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date: 19 November 2019

Electronic Music Boxlocked

  • Hugh Davies


An electronic composition machine developed up to 1951 by Earle Lewis Kent (b Adrian, Texas, 22 May 1910; d Elkhart, IN, 12 Jan 1994). From 1940 Kent worked for C.G. Conn in Elkhart, Indiana (from 1941 as research director), where he was involved in the design of electronic organs as well as pianos and wind instruments. He received his PhD in 1952 from the University of Michigan for his research on sampling sound waves and invention of an electronic composition machine, which he built with his own resources. His ‘electronic music box’ had been shown the previous year at an acoustics convention in Chicago. Despite widespread publicity, Conn declined to develop a commercial version of the device. It was operated by punched paper tape, one tape for each of several voices (only one of which appears to have been completed). The sound for each voice was generated by a beat-frequency oscillator and complex timbres were produced by means of a ‘frequency changer’. Pitch articulation resembled that of bowed string instruments in its sound characteristics (which included microtones and slurs), and there were controls for filtering, envelope shape, tremolo, vibrato and volume. The comparative simplicity of the mechanism had some influence on its better-known contemporary the RCA Electronic Music Synthesizer. Following sale of the Conn company in ...

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