Working with the technology of sound recording and playback, people soon discovered that they could create entirely new sounds. By manipulating the electrical signal sent to a loudspeaker, sounds that had never existed before came to life. The loudspeaker became part of an instrument itself.
A Generated Sound
With the help of electronic technology, it was possible to examine how sounds worked.
Scientists investigated the basic properties of sound and then created electrical circuits which could reproduce and create new sounds.
They used oscilloscopes (a piece of equipment that displays soundwaves on a visual screen) to view the soundwaves:
Building New Sounds
Inside nearly all electronic instruments is an electrical part called an oscillator. These create a signal wave which moves back and forth (the wave can be described as oscillating). Almost any electrical device that produces its own sound will contain an oscillator.
These oscillating electrical signals are then fed to a loudspeaker and are converted into soundwaves:
While different types of oscillators will create sounds that have a different timbre.
By combining individual, basic soundwaves, it is possible to create an unlimited number of new sonic textures.
Many early electronic instruments were extensions to existing acoustic instruments (e.g. the electric guitar) but other brand new instruments were soon invented.
Find out more by reading below:
One of the first new musical instruments was the theremin. The theremin is performed without being touched by the performer. It has two antennae, one to control pitch (usually a straight metal pole) and one to control volume (usually a curved metal loop).
When the performer moves towards the antennae, their body interacts with the electronic circuitry to produce a sound.
The sudophone is a more recent instrument, invented in the 2000s, but using basic electronic technology.
When playing the instrument, the performer becomes part of the electronic circuit themselves!
The pitch of the instrument is controlled by squeezing the bolt and the tin, which changes the flow of electricity in the circuit (and through the performer!!!).
All the instructions, and a list of all the parts that you might need, are available on the inventors website: Sudophone Instructions.
TAKE CARE: The soldering process uses very high temperatures.
The Oramics machine was designed and built by the composer and musician Daphne Oram in 1959. It was not a live performance instrument (like the theremin or sudophone), but allowed sounds to be created directly from their basic parameters.
Daphne Oram demonstrates the Oramics machine
A recording from the mid 1960s in which Daphne Oram talks about the Oramics machine and plays some sound examples.
The composer would draw patterns and shapes onto glass plates and celluloid film, which controlled the various parameters of the sound. The shapes of these patterns directly affected and controlled the sounds that were generated.
Programmers have created a version of the Oramics machine for iPhone and iPad. Download and draw your very own sounds, or even compose a whole piece!