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date: 13 December 2019


  • Hugh Davies
  • , revised by Andrei Smirnov


Monophonic electronic instrument invented in Moscow in 1926 by the obscure inventor and musician Nikolai Anan’yev, who considered his instrument an improvement of the theremin. The name is unrelated to the later acronym for sound-based navigation systems. Using a fingerboard (a long narrow wire coil covered with an elastic conductive strip), the performer varied the pitch of the audio oscillator by pressing the strip at appropriate points, a technology that became popular in Russia by the late 1920s. Later versions of the Sonar had a timbre control by means of which the violin and even simple speech (words such as ‘mama’ and ‘papa’) could be imitated. Loudness could be controlled by means of a pedal. In the 1930s a course for Sonar performers was established at the Saratov Conservatory.

Anan’yev played more than 600 concerts. In the late 1930s during a concert at the Moscow Conservatory, Anan’yev and a well-known violinist both played the same piece; the audience favoured the Sonar....

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