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date: 14 November 2019


  • Hugh Davies


Monophonic electronic instrument developed at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia in 1937 by William Edgar Danforth for William Francis Gray Swann, an amateur cellist and director of the institute’s Bartol Research Foundation. Danforth, also a cellist, was Swann’s assistant. The Oscillion was designed to replace missing instruments in the amateur Swarthmore Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Swann). It consisted of a wooden box about 30 cm long, which was held on the left arm; a resistance strip fingerboard, played by the right hand, controlled the frequency of a gas-discharge oscillator, while the left hand operated a lever controlling the volume and buttons that altered the pitch range within a compass of more than four octaves, perhaps as many as eight. As the high pitches were not wholly satisfactory, the instrument was considered more suitable as a substitute for low-pitched instruments such as bassoon, bass clarinet, tuba, and string bass. At least two instruments were constructed. Earlier, the name oscillion had been used for an oscillator/wave transmitter patented by Lee de Forest in ...

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