Announcing: Synthesizers.com Manufacturer Sub-Forum

Please check out the new sub-forum by following the link above. It is nice to have another manufacturer onboard and opening another direct communication line to potential and existing customers

Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Anything modular synth related that is not format specific.
kdjupdal
Wiggling with Experience
Posts: 319
Joined: Mon Jan 26, 2009 11:44 am
Location: Norway
Contact:

Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by kdjupdal »

Untill recently I thought that was Moog or maybe Buchla. But then I saw a Hainbach video on the Syn-Ket, an early italian synth, that just like Moog was inspired by Harald Bode.

Of course many people were involved in the development of the synthesizer. But it seems that Harald Bode was the real pioneer, building his modular synth in 1959, with "devices such as Ring modulators, Filters, Reverb Generators etc" that could be connected with patchcords. He later licensed modules to Moog.

https://120years.net/wordpress/the-soun ... e-germany/
mjlong
Common Wiggler
Posts: 76
Joined: Thu Nov 19, 2020 6:38 pm

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by mjlong »

I think this depends on how ‘synthesizer’ is defined. I think a strong argument could be made that the modern concept originates with Thadeus Cahill’s gargantuan Telharmonium, which dates to 1896-1897.
kdjupdal
Wiggling with Experience
Posts: 319
Joined: Mon Jan 26, 2009 11:44 am
Location: Norway
Contact:

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by kdjupdal »

mjlong wrote: Thu Sep 22, 2022 12:15 pm I think this depends on how ‘synthesizer’ is defined. I think a strong argument could be made that the modern concept originates with Thadeus Cahill’s gargantuan Telharmonium, which dates to 1896-1897.
Yes, I'd not call the Telharmonium a synth. On Wikipedia it's described as an electrical organ, using the same principle as the Hammond organ.

I think an analogue synth should have a filter, an envelope generator, and maybe some more sound modifying devices to be able to shape different sounds. Bode's synth probably didn't have an envelope (I'm not sure) but apart from that, close enough.
kdjupdal
Wiggling with Experience
Posts: 319
Joined: Mon Jan 26, 2009 11:44 am
Location: Norway
Contact:

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by kdjupdal »

By the way, listen to the sound clips of Bode demonstrating his machine, on the page I linked to in the first post. It's quite interesting. Sounds like it could've been posted to youtube today by a random modwiggler user!
colb
Veteran Wiggler
Posts: 617
Joined: Wed Nov 16, 2016 3:06 pm
Location: Scotland

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by colb »

Ondes martenot (1928) used electronic oscillators, and had filters, although the filters were mechanical. Theremin (1930) also incorporated electronic oscillators, and filters, and VCA internally, although envelope control of the VCA was manual.

I don't think it's obvious that an electric organ is not a synthesizer. It could be argued that a fully featured pipe organ is a form of mechanical additive synthesizer, and similarly an electronic organ is an electronic additive synthesizer. I guess it comes down to whether electo-mechanical tone wheels count as electronic, and whether a synthesizer must be electronic by definition?

EDIT: here' a modern pipe organ, that's like a mechanical rompler it can produce so many different timbres - amazing performance too :)
Last edited by colb on Thu Sep 22, 2022 1:10 pm, edited 2 times in total.
User avatar
pugix
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 4419
Joined: Sat Oct 31, 2009 7:23 am
Location: Asheville, NC
Contact:

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by pugix »

See my blog post where I linked to a history of the RCA Mark I.

https://pugix.com/synth/synthesizer-the-concept/
Richard
https://www.pugix.com

"I confess that I'm scarcely using it, because I've got too many modules." -- ferran
User avatar
GuyaGuy
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 2949
Joined: Sun Mar 24, 2013 3:49 am
Location: Brooklyn | NY | USA

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by GuyaGuy »

kdjupdal wrote: Thu Sep 22, 2022 12:28 pm
mjlong wrote: Thu Sep 22, 2022 12:15 pm I think this depends on how ‘synthesizer’ is defined. I think a strong argument could be made that the modern concept originates with Thadeus Cahill’s gargantuan Telharmonium, which dates to 1896-1897.
Yes, I'd not call the Telharmonium a synth. On Wikipedia it's described as an electrical organ, using the same principle as the Hammond organ.

I think an analogue synth should have a filter, an envelope generator, and maybe some more sound modifying devices to be able to shape different sounds. Bode's synth probably didn't have an envelope (I'm not sure) but apart from that, close enough.
That would mean Gamechanger’s Motor Synth isn’t a synth because it has electromechanical components.

There’s a general assumption that precursors to the synthesizers and its early examples like Bode’s and RCA’s were somehow leading up to the the inevitability of the topology of the Moogs or Buchlas we know and love. But that’s just because we frame history by what came after it. What actually happened was that a long line of people explored how to use electricity to make sound and came up with various ways of doing it. In some cases they called the devices synthesizers. In others the inventors called them something else but other people called them synthesizers. In some cases no one calls the device a synthesizer even though it’s a device using the synthesis of multiple component to generate sound electronically.

No one invented the synthesizer. Nor does anyone have a good working definition of what a synthesizer is.
User avatar
Yes Powder
Powder that makes you say "Yes"
Posts: 2581
Joined: Thu Sep 03, 2015 2:23 am
Location: Albany, New York
Contact:

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by Yes Powder »

The question of who invented the synthesizer tiring discussion, perpetually drowning in pedantry, and with no clear answer outside of where you want to draw the line of "what constitutes a synth"? Asking "What was the first electronic musical instrument to be called a synthesizer" is a much easier question, but I know that's not what you were asking.
Any time I see someone who posts about some obscure old electronic instruments as "The first synthesizer!" I roll my eyes. And when someone calls a Hammond organ "THE FIRST ADDITIVE SYNTHESIZER!" my eyes roll so hard that they come out my ears.
The history of electronic instruments is surprisingly long and convoluted, with lots of inventors borrowing from other inventors, and plenty of innovations going virtually unrecognized for years or even decades after their creation. You could say that synthesizers as we know it weren't the invention of a single person, but many people over the years whose work eventually culminated into what we now call synthesizers.
Everyone wants to be analog until it's time to do some analog shit.
User avatar
PrimateSynthesis
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 4199
Joined: Tue Mar 15, 2011 6:50 pm

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by PrimateSynthesis »

"In the late 1930s, the Hammond Organ Company built the Novachord, a large instrument powered by 72 voltage-controlled amplifiers and 146 vacuum tubes."

So it's true.

:vcas:
FS: Rare Morley Rotating Wah Oil Can Delay!

Since the forum has gone back to being 100% community funded, I've decided to donate half the proceeds from the Morley Rotating Wah this thread is supposedly selling :miley:

https://www.muffwiggler.com/forum/viewt ... p?t=131332
kdjupdal
Wiggling with Experience
Posts: 319
Joined: Mon Jan 26, 2009 11:44 am
Location: Norway
Contact:

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by kdjupdal »

It's not tiring for us who are interested in history.
The https://120years.net/wordpress/ site has a nice timeline of inventions.

Anyway, my point was that it wasn't Moog, but maybe Moog was the first commercially available synth.
User avatar
KSS
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 10025
Joined: Mon Jan 25, 2016 7:28 am

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by KSS »

For me it's the concept of flexibly positioned voltage control modules. That brings us back to Buchla and Moog.

Harald bode gets a lions share of the forefather credit. As do many of the others listed in replies here.
Including one not yet listed? Raymond Scott.

But if we say modular VC synth it's fairly easy to draw a line of separation between Moog, Buchla and everything which came before.
Treat utility modules as stars instead of backup singers.
Treat power supplies like Rockstars instead of roadies!
Chase magic sound, not magic parts.
User avatar
obscurerobot
Turing Tested
Posts: 624
Joined: Sat Jun 18, 2011 8:32 am
Location: Chicago

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by obscurerobot »

Bach was a synth nerd.
User avatar
starthief
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 6618
Joined: Tue Oct 04, 2016 10:39 am
Location: St Louis, MO
Contact:

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by starthief »

kdjupdal wrote: Thu Sep 22, 2022 1:53 pm The https://120years.net/wordpress/ site has a nice timeline of inventions.
I was going to recommend that if nobody else did. :tu: Regardless of what one thinks of the question of what counts as a synth, this site lists some very cool instruments and clever inventions/discoveries.
User avatar
Yes Powder
Powder that makes you say "Yes"
Posts: 2581
Joined: Thu Sep 03, 2015 2:23 am
Location: Albany, New York
Contact:

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by Yes Powder »

kdjupdal wrote: Thu Sep 22, 2022 1:53 pm It's not tiring for us who are interested in history.
The https://120years.net/wordpress/ site has a nice timeline of inventions.
You're assuming that I'm not interested in the history, and that I didn't spend probably two years straight at one point browsing 120years almost nightly before falling asleep.
You also missed my point, which is that to declare a singular person as the inventor of the synthesizer is to draw a line in the sand of an evolutionary process that wasn't always linear, involved multiple people making advances over multiple decades, whose history isn't always well documented, and which continues to evolve to this day. You're missing the forest for the trees, my dude. :zen:
Everyone wants to be analog until it's time to do some analog shit.
User avatar
KSS
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 10025
Joined: Mon Jan 25, 2016 7:28 am

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by KSS »

Yes Powder wrote: Thu Sep 22, 2022 3:39 pm You also missed my point, which is that to declare a singular person as the inventor of the synthesizer is to draw a line in the sand of an evolutionary process that wasn't always linear, involved multiple people making advances over multiple decades, and whose history isn't always well documented. You're missing the forest for the trees, my dude. :zen:
I agree, but would frame it differently. Did in my reply actually.

The problem is that the 'forest' defined by the orignal question is too large. It's like asking what's the best filter?

Qualify the boundaries of the forest somewhat and the non-answerable becomes answerable.

Who invented the synthesizer does require the answer you give here^.

Who invented the flexibly patched CV modular synthesizer -AKA what we mean when talk about synths in this section of MW- and it's Bob and Don.
Treat utility modules as stars instead of backup singers.
Treat power supplies like Rockstars instead of roadies!
Chase magic sound, not magic parts.
User avatar
Pelsea
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 1701
Joined: Thu Apr 19, 2018 11:46 am
Location: Santa Cruz CA
Contact:

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by Pelsea »

The history of synthesis is an evolutionary tree with many branches. The roots may be the Hydraulis from 300 BC, the stem a long line of wind organs, with branches for musical automata of the 17th century and various electromechanical instruments like the Teleharmonium and Hammond. The defining features of the branch we call synthesizers may be lack of moving parts (not counting control switches), modularity, and voltage control. A later branch might be computer synthesis, which split from the analog line around 1960 and has lately recombined.

The history of musical instruments is fascinating, as development of many fundamental devices (such as the crank) turned up in musical instruments first. There are many great books on the subject, the best is probably Thom Holmes' Electronic and Experimental Music
Books and tutorials on modular synthesis at http://peterelsea.com
Retired academic.
User avatar
Underglow
Common Wiggler
Posts: 75
Joined: Wed Nov 10, 2021 5:11 pm
Location: Los Angeles

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by Underglow »

It was Rasputin who invented the synth
User avatar
Yes Powder
Powder that makes you say "Yes"
Posts: 2581
Joined: Thu Sep 03, 2015 2:23 am
Location: Albany, New York
Contact:

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by Yes Powder »

I was gonna post a screenshot from Ishkur's Guide where it talks about the history of electronic instruments, but that part was apparently removed from the newest version of the guide. Each page would go back further and saying something like, "No, no, I was wrong, THIS is actually the first one..." until the last page is talking about a caveman named Argg banging a rock onto another rock, thus making the first four-on-the-floor dance rhythm. "Now you may be asking, how is that even electronic? Well, he got struck by lightning during the whole thing which really gave a nice analog warmth to the sound."
User avatar
Lux A Turner
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 1186
Joined: Sat Aug 18, 2018 6:29 am
Location: Kent, UK

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by Lux A Turner »

Yes Powder wrote: Thu Sep 22, 2022 1:26 pm ...You could say that synthesizers as we know it weren't the invention of a single person, but many people over the years whose work eventually culminated into what we now call synthesizers.
Yes, that's exactly what I'd say.
KSS wrote: Thu Sep 22, 2022 2:02 pm ...Raymond Scott.
I'm glad somebody mentioned him - he seems to be in danger of being forgotten about these days. Without Raymond C. Scott, Robert Moog's life might have taken a completely different path.


My Soundcloud - - - - - My Bandcamp - - - - - My Freesound - - - - - My Eurorack
mjlong
Common Wiggler
Posts: 76
Joined: Thu Nov 19, 2020 6:38 pm

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by mjlong »

Raymond Scott’s Lightworks jingle lives rent-free in my head. “The name of the game is Lightworks!”
User avatar
Yes Powder
Powder that makes you say "Yes"
Posts: 2581
Joined: Thu Sep 03, 2015 2:23 am
Location: Albany, New York
Contact:

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by Yes Powder »

mjlong wrote: Thu Sep 22, 2022 10:00 pm Raymond Scott’s Lightworks jingle lives rent-free in my head. “The name of the game is Lightworks!”
Ohio Bell Mystery and Twilight in Turkey (the Electronium version, obvs) for me.
User avatar
Brad s
Common Wiggler
Posts: 78
Joined: Sun Apr 02, 2017 10:25 am
Location: Tucson, AZ

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by Brad s »

Raymond Scott is a fascinating story! The BBC released an excellent podcast covering his passionate pursuit of building electronic instruments:
https://www.podchaser.com/podcasts/the- ... t-51647689
User avatar
Umcorps
Will patch for food
Posts: 2709
Joined: Fri Apr 17, 2009 6:33 am
Location: Currently unrecognisable

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by Umcorps »

Daphne Oram reckoned that Francis Bacon imagined synthesis in 1627
„We have also sound houses, where we practice and demonstrate all sounds and their generation. We have harmonies which you have not, of quarter sounds and lesser slides of sounds. Divers instruments of music likewise to you unknown, some sweeter than any you have; together with bells and rings that are dainty and sweet. We represent small sounds as great and deep; likewise divers trembling and warblings of sounds, which in their original are entire. We represent and imitate all articulate sounds and letters, and the voices of beasts and birds. We have certain helps which set to the ear to do further the hearing greatly. We have also divers strange and artificial echoes, reflecting the voice many times, and as if it were tossing it; and some that give back the voice louder than it came, some shriller and some deeper; yea, some rendering the voice, differing in the letters or articulate sound from that they receive. We have also means to convey sounds in tubes and pipes, in strange lines and distances…“
User avatar
papz
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 4138
Joined: Sat May 18, 2013 6:52 pm
Location: in a suitcase
Contact:

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by papz »

Chuck Norris invented the synthesizer, before he was born.
Finest EMS gear service and Music Easel/208 goodies

I'm not a synths dealer and don't know of any cheap Synthi secret market.
I don't offer support for attempts to build clones of EMS equipment.
Please don't ask, thanks.
User avatar
arnoux
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 2158
Joined: Sun Oct 02, 2011 9:53 am
Location: Alps

Re: Synth history - who invented the synthesizer

Post by arnoux »

Similar topic here with a good ammount of resources:
viewtopic.php?t=170472
Post Reply

Return to “Modular Synth General Discussion”