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Manhattan Research Circle Machine

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The Manhattan Research Circle Machine was built by Raymond Scott in 1958 as a tool to compose music for TV and radio commercials. His 16-step design that is said to be the grandfather of today's step sequencer. Used optical photocells to read, "see", light intensity to generate the pitch and waveform produced by the oscillator.

The Circle Machine utilized a physical spinning arm over a circular device that scanned 16 light bulbs, each set to a different brightness - The brighter the light, the higher the pitch. Each step was then converted to a waveform that created sound at the pre-set pitch. The Circle Machine also had a speed control for playing sequences at different tempos. Due to the optical nature of the system, it was said different sounds were generated at different tempos.

The following is an introduction by Raymond Scoot of the Circle Machine from archived recording:

This device is what I've named THE CIRCLE MACHINE. The intensity of each light in this circle is individually adjustable. At the tip of the arm there is a photo cell. This cell is a part of an electronic sound generating system, so adjusted that the more light the cell 'sees' the higher the pitch of the sound produced. The cell also moves around in a circle at adjustable speeds. One of the controls, above the circle of lights, changes the pitch center of the complete cycle when required. As you will notice, there are many variable functions possible.

Now I would like to demonstrate a practical use of THE CIRCLE MACHINE. The problem: To create a sound that goes with the sequence of a TV spot in which the storage battery is dying because the electrolyte is rapidly evaporating, ending in a short circuit. The following demonstration starts with a CIRCLE MACHINE impression of a dying battery. To keep the sounds generic in this commercial, THE CIRCLE MACHINE is also used in a punctuation manner. Here is our Ford 'AutoLite Sta-Ful' battery.commercial.

Technical Specifications
Type: Analog
Synthesis: Oscillator(s)
Oscillators: 1
Osc Modulation: Optical, Sequencer
Oscillator Notes:
+ Pitch and waveform from photocell controlled by light bulb brightness.
Polyphony & Tuning
Polyphony: 1
Timbrality: 1
Tuning: Atonal, Standard
Modes: Mono
+ 16 steps
+ Light bulbs trigger photocell.
+ Brighter light prodcuces higher pitch.
Case: Rack
Controls: Knobs, Optical, Tempo Knob, Sequencer
Audio Output Connections: 1/4" Phone Jack, Mono Out
Year Released: 1958
Units Made: 1
Used By
Raymond Scott
Design Notes:

Designed and built by Raymond Scott.
References & Sources

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