The evolution of technology in the twentieth century had a huge impact on music. Between the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, many people were experimenting with generating music through the use of electricity. The Theremin and Telharmonium were two of the most significant early electronic instruments.
Born June 18 th 1867 to Dr Timothy and Ellen Cahill After his mothers death he was home-schooled by his father. Very bright child – coming up with ideas for inventions from a very young age. Patented many ideas for inventions such as an electric typewriter and a scale to measure loudness on the piano. Idea for the telharmonium in 1892/93
The Telharmonium was invented by Thaddeus Cahill and patented in 1897. It was also called the Dynamophone at first but he later decided against this name for his invention. He wanted to create an electronic music synthesizer that could transport music to remote locations. He achieved this by use of telephone lines. Cahill was one of the first people to use the term synthesising in his line of work. He was inspired by the work of Helmholtz who was a German physician that had a background in the studies of perception.
The Telharmonium generated musical tones by use of direct current electricity. Its inner workings contained mechanisms capable of creating and changing individual musical tones. These mechanisms were activated by a touch sensitive keyboard. The sound was then emitted through a speaker. The first Telharmonium was capable of playing one octave of music. The entire instrument weight around 200 tons.
The Theremin was invented by Leon Theremin in 1921 It was one of the first musical instruments that is played using electric fields. You need an oscillator for this, this would be the current. Inside this instrument includes a capacitor which discharges its charges. When this process is repeated it produces a syndic deal curve where the sound is formed – Fixed frequency. This is changed in return by playing with the capacitor. As the distance between the plates of the Antenna is going down the pitch and frequency is going up. Its principals are almost entirely electronic and the capacitance effect of the human body – moving the hands varies the capacitance of a tuned circuit.
The Theremin had it’s disadvantages during the period it was invented: Clara Rockmore, the most famous thereminist, only took people with extensive music knowledge. He wanted it easy to create music, but in reality it was very hard to play. Huge plans were made for it to be sold world wide, but soon after the Great Depression hit and no one was interested. In later life, the Theremin became of use, in famous bands such as: The Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, Tenacious D, Eels, White Stripes. Also appeared in The Big Bang Theory, Season 4 Ep.12
Born 1897 in Leningrad, Russia. Played Cello and Piano – Trained himself in the Theremin. Physicist by education. Went to America to promote the Theremin. Asked to return to Russia. Imprisoned for treason – he had worked on televisions and alarms in the US and this was seen as betraying his country. Assigned to a team doing research on Aircrafts. Was released in 1947 and found freedom difficult. Continued to work with his musical inventions.
The Telharmonium provided much influence for synthesizers today. The Theremin was first musical instrument that made musical tones using electricity alone. Both of these instruments have influenced electronic instruments that are being made today.
Thom Holmes, 1985 Electronic and Experimental Music: Technology, Music and Culture, ed.3, New York: Routledge Reynold Weidenaar, 1995 Magic Music From The Telharmonium, London: The Scarecrow Press John Waymouth, 2004 ‘Why The Theremin Fell By The Wayside: A case study in the evolution of paradigms in music’ Michael Dervin, 2011 ‘ The Miracle Instrument That Led To Gulag’ The Irish Times 29 April