted Bode’s design for church use. The range of models included instruments with one and two manuals, and a two-manual model for light music. In the mid-1950s the company was declared bankrupt; the remaining unsold and incomplete models were taken over by the organ-building company of Oskar Vierling. Ahlborn left AWB in ...

Article

Ax  

Laurence Libin

[axe]

In the argot of American popular music, a term for any instrument. The word particularly denotes wind and string types common in bands, such as saxophones and electric guitars; it is less often applied to keyboards and drum sets. Of uncertain origin but widespread by the 1950s, this usage apparently emerged in the early 20th century, perhaps in connection with the colloquial terms ‘woodshedding’ (laborious practicing or performing) and ‘chops’ (a wind player’s jaws, mouth, or embouchure, and by extension, any instrumentalist’s technical ability), as in ‘He’s woodshedding with his ax to improve his chops’. ‘Cutting contests’ (performance competitions) between early New Orleans jazz players naturally involved their axes. Such rustic terminology implies effortful, demonstrative physical work, like chopping wood with an ax....

Article

Hugh Davies

An electronic organ, many models of which were manufactured by the Baldwin Piano & Organ Co. in the United States beginning in 1946. The original models were designed by Dr. Winston E. Kock (1909–82), the company’s director of electronic research from 1936. Baldwin organs normally have two manuals and pedals; the earlier models were mostly church, cinema, and concert organs, but the company has subsequently manufactured a wide range of instruments, including many for home use, especially “spinet” organs in which two shorter manuals are staggered by one octave. Advances in electronic technology around ...

Article

Anne Beetem Acker

Interactive laser music controller made by Human Beams, Inc., also known as Beamz Interactive, Inc., based in Scottsdale, Arizona. The firm was cofounded in 2001 by the rock musician Paul Riopelle and the Beamz’s inventor, Jerry [Gerald Henry] Riopelle, also a rock musician and record producer. Todor Fay and Melissa Jordan Grey developed the controlling software. The Beamz system was first released in late 2010. Eight patents, for the controller, interactive music creation methods, and applications, had been filed by 2010.

The performer triggers preloaded music sequences, optionally running over a background rhythm track, by interrupting laser beams using the hands or any object. The user need not be able to read music; the system ensures that combinations are always ‘harmonically pleasing’. The model C6 has six laser beams, the C4 has four. The W-shaped Beamz tabletop controller is linked via a USB connection to a host computer running the controller’s software. An easy-to-use computer interface allows the performer to select or store new sequences. Different types of sequences, notes, and sounds can be assigned to each laser. Sound is produced using the computer’s audio hardware and played back through any connected loudspeaker system. The system comes with preloaded songs and settings, with more available for download over the Internet from the firm’s website. In addition the user can save personal music files and improvisations. Particularly intended for the DJ market, the system enables dynamic remixing of songs, and the lasers create a dramatic appearance. The performer can trigger melodies and rhythms that loop on top of each other, incrementally layering the sequences. A sequence can be a melodic or rhythmic pattern that starts, ends, or changes to a different pattern when triggered. A single note of a synthesized instrument can change pitch when triggered, and the player can then trigger different beams to layer in other sounds....

Article

Laurence Libin

(Delmetia )

(b Coleman County, TX, March 18, 1899; d at sea nr Los Angeles, CA, March 30, 1941). American inventor of musical instruments. He was co-founder of the National Stringed Instrument Corporation and the Rickenbacker guitar company. He played the violin and the lap steel (‘Hawaiian’) guitar in vaudeville before settling in Los Angeles, where he worked with John and Rudy Dopyera to develop an acoustically amplified guitar, probably inspired by Stroh models. An early model with a Victrola horn failed, but trials using conical aluminium resonators within a metal guitar body (a prototype of the three-cone Dobro guitar) proved successful and attracted investors. Production of metal-body guitars under the name National soon involved Adolph Rickenbacker’s nearby tool and die shop.

From the mid-1920s Beauchamp also experimented with electrical amplification of guitars (including lap steel and bass guitars) and violins of unconventional shape, without normal resonators but using simple phonograph pickups. After his collaboration with the Dopyeras ended, in ...

Article

Allison A. Alcorn

(b Elgin, IL, Dec 12, 1899; d Downey, CA, June 7, 1968). American guitar maker and inventor, known as the father of the electric solid-body guitar. Before World War I he was a patternmaker at a machine shop in Los Angeles. After the war he became a motorcycle racer known as ‘P.A.’, a nickname that carried into later life. During World War II, Bigsby designed parts for US Navy ships. As a guitarist, Bigsby played with an amateur country and western band, and in 1944, dissatisfied with commercially available guitars, he set out to make a better one. He brought his prototype lap steel guitar to Earl ‘Joaquin’ Murphy, who liked it so much that Bigsby built for Murphy his first Bigsby D-8, a double-eight-string lap steel guitar (i.e. an instrument with two necks having eight strings each). The T-8, a triple-eight-string console steel guitar (having three necks, each with eight strings) that Bigsby built for Murphy in ...

Article

Sarah Davachi

Electromechanical keyboard instrument designed in 1974 by Dave Biro of Yalesville, Connecticut, and patented on 2 June 1975. Between 1975 and 1977, Birotronics Ltd in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, manufactured the instrument in very limited quantities with the funding of the Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman. Like the Mellotron and Chamberlin instruments, the Birotron uses a tape-replay mechanism to play magnetic-tape loops of pre-recorded sound. However, unlike the Mellotron—which was capable of sustaining a sample for only about eight seconds—the Birotron uses tape cartridges that enable it to maintain continuous sound indefinitely. Each cartridge contains eight separate tape tracks in parallel and is split into four different sounds; therefore, each cartridge spans two notes on the keyboard. To cope with the bleeding of sound that occasionally occurs between adjacent tape tracks, Biro designed the instrument in such a way that the two pitches corresponding to one cartridge are separated by the interval of a fifth. That way, in the event of bleeding between tracks, the resulting sound is consonant. The Birotron also features attack and delay controls. Similar in function to the VCA envelope of analogue synthesizers, these controls allow imitation of the natural attack and decay characteristics of the sampled instruments. Additionally, cartridges can be interchanged in order to split and layer a multitude of sounds across the keyboard....

Article

Anne Beetem Acker

Synthesizer module manufacturer founded by John Blacet (b 1946) in 1978 as Blacet Music Research in Lakeview, Oregon. Blacet initially made kits for analogue modules including a digital pattern generator, a voltage-controlled clock with event arranger, a phase filter, and a frequency divider, followed by analogue delay modules, the ‘Dark Star’ (a mini noise module) and the ‘Syn-bow’, a self-contained wand-controlled synthesizer. With the popularity of digital synthesizers in the 1980s Blacet’s business plummeted, but renewed interest in analogue synthesis in the 1990s enabled him to produce a full line of kit and assembled analogue synthesizer modules in the Frac format. These modules are noted for fitting a large amount of functionality into very small modules. In spring ...