… click …

I should be busy, writing a kind of report. The material is researched and collected, I have copies here on my desk, I have collected urls and – most important – I know what I have to link via the library catalogue. So the boring part is here: Piece it together, describe and write down the different steps and partial results, then summa summarum finish it all up. I expect it to become a 20 to 25 page “article”.
There is no real deadline, only a vague promise of pay, and the interesting part – the research – is over.
So I find myself  trawling the net and listening to strange sounds. Besides typical sound libraries like this one, Lautarchive can be found too, f.e. the Berliner Lautarchiv. See here what the BL has from them. Findsounds seems to be the largest search tool for sounds nowadays, the older ones I had bookmarked are not working anymore. And there is always British Pathe … the German Wochenschau-Archiv (Ger., Eng.) is under construction, while the Filmarchiv is running. The Network of Multimedia Resources can be a starting point for excursions in the world of old and new media, while filmarchives is specialised on european film archives, for historical sounds and other materials one turns to Clio’s lists.

Übersprungshandlung  (Ger., Eng.) is translated with “replacement activity” . A bit less friendly one could call it procrastination or simple: laziness.



In the lexicon * I already have mentioned here,  I found an article about Harald GENZMER (Ger., Eng.) (1909-2007), German composer and disciple of Paul HINDEMITH (Ger., Eng.) (1895-1963). Among GENZMER’s works a Konzert für Trautonium is listed, and KLEE explains it as “an electronic instrument sponsored by GOEBBELS for the Thingspiele“. The German wikipedia article about GENZMER  mentions a “number of compositions for this instrument” that are seemingly lost. The first pieces for Trautonium were created by HINDEMITH in 1930.

The Trautonium (Ger., Eng.) is the invention of Friedrich TRAUTWEIN (Ger.) (1888-1956), a kind of early synthesizer. According to this short notice published on the occasion of his surprising death, TRAUTWEIN had the basic idea for his instrument while he performed Hausmusik with his family. Young Friedrich as a child learned to play the organ and throughout his life was a music lover; in the small family orchestra he often had to play parts for instruments that were not available and so had to imitate for example the voice of a violin or a woodwind instrument on the piano: He had the idea of an instrument that would allow to change the Klangfarbe, the acoustic colour, while playing on one board.
This is the basic idea of the Trautonium: Over a metal rail a thin resistor wire is lead and where it is pressed down the number of impulses per time unit is varied, this way the pitch of the sound is modulated; throw in a lot of filters and you have a device that allows to modulate  and emulate an awful lot of sounds: It’s not a string vibrating, but the sound itself is modulated. Here you find a way better explanation.

TRAUTWEIN joined the Reichspost in 1920 and worked for the Rundfunk, the radio broadcasting, helping to build the very first broadcasting station Vox-Haus  (Ger.) in Tiergarten. He says in a rare documented speech that he found the transmissions to be of poor quality in those early days. To better the situation it was necessary to develop better equipment, especially microphones. The other possibility was to better the transmission, for example by avoiding additional equipment at all and modulating the sound signal itself. Here lies his idea of the Volkstrautonium: He had the vision of an easy to assemble and playable instrument for everybody, fully electric – he speaks of Elektromusik. The Reichspost was not what he liked and 1929 TRAUTWEIN became a teacher at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin: Here he met HINDEMITH, GENZMER, and SALA.

TRAUTWEIN built the machine, HINDEMITH and his composer students  explored the musical possibilities and SALA actually played it. Telefunken (Ger., Eng.) even produced around 100 of the early instruments for the market, but it was naturally too expensive and too exotic. The situation changed after 1933 when Telefunken gave back to TRAUTWEIN the patents they had used and so he lost this source of income. HINDEMITH finally left Germany for Switzerland and later America. TRAUTWEIN took up working for the Luftwaffe and was somehow connected with the development of the German Richtfunk, a kind of early radar. GENZMER stayed in Germany and kept on composing, and Oskar SALA (Ger., Eng.) (1910-2002) kept on working and developing the Trautonium. They are said to have traveled together and performed, but I have not found any further information on this.
After the war TRAUTWEIN was for some years in Paris working in the development of aeroplanes and from 1949 onwards until his death was head of the training of recording engineers (Tonmeister) at the Konservatorium in Düsseldorf, today Robert-Schuhmann-Hochschule (Ger., Eng.). His estate is kept in the Deutsches Museum in Munich. SALA professionalized the use of the Trautonium and worked for film and tv, his estate is also in Munich.

The Trautonium had something of a renaissance some years ago and various projects grew around this music machine, especially this year in rememberance of SALA‘s hundredth birthday. There is a rebuilding project under way, new music is composed. On YouTube one can find a tv-feature about the Trautonium (part one, part two), German only, but check the links there are some sound bits. This is all very nice and interesting, but I found no clue that the instrument would have been used for any Thingspiel.



* KLEE, Ernst: Das Kulturlexikon zum Dritten Reich. Wer war was vor und nach 1945, Frankfurt a.M. 2007, article “Genzmer” 177.

Sunday Music

B 3

I earlier wrote about old radios and the strange sounds one can hear on the “sides” of the ‘allowed’ bandwidth, crackling noises or endless morse code, strange rows and rows of numbers (Zahlensender),  I seemingly made a little leeway, like the signal of a far away station because of incoming fog. But I would not describe myself as foggy; not yet.

It started with a link XL sent me, about Harald BODE (Ger., Eng.) the inventor of the Melochord (Ger., Eng.) and other early electro-electronical instruments we today summarize as synthesizers (German radio feature here) – if this is correct: I can not say whether this is still the right term because the technical evolution went that fast that I have no more idea how the digitalized small technical wonders today “make sound”  (a historical overview here). The most known early music instrument of this kind is probably Lev TERMEN’s (Ger., Eng.) Theremin (Ger., Eng.), because it was widely used in 1960s psychedelic music and produces a unique and distinctive sound. It was often used in films to produce space-themed music. I think in this context not so much about HOLST’s (Ger., Eng.) Planets (Ger., Eng.) but more of post WWII invasion phantasies, but I could not give an example now, and am too lazy and tired to trawl youtube. These films of the 1950s until 1970s are worth another post.

One can not mention the Theremin without referring to The Hammond (Ger., Eng.), Laurens HAMMOND’s (Ger., Eng.) invention without that 60s music, especially jazz-rock, is un-imaginable. Especially the B3 with Leslie speakers  (Ger., Eng.) has an unmistakable pulsating warm sound, and the list of Hammond organ players (wiki) is a kind of Who’s who of modern jazz and rock.  A modern organ has one really great advantage over a historical instrument with pipes – it’s not blowing the bellows, it’s simply the power of the stroke or touch you need: I once saw the hands of an organist who played a very nice and known historical instrument, he had hands like a blacksmith, really developed and ‘well defined’ muscles; demanding Great and Swell, and do not forget the footwork.

These two ladies show what can be done with a B3, playing with – and a little against – each other. It’s not Sunday Music, hope you enjoy nevertheless.



From Childhood to Magnetism

There are two old radios on the shelves to the right of my desk. The larger one is a Graetz (Ger., Eng.) “Comedia” (plugged in and still in operation, pictures), the other smaller one seemingly carries no brand name and type designation. It still works too, I simply have only one electric connection there. The smaller one is from my mother’s side of the family, the larger “Comedia” – with a lot more golden lines to it – belonged to my father’s parents. Both apparatus are filled with tubes or valves and when started they need a bit of time until they reach their operating temperature, you can hear a little “whobb” and then the sound becomes clear – and warm.
Both have a magisches Auge (Ger., Eng.) and two large knobs: One for volume, other for stations. One can receive very short, short, middle and long wave; to change this setting very stable and clunky buttons need to be pressed, you hear a mechanical “clonk” and all of a sudden strange noises hiss and whisper out of the speaker.
I remember the endless numerical series one could hear – was it short wave? Whether from East or West I do not know, German, English, some with accent some not. In the sixties, living a stone’s throw away from The Border, who was communicating what to whom: Where is the spy? I have not heared it for ages, but as I learned it still exists, the Zahlensender (wiki Ger., Eng.) are still working, noises and attempts to blank out the transmission inclusive.
But there is other stuff too, natural sounds that can be heared with an old radio. First of all I had to learn that there ARE natural electromagnetic sounds that can be received. And brings us to Mr. S.P.McGreevy (Eng., Ger.), who on his website collects the “music of the magnetosphere”: He has published since 1996 at least two CD-albums with natural magnetic sounds, that can be found on this page. These magnetic or atmospheral sounds can be called “bioacoustics” – I have no idea whether the links on this page are still valid, sorry. An interesting collection of a wide range of environmental recordings  is here, there are small samples.
In the beginning of this April McGreevy installed a “Very-Low-Frequency-Receiver” that allows him to monitor these from home. More info on VLF should be found here.
And if you are still reading, brave!, have a look on the “Magnetic Movie“, its fun to watch, and a bit frightening.
I originally wanted to write about space-music and the melochord, so it will come later.