Author Topic: No 103 - A brief history of the electronic organ  (Read 79 times)

Peter Anderson

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No 103 - A brief history of the electronic organ
« on: January 25, 2019, 05:16:03 PM »
A brief history of the electronic organ

I expect you have heard about the little lad who came home from school and asked his mother, "Where did I come from?"   She had expected this major question, so sat the lad down and carefully explained all about the birds and the bees.
He paid rapt attention, until she had finished and then he said, "That is amazing, but my friend Tom, comes from Manchester."
I suppose the moral is be sure that you know what the question is before you answer it,     But that is another story.

In this posting, I seek to show the stages in the development of the electronic organ, featuring some of the significant instruments that were manufactured and the people whose expertise, ingenuity and brilliant creativity played such a major part in getting us to the modern home organs, that we now tend to take for granted.

Seriously, have you ever really considered how the remarkable electric organ like our Yamaha AR came to be?

Electronic organ, (aka electric organ or electrophonic organ), is a keyboard musical instrument in which tone is generated by electronic circuits and radiated by loudspeaker.  This instrument, which emerged in the early 20th century, was designed as an economical and compact substitute for the much larger and more complex pipe organ.

The electronic organ resembles a spinet, or upright piano in size and general shape.
Most instruments of this general type rely upon electronic oscillators, which are circuits carrying an alternating current at a specific frequency, to produce their sound.

Each oscillator is capable of frequency variation for different pitches and is capable of reproducing a single melodic line.
The instrument’s multiple oscillators make it capable of reproducing music having multiple parts.

An important invention was the Tone-wheel.
Here is, I hope a simple explanation of what a tone-wheel is and how it works.

A tone-wheel or tonewheel is a simple electromechanical apparatus for generating electric musical notes in electromechanical organ instruments such as the Hammond Organ.   (We'll obviously include the famous Hammond organ, much later in this post).

Goldschmidt tone wheel (1910), used as an early beat frequency oscillator

The tone-wheel was invented around 1910 by Rudolph Goldschmidt and was first used in pre-vacuum tube radio receivers as a beat frequency oscillator (BFO) to make continuous wave radiotelegraphy (Morse code) signals audible.

Here is a simple diagram to show the basics of a tone-wheel

Tone-wheel diagram

The tone-wheel assembly consists of a synchronous AC motor and an associated gearbox that drives a series of rotating disks.   Each disk has a given number of smooth bumps at the rim.   Each of these generate a specific frequency as the disk rotates close to a pickup assembly that consists of a magnet and electromagnetic coil.

As each bump in the wheel approaches the pickup, it temporarily concentrates the magnetic field near it, and thus strengthens the magnetic field that passes through the coil, inducing a current in the coil by the process of electromagnetic induction.    As the bump moves past, this concentrating effect is reduced again, the magnetic field weakens slightly, and an opposite current is induced in the coil.   Thus, the frequency of the current in the coil depends on the speed of rotation of the disk and the number of bumps.

Typically, the coil is connected to an amplifier through a network of switches, contacts, resistor banks, and transformers which can be used to mix the fluctuating current representing the note from one coil with similar currents from other coils representing other notes.      A single fundamental frequency can thus be combined with one or more harmonics to produce complex sounds.     Crude types of tone-wheels were first developed for and used in the Telharmonium (see next Reply) circa 1896 and later in the original Hammond organs.

Peter

Peter Anderson

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Re: No 103 - A brief history of the electronic organ
« Reply #1 on: January 31, 2019, 02:46:55 PM »
The Telharmonium

Now regarded as the first type of electronic organ, was the Telharmonium.   
It is also called the Dynamophone, and was the earliest musical instrument to generate sound electrically.


Telharmonium

It was invented in the United States by Thaddeus Cahill and introduced in 1896, but not patented until the following year.


Thaddeus Cahill

Cahill built three versions:
The Mark I version, which weighed 7 tons.
The Mark II version weighed almost 200 tons, as did the
Mark III.

Therefore the Mark II and MkIII Telharmoniums, each weighed over 1700 times heavier that the Yamaha AR100.

Each was a considerable advancement over the features of its predecessor.

They managed to produce clear sounds, using a type of tone-wheel that was developed from an electronic sine wave.
However, it was not restricted to such simple sounds.      Each 'tone-wheel' of the instrument corresponded to a single note, and, to broaden its possibilities, Cahill added several extra tone-wheels to add harmonics to each note.

This, combined with organ-like stops and multiple keyboards, as well as a number of foot pedals,  and because, the Telharmonium was polyphonic, it meant that every sound could be sculpted and reshaped. 
 
The instrument was also noted for its ability to reproduce the sounds of common orchestral woodwind instruments such as the flute, bassoon, clarinet, and the cello.    The Telharmonium needed 670 kilowatts of power and had 153 keys that allowed it to work properly.

For comparison the Yamaha AR100 requires 340 watts, while the AR80 gets by on a mere 200W.
Therefore the Telharmonium needed over 1970 times as much power as the Yamaha AR100!
And an even greater 3,350 times more power than the AR80!

I know which instrument I'd rather have.


A small number of performances in front of a live audience were given in New York City (at the aptly named "Telharmonic Hall", at 39th Street and Broadway), in addition to many telephone transmissions.   They were well received by the public in 1906, and the performer would sit at a console (see picture above) to control the instrument.

The actual mechanism of the instrument itself was so large it occupied an entire room, with wires from the controlling console fed discreetly through holes in the floor of an auditorium into the instrument room itself, which was housed in the basement beneath the concert hall.

The Telharmonium was an important precursor to the modern electronic musical equipment for a number of ways.

For instance, its sound output came in the form of connecting ordinary telephone receivers to large paper cones.   This was a primitive form of loudspeaker.
Cahill was noted for saying that electromagnetic diaphragms were the most preferable means of outputting its distinctive sound.

The Telharmonium's demise came for several reasons.   

The instrument was immense in size and weight.   This was the age before vacuum tubes had been invented, so it required large electric dynamos, which consumed great amounts of power in order to generate sufficiently strong audio signals.   Additionally, problems began to arise when telephone broadcasts of Telharmonium music were subject to crosstalk and unsuspecting telephone users would be interrupted by strange electronic music.

By 1912, interest in this revolutionary instrument had waned, and Cahill's company was declared unsuccessful in 1914.

Cahill died in 1934, and although his younger brother retained the Mark I for decades, he was, perhaps, unsurprisingly, unable to interest anyone in it.   This particular machine was the last version to eventually be scrapped, in 1962

This electrophonic instrument was of the electromechanical type, and, as mentioned above, it used rotating electromagnetic tone wheels (and thus was a predecessor of the Hammond organ – more about those much later, in this posting) to produce electric impulses that were converted into sound by telephone receivers. 

It was soon superseded by more practical electronic instruments, but it is still considered to be the first electromechanical musical instrument.

In the next Reply we look at other types of electronic organ, starting with the Orgue Des Ondes, each of which were imporatant stages in progressing to the modern versions that we know and appreciate today.

Peter

Peter Anderson

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Re: No 103 - A brief history of the electronic organ
« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2019, 08:11:38 AM »

Orgue Des Ondes

The Orgue Des Ondes was the first successful electronic organ and was developed in 1928 in France by Edouard Coupleux and Armand Givelet.   It used electronic oscillators in place of the pipes of a conventional organ and was operated with keyboards and a pedal board.


Armand Givelet playing the Orgue Des Ondes in 1928

It was named the Orgue Des Ondes, which translates to Wave Organ, and was met with praise from the scientific community and some musicians, but also came under fierce criticism as being a frivolous invention or fairground toy competing in the serious world of religious music.     Even the President of the Republic, Albert Lebrun joined in the criticism.


The Orgue Des Ondes installed at the Poste Parisien, Paris, France c 1928

Part of the problem was that although Coupleux and Givelet had created a futuristic instrument, they had placed it in a traditional and conservative environment, unwilling to countenance the replacement of the ‘sacred’ and timeless pipe organ with a synthetic newcomer.

For example, it was only in the 1960s that The Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church admitted the use of electronic organs in sacred music but emphasised the preeminence of the pipe organ, “with the knowledge and consent of the competent territorial authority, provided that the instruments are suitable for sacred use.”

Despite it’s initial warm reception, the “Wave Organ” eventually succumbed to the practicality and portability of the American built Hammond Organ (yes – be patient we’ll get to that),  designed for the Jazz age and home user rather than the limited religious market.    The Hammond eventually bankrupted the Givelet-Coupleux partnership in 1935.

In the next Reply we consider the Rangertone.

Peter

Peter Anderson

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Re: No 103 - A brief history of the electronic organ
« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2019, 09:10:08 AM »
Another notable early electronic organ was the Rangertone, invented in 1931 by Richard H. Ranger of the United States.   As you see, it bears a strong resemblance to modern day organs.

The Rangertone Organ was a large electronic tone-wheel based organ developed by the electronics engineer and pioneer of audio recording Richard Ranger in the 1930’s.     The instrument was marketed by Ranger from his own company Rangertone Incorporated on Verona Ave. in Newark, NJ.


Rangertone Organ with Richard Ranger playing it

Very few of the instruments were sold.     After the failure to sell the instrument, Ranger went on to develop a series of high fidelity phonograph devices that never went into production.    During WW2 Ranger spent time investigating German electronic equipment for the US Army and it was here that he picked up and removed for his own use the German AEG Magnetophone tape recorder.  (Widely regarded as the first ever tape recorder.)

He returned to the U.S., and in 1947 announced his new Rangertone Tape recorder, based on the Magnetophone, which finally gave the Rangertone Inc., the financial success it needed until squeezed out of the domestic market by larger companies such as Ampex.

In the next reply we investigate the Orgatron.      Yes that is Precisely what it was called!

Peter

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Re: No 103 - A brief history of the electronic organ
« Reply #4 on: February 18, 2019, 08:04:11 AM »
Orgatron

In 1934 the Orgatron was introduced by Frederick Albert Hoschke (1876–1936) and manufactured by the Everett Piano Co. in South Haven, Michigan, between 1935 and 1940.     In this organ, tone was generated by reeds that vibrated by electrically fan-blown air, with the vibrations picked up electrostatically and amplified.


Orgatron

Since it was difficult for the early engineers to develop a cost effective and stable oscillating circuit, Everett’s team chose to use a free reed vibrating, with an induction pickup to create that stable oscillation.      Then this signal, not the sound of the reed itself, was voiced and amplified to create the tones for the organ.    This was very clever, but it also produced quite a heavy sound.


A couple of views of the Orgatron's interior

So the sounds were generated by reeds installed in a soundproof chamber and operated by suction, and the vibrations of the reeds were converted by electrostatic pickups into voltage variations in order to be made audible over a loudspeaker.      This sound-generating system was based on a patent by Benjamin F. Miessner, with additional patents by Hoschke.

The Orgatron was taken over in 1946 by Wurlitzer, who used an improved and modified version of the principle in their electronic organs until the mid-1960s.   The Orgatron was designed for use in such venues as small churches, funeral parlours, lodges and homes, and was the first electronic organ to be manufactured on a large scale.

Several one- and two-manual models were produced, like the STM-1, for example, and it offered the resources of a small standard church organ with two five-octave manuals, a 32-note pedalboard and five stops.     It also included tubular chimes.     

Tremolo was produced by means of a motorized paddle that rotated in front of the loudspeaker. 


By the 1960s organ manufacturers had expanded their technology, supplanting vacuum tubes with transistors and solid-state circuitry.

Circuits and components designed to operate television and radio receivers and high-fidelity phonographs were adapted to produce music.

In the 1970s digital microcircuitry was used to operate a computer organ.    In this device, sounds were not created internally but had been prerecorded (or sampled) and stored in the computer from which they could later be retrieved.
The Yamaha engineers utilised this important feature, when they created your AR, over 20 years later.

Musical tones or shapes, which were recorded from conventional windblown pipe organs, were coded into digital form and re-created by a special computer at the touch of the keys and stops.
Other devices were used to control reverberation, pitch, and the attack or delay of a note. 

So in the next Reply we eventually come to the Hammond organ, probably the most significant set of organs in the development of electronic models.

Peter