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date: 18 November 2019

Lichtton-Orgel (Ger.: ‘light-sound organ’) [Welte Lichtton-Orgel]locked

  • Hugh Davies
  • , revised by Peter Donhauser


(Ger.: ‘light-sound organ’) [Welte Lichtton-Orgel]

Electronic organ developed from about 1930 in Freiburg by Edwin Welte (1876–1957) with W. Faass; it was constructed in three increasingly substantial versions by the organ builders Th. Mannborg in Leipzig between 1934 and 1936. Welte had been the co-designer with Karl Bockisch of the Welte-Mignon ‘reproducing’ player piano about 1901–4. In its final version the Lichtton-Orgel had two five-octave manuals and a pedalboard. The sound was generated by 48 rotating photoelectric tone-wheels in the form of glass discs (40 cm in diameter) on which the frequencies of all the pitches were photographically recorded as waveforms, arranged concentrically (this method of reproduction was partly based on patents from the mid 1920s by R. Michel); the waveforms were mostly derived from the timbres of well-known European pipe organs. 18 waveforms were reproduced on each disc, four or more octave registers being carried according to the length of the tracks. Additional discs, offering alternative timbres, could be used instead of the basic set. The original Lichtton-Orgel was destroyed during World War II in an air raid on Weikersheim, where it was stored at the Lauckhuff company, where Welte worked for some time. In the late 1940s Welte worked on a new, smaller model and on a speaking machine for the blind (‘Blindensprechmaschine’), but without success. Some English-language sources call the instrument ‘phototone’ or ‘photo-phone’....

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