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date: 05 December 2019

Variophon(i)locked

  • Hugh Davies
  • , revised by Andrei Smirnov

Extract

Photoelectric composition machine, four models of which were developed in Leningrad between 1930 and 1949 by Evgeny Aleksandrovich Sholpo, inspired by experiments in graphic sound which he made with Arseny Avraamov at the end of 1929 and later on his own.

In May 1930, while working at Alexander Shorin’s Central Laboratory of Wire Communication in Leningrad, Sholpo applied for a patent on a ‘method and device for the production of a periodic sound track on film’, later named the Variophon. Supplementary applications claimed improvements, and he obtained copyright on 31 August 1931. In October 1930 he applied for a patent on a method of additive synthesis of graphic soundtracks: ‘a mechanism for the transformation and addition of harmonious fluctuations with different amplitudes’.

A shaped vane, or ‘acoustical drafter’, rotating between a length of film and a beam of light, shaped the optical recording, producing different pitches related to the ratio of speed of rotation of a disk and the speed at which the film moved. The first version of the Variophon was built with assistance from the composer Georgy Rimsky-Korsakov in ...

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