The Electronium, created by Raymond Scott, is an early combined electronic synthesizer and algorithmic composition / generative music machine. Its place in history is unusual, because while in intention it is analogous to the digital algorithmic composition systems that would follow it, it was implemented entirely as an analog electronic machine.
The Electronium Mk II was based on 12 monophonic synthesizer voices that each featured a single oscillator, AR envelope, filter, LFO and unknown Scott controls known such as DOO Wah and Color I and II. The 12 voices allow for the assignment of various generators that are responsible for controlling notes, tempos, chords, volume and others aspects of a sound in real-time. In this manner, the Electronium allowed for composing polyphonic sequences, rhythm tracks and melodies that could be controlled over time to build and shape musical passages on demand or at random.
Much remains to be discovered about the machine's functionality, since detailed documentation on its workings are not currently available, and the single remaining machine is not in working order. In a patent application, Scott wrote that "The entire system is based on the concept of Artistic Collaboration Between Man and Machine. The new structures being directed into the machine are unpredictable in their details, and hence the results are a kind of duet between the composer and the machine."
Adding to the difficulty of defining what the Electronium was and how it worked is the fact that it was never finished. Scott continued to develop it during his employment at Motown, and after his dismissal there he carried on working on the machine, stopping only when his deteriorating health abruptly halted him from carrying on, after his first of several strokes.
What we can say about the Electronium is that it was the first model of a musical workstation for composers to write and record music all by themselves.
Osc Modulation: Envelope, Glide / Portamento, Keyboard, Knob, Sequencer
Evelope Paramerters: Attack, Decay
Types: Low Pass
Filter Modulation: Knob, Sequencer
LFO Parameters: Sine
Polyphony & Tuning
Patches RAM: 1
Multipatches RAM: 1
Storage: Internal, 6
+ Chord Generator
+ Bass Generator
+ Pattern Generator
+ Unknown Generative Algorithms
Controls: Buttons, Knobs, Switches, Tempo Knob, Arpeggiator, Sequencer
Display Type: LED, Numeric, Vacuum Fluorescent
Display Count H: 4
Display Count V: 1
Audio Output Connections: Stereo Main
Year Released: 1970
Year Discontinued: 1977
Units Made: 1
Motown, Raymond Scott
Designed by Raymond Scott.
The exact time for the beginning of Scott's efforts in making the machine is not known, but it is estimated to the late 1950s or early 1960s, with a workable unit by 1969. Scott, however, never ceased to modify and further develop the device by the time of his death in 1994.
It was one of the very few electronic creations of Scott to be sold to a customer, as he was normally highly secretive about his devices. A single Electronium machine was sold to Motown records, following a 1969 meeting between Scott and Motown's Berry Gordy. The initial contract required that Scott visited Motown for three months to teach staff how the machine is used. This culminated in the 1971 hiring of Scott to serve as director of Motown's electronic music and research department in Los Angeles, California, a position that Scott held until 1977. No Motown recordings using Scott's electronic inventions have yet been publicly identified.
Scott later said he "spent 11 years and close to a million dollars developing the Electronium."
The Electronium is currently owned by Devo's co-founder and lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh, who has initiated efforts towards its restoration.
Manuals & Documents
References & Sources