Where would be today's club,
hip-hop or ambient music without synthesizers? Well, it
would be no such thing as those styles, at all. The best
synthesizers and samplers had great influence on evolution
of many musical styles, actually creating them. The
inspiration married to particular unit with great sound
created so many beautiful records that we enjoy today. And
the most part of sound on them are synthesizers and
The history of synthesizers and
samplers - Part I
In this article we would like to present a solid
theoretical foundation for anyone who wants to know the
history, principles of construction, operation and the
use of synthesizers and samplers in the production of music.
The magnitude of the subject does not give us the
opportunity to very detailed
description of all of them, however we will try to give a fairly broad
cross-section of what is most important both in terms of
influence, as well as the operation of most famous synthesizers and samplers.
What is synthesizer? Synthesizer is an electronic
musical instrument, which contains various modules for
producing and shaping sound, such as
oscillators, filters or voltage control amplifiers. The
synthesizers are used
to produce sounds impossible to obtain by traditional instruments.
With the emergence of these instruments the entirely
separate branch of music was developed, namely the electronic music.
The word "synthesizer" is derived from the word "synthesis".
And that word means the synthesis of all the components or
any individual pieces into one thing. This is what the
A typical synthesizer contains three most
1 The Oscillator - the module that produces initial sound
2 The Keyboard - the module that is used to control the sound in the
3 The Filters and Effects to change the nature of the
The third section usually contains the VCA module, which allows you to set
different characteristics of sound int terms of it's decay
or attack as well as the VCF Envelope filter, which may change the characteristics of
filter actions depending on the time.
For a long time already the synthesizers have a built-in
sequencer module for programming synthesizer, so that it can
play different rhythms or phrases at the same time, and a module to store
both factory and user sound presets. The first synthesizer
that was equipped with a memory for storing
sounds was the Prophet 5, and it was simply priceless
in terms of practical usability for musicians, who did not have to set each
A brief history and types of synthesizers
The first synthesizer in the world has
been discovered in 1919 by LÚon Theremin. He called it
Aetherphone, but this name was not accepted and that synthesizer
has become known as the Theremin. This is one of the few
electronic instruments that do not require physical contact,
to play them. A musician who played it just raises his
hands near the two synthesizer's antennas and through the
movement of hands he controls the volume and pitch. This synthesizer has been
used in numerous recordings, such as a soundtrack for the
film "Forbidden Planet", the song "Good Vibrations"
by the group Beach Boys and is still used.
The following photos illustrate both the appearance of the
instrument, and the way it was played. In the first photo is LÚon Theremin:
The next significant step in the history of synthesizer
development is the Ondes Martenot:
Martenot (1898 - 1980) invented it when he worked as a radio
technician during World War I, He noted "the purity of the
vibrations produced by the tubes, which can be controlled
with a capacitor". This was one of the first electronic
instruments in the world, and the only, which inspired a huge
repertoire of songs, and that is still in use today. Martenot began work on the Ondes Martenot in 1919. It does
not, however, was presented to the public until May 1928,
when it suffered unprecedented success at the Paris Opera.
This triumph allowed Martenot the world concert tour.
Martenot's instrument is still in use and taught in about
ten conservatories of music (France, Canada). Some companies
Oliva and SEAM improved the design of this instrument and it is available
under these new names since 2001.
Ondes Martenot is a monophonic instrument, consisting of 3
"diffusers": the "major" diffuser (a traditional speaker),
the "resonant" diffuser
and the "metallique" diffuser (a gong put in vibration by using
metal replaced a speaker's membrane, which gives a metallic
sound with precise height).
The Resonant diffuser has 2 varieties: the so-called. "Palm",
which is a speaker in the shape of a flame, with strings
placed on the resonance chamber, allowing the sounds
on the principle of resonance, and second, more modern,
so-called "Resonnance" (which is built on springs
using the same principle of resonance)
Mobile keyboard allows the player to control the vibration, and
also to obtain micro intervals. On the front and along the
keyboard is a ribbon with a ring through which the
performer put his right hand finger. The frequency of the
instrument is determined by the location of the finger and
allows the player to get the same effects as using fretless string
instruments or the human voice (e.g.
glissando). Ondes Martenot's range is very broad, it covers
much as 7 octaves. On the left there is a drawer with all
the regulators: the preset sounds (100 possible combinations), the
transposition keys (among other things quarter tons),
regulators for speaker, the balance, pink noise and the "touche d'intensitÚ" (key expression). The instrument also has 2
foot controlled pedals- the muting pedal and decay pedal.
More then 1200 compositions in very different styles were
written for Ondes Martenot: the ballet, film music, theater, jazz,
rock, contemporary music, the television and radio ads.
Here is a sample of the sound of this wonderful synthesizer coming
from the Jolivet's concert on Ondes Martenot:
Shortly after the Ondes Martenot another,
very important in the history synthesizer was
invented, which was called Trautonium:
is an instrument discovered by German engineer Dr.
Freidrich'a Adolf Trautwein, who first presented it at
an exhibition in 1930r. In the years 1932-35 the serial
started by the Telefunken company. The famous music writers using
that instrument were Paul Hindemith (Concertina for Trautonium and Orchestra), H÷ffer, Genzmer, Julius Weismann,
and also Oscar Hall, who became a virtuoso of this
instrument, and even continued to work on its development,
by introducing its own variations - 'Mixtur-Trautonium', 'Concert-Trautonium'
and 'Radio - Trautonium'. Dr. Freidrich Trautwein also
invented the 'amplified harpsichord' (1936) and 'Electronic
'Trautonium' had a keyboard consisting of resistive wire,
extended on a metal rail. It was marked with chromatic signs,
similar to the piano keyboard and was connected to a tube
oscillator. The performer played the instrument by pressing a wire touching the
rails, closing the circuit, and the sound of the
oscillator has been strengthened through the loudspeaker.
Position of the finger on the wire controlled resistance, which gave
the appropriate frequency. Trautonium had a range of 3 octaves,
which could be transposed by the switch. The additional
circuitry can be added in order to control the sound by
strengthening the harmonics tone of the basic components,
the un-harmonics also can be added by the selective
filtering. This unique form of the so-called "subtractive"
yielded interesting and inspiring tones. This instrument differed
significantly from other synthesizers from 20' and 30' of the
last century. The instrument had a pedal that controls the
Here is original samples of the sound of this exacting instrument:
Another significant synthesizer in the history of
music was discovered by electronic engineer
Harry Olsen RCA Mark I.
On the left you can see a room filled
with synthesizer modules. The photo on the right shows
instrument's inventors, Harry Olson (in depth) and Herbert Belar (front).
It was much more complicated than the Theremin, Trautonium
or the Ondes Martenot. It was controlled by paper strap
of 38 cm wide, on which the binary code was encoded bearing
information about notes and phrases for the sequencer. The
development of the RCA synthesizer cost the company 500 000
Slightly improved variant was Mark II that uses 24
ownership of the machine was transferred to Columbia-Princeton
Electronic Music Center in 1959, Milton Babbitt used it to
create such works as' Philomèle ' for soprano and
Most of electronic instruments produced in
the years 1920, 1930 and 1940 were different
varieties of electronic organs. One model deserves the
special attention - the Hammond organ:
The first one was built in 1935. The
Hammond organ became very a popular keyboard instrument in the
sixties and seventies and have been used by the greatest
keyboard instruments virtuosos, such as Steve Winwood, Ion
Lord of Deep Purple, Tony Banks of Genesis, Rick Wakeman of
Yes, Rick Wright of Pink Floyd, Keith Emmerson from Emmerson,
Lake and Palmer and many others.
The inventor and manufacturer of Hammond organ was Laurens Hammond.
Initially, these units have been sold to churches as a
cheaper alternative to traditional pipe organ, however,
they quickly found use in jazz, blues, gospel, soul,
rock and fusion music of the sixties and seventies. The most
famous model of the Hammond are the B3 and C3, which appeared in
1955. Thus, although the intention Hammond was a cheaper
substitute for the implementation as pipe organ, it quickly
became a very common tool creating a class in itself, and
musicians such as Jimmy Smith contributed to it's
unbelievable public success.
Hammond organ use audio discs
placed in a rotating electromagnetic transducers to produce
it is not a purely electronic instrument, but rather
electromechanical. Sounds produced by mechanically rotating
discs can be mixed in numerous ways using manuals made in the form of
switches and thus very complex combinations of tone can be
Hammond organ is the first electronic instrument,
which truly changed the face of the music, the way we know
In the fifties of last century
electronic instruments began to be treated more and more
seriously. This is because during this period a new style in classical music
came to the public interest, the so called "musique
concrete". This style makes use of different sounds from
the environment as recorded sounds, and links them together in
composition. It was also associated with the spread of
magnetic tape, as the popular recording technique. The sounds were
recorded, the pitch changed by the tape speed
manipulation, then they have been processed by various
filters, cut, looped, and finally combined in the composition.
Actually, you can say that the techniques used in music
concrete are still alive today in digital samplers, which
are able to mimic all the tricks associated with the
magnetic tape, of course, but with a much greater degree of
precision and higher quality.
At the beginning the synthesizers were incredibly expensive,
their construction was carried out mostly by the hobbyists
determined to search for new sounds, and access to them had
only the major institutions such as philharmonic music
academies. Real rise of synthesizers occurred during the Sixties, when
bands such as The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis, King
Crimson, and many others have begun to introduce them en
masse to their sound. But even then the synthesizer was
only an addition to other instruments. The synthesizers became fully independent
thanks to musicians such as
Jean-Michel Jarre, Klaus Schultze and Isao Tomita. They
based on the synthesizers treating them not as additional
instruments but built full extremely reach arrangements
using solely synthesizers. In the second half of the last century
during the sixties a particularly interesting form of
experimentation was magnetic tape use. the first electronic
instrument using this trick was called Mellotron. It was the archetype of the modern sampler, which
instead uses digital, looped samples. Magnetic tapes, with
taped excerpts of a sound, such as choir or strings section
were the origin.
Clearly, the Mellotron was a very complicated and expensive
instrument, which gaves the possibility, however of
extremely expressive sounds not possible to obtain
in any other
way. An example of one of the best uses of Mellotron in
the history of music is "In The Court Of The Crimson
King" album by the group King Crimson. The following photos
mechanics of the Mellotron and several other of its versions:
All articles are covered by
International Copyright Laws.
Copyright ® by Mariusz Wojto˝, 2007-2008. Copying,
the use of excerpts for any purpose without the
agreement of the author prohibited.
Emotion Converting Plant is a registered trademark
of Mariusz Wojto˝.