NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1915 __ Audion Piano
Lee de Forest (1873-1961)
Comment : De Forest created the "Audion Piano", the first vacuum tube instrument in 1915. The Audion Piano was a simple keyboard instrument but was the first to use a beat-frequency (heterodyning) oscillator system and body capacitance to control pitch and timbre ( The heterodyning effect was later exploited by the Lev Termen (Leon Theremin) with his Theremin series of instruments and Maurice Martenot's Ondes-Martenot amongst others.) The Audio Piano used a single triode valve per octave which were controlled by a set of keys allowing one note to be played per octave. The output of the instrument was sent to a set of speakers that could be placed around a room giving the sound a dimensional effect. De Forest planned a later version of the instrument that would have separate valves per key allowing full polyphony - it is not known if this instrument was ever constructed. De Forest described the Audio Piano as capable of producing: "Sounds resembling a violin, Cello, Woodwind, muted brass and other sounds resembling nothing ever heard from an orchestra or by the human ear up to that time - of the sort now often heard in nerve racking maniacal cacophonies of a lunatic swingband. Such tones led me to dub my new instrument the 'Squawk-a-phone'." (Lee de Forest, "The Father of Radio : the autobiography of Lee de Forest", 1915, pp. 331-332). (Compiled from various sources)
Urls : http://chem.ch.huji.ac.il/history/deforest.htm (last visited )

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