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Electronic instruments

Strictly speaking, electronic musical instruments are electro acoustic instruments. In contrast to purely acoustical instruments, electric oscillation is generated and then transformed into sound via amplifier and loud-speaker.

In 1930 Friedrich Trautwein, in collaboration with Paul Hindemith, exhibited an electronic instrument, the trautonium. It is based on a glow lamp generator that produces a sound very rich in harmonics. The pitch of the note heard is determined by the performer, who presses a resistance wire against a metal rail. Around 1956, the trautonium was further developed by Oskar Sala and frequently used for film music. The most famous appearance of the instrument was probably in Hitchcock's »The Birds«, where the trautonium artificially created the birds’ noises. The trautonium was very popular in the 1930’s and this motivated Telefunken to produce a small series of 40 instruments.

Parallel to the trautonium, Bruno Hellberger and Peter Lertes exhibited the hellertion (1928). After the Second World War, Hellberger then developed an improved version of that instrument which he called the heliophon. The sound is controlled by two keyboard manuals. By contrast, the combichord, clavioline and multimonica were simply monophonic instruments employed as supplements to the piano and the accordion in dance bands. Accordingly, these electronic instruments had small and light keyboards.

In the course of further development in the 1950’s, the possibilities of electro acoustical sound generation were transferred to the organ. Like the traditional organ, electronic organs have several manuals, often a church organ pedal and stop keys or knobs to change the registration. A well-known example of an electronic organ is the Hammond organ. It was originally designed to replace the traditional organ, but it did not prevail in this sphere. Instead, it became very popular with gospel choirs and consequently made its way into the Blues and Rhythm & Blues. To this day, the instrument is important for Jazz and Rock music, if not in its original shape, then at least when being simulated.

After 1965, the synthesizer was introduced, which was based on the trautonium and the heliophon. Today, its method of sound generation forms the base for Rock and Pop music and thus for great portions of the popular music business.