NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1899 __ The Singing Arc
William Du Bois Duddell (1869-1942)
Comment : William du Bois Duddell was an English electrical engineer, the inventor of the electromagnetic oscillograph and some other electronic instruments. However, he is more known as the inventor of the 'Singing Arc' intended to provide both light and music by means of a tunable arc of electricity. This was one of the first electronic musical device. Before Thomas Alva Edison invented the electric light bulb electric street lighting was in wide use in Europe. A carbon arc lamp provided light by creating a spark between two carbon nodes. The problem with this method of lighting, apart from the dullness of the light and inneficient use of electricity was a constant humming noise from the arc. The British physicist William Duddell was appointed to solve the problem in London in 1899 and during his experiments found that by varying the voltage supplied to the lamps he could create controllable audible frequencies. Demonstrated in London in 1899, Duddell's instrument was controlled by a keyboard, which enabled the player to change the arc's rate of pulsation, thereby producing distinct musical notes. The rate of pulsation of an exposed electric arc was determined by a resonant circuit consisting of an inductor and a capacitor. This was the first electronic instrument that was audible without using the telephone system as an amplifier/speaker. When Duddell exhibited his invention to the London institution of Electrical Engineers it was noticed that arc lamps on the same circuit in other buildings also played music from Duddell's machine this generated speculation that music deliverd over the lighting network could be created. Duddell didn't capitalise on his discovery and didn't even file a patent for his instrument. Duddell toured the country with his invention which unfortunately never became more than a novelty. It was later recognised that if an antenna was attached to the singing arc and made to 'sing' at radio frequencies rather than audio it could be used a continuous radio wave transmitter. The method of generating continuous electric waves by means of a arc lamp was invented by the Danish engineer Valdemar Poulsen in 1902 as a modification of William Du Bois Duddell's 'singing arc' of 1900. The carbon arc lamp's audio capabilities was also used by Thadeus Cahill during his public demonstrations of his Telharmonium ten years later. (Compiled from various sources)
French comment : William Du Bois Duddell parvint en 1899 à fabriquer l’un des premiers instruments électriques audibles sans téléphone ni haut-parleur, "l’Arc Chantant", à partir des réverbères publics de Londres. Avant que Thomas Alva Edison invente l'ampoule électrique, l'éclairage électrique par lampe à arc au carbone était assez répandu en Europe. Une étincelle était créée entre deux plots de carbone. Ce moyen d'éclairage était très imparfait et de surcrois, assez bruyant. Le physicien anglais William Du Bois Duddell à été sollicité pour résoudre ces problèmes à Londres en 1899. Pendant ses expériences, il s'aperçut qu'en faisant varier la tension d'alimentation des lampes, il pouvait créer des fréquences audio controlables. En raccordant un clavier aux lampes à arc, il créa le premier instrument électronique. Et le premier instrument électronique qui n'a pas besoin du système téléphonique ou bien d'un haut-parleur pour se faire entendre. Duddell ne commercialisa jamais cette invention et ne déposa pas de brevet. (Compiled from various sources)
Urls : http://chem.ch.huji.ac.il/history/duddell.html (last visited )

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