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date: 15 November 2019


  • Hugh Davies


Electronic wind synthesizer with breath controller, invented in the mid-1970s in the acoustics department of the Musicological Institute at the University of Cologne by Jobst Peter Fricke, Wolfgang Voigt, and Jürgen Schmitz (b Brühl, Germany, 12 April 1952). A prototype called the Martinetta was produced by Ernest Martin KG. The Variophon was developed by Schmitz in collaboration with Helmut Reuter in 1978, and manufactured from 1979 by Realton, a firm founded by Reuter in Euskirchen. It consists of a recorder-like tube mouthpiece, a 38-note keyboard and a separate control panel. To keep the circuitry secret, the circuit boards are encapsulated in epoxy resin. The mouthpiece and keyboard are differently combined in the various models; they can be attached to form a wind instrument held vertically, in which the narrow keyboard takes the place of conventional fingerholes and keys; or the two elements can be separate, in which case the monophonic keyboard console resembles a small electronic organ or piano accordion. The control panel includes four sockets (six on the professional model) into which a selection of plug-in cards can be inserted; on each of these are stored digitally the sounds of one of the principal orchestral woodwind and brass instruments, and there are also saxophone and panpipe modules. Any combination of modules can be used simultaneously, producing unison sounds; the professional model offers, in addition, the alternative of two lines moving in parallel, each line consisting of three voices of different timbre. The fundamental tuning of the instrument can be fixed, by means of an automatic transposition switch, in C, B♭ or E♭ (also F in the professional model). All traditional mouth articulations are effective and their impact can be adjusted electronically to suit individual modules. Glissando is also possible. Schmitz specialized as a performer on the Variophon. The original analogue algorithms were later transferred to a new digital platform in order to improve the sound production process....

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