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date: 16 November 2019


  • Hugh Davies


Monophonic, electroacoustic keyboard instrument, based on the principle of the hurdy-gurdy. The instrument was developed about 1929–30 at the Société d’Etudes et de Construction d’Instruments de Musique in Paris by Gabriel Boreau with the assistance of Sollima and Gamzon. The instrument, which was the size of a harmonium, had a three-octave keyboard, with g as its lowest note, and a volume pedal. Like Boreau’s mechanical violin player of 1913–20, the Violinista, it used automatic bowing: a wheel driven by an electric motor continuously rotated against a single metal string, which was amplified by means of an electromagnetic pickup. In order that the string should be bowed at the most satisfactory position in relation to its sounding length for each note, the first model had a separate wheel for each of the three octaves. In the summer of 1930 these were replaced by a single, movable wheel. Metal ‘fingers’, operated from the keyboard, stopped the string to produce each note. This mechanism produced rich spectra (similar to those of brass instruments), which were modified by any one of several filters, selected by means of a switch. In some instruments, the performer could choose between several loudspeakers, each of which altered the timbre in a different way. A pizzicato, guitar-like quality could be obtained by using the metal ‘fingers’ on their own, the bow-wheel being prevented from touching the string. The Radiotone was employed in several Paris theatres and was also incorporated into some theatre organs, where it was played from one of the normal manuals. Some models contained a built-in record turntable....

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