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Manhattan Research Electronium Mk II Motown

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The Electronium, created by Raymond Scott, is an early combined electronic synthesizer and programmable composition music machine. Its place in history is unusual because it is analogous to the digital algorithmic composition systems that would follow it. However, the Electronium Mk II still presents many features and innovations that are just being understood today.

The Electronium Mk II was based on 12 monophonic synthesizer voices featuring a single oscillator, AR envelope, filter, LFO modulation, and vintage controls known as "DOO Wah" and "Color I" and "Color II". The 12 voices could be assigned to different "generators" responsible for controlling notes, key, tempo, chords, volume, and other aspects of a sound in real-time. In this manner, the Electronium allowed for composing polyphonic sequences, rhythm tracks, and melodies by building and shaping musical passages on-demand via interaction with the programmed variations and generators using what is likely some of the first preset configurations defined specifically for music composition. The Electronium used hard-wired Transistor–transistor logic (TTL) circuits to tune, quantize, and conduct many voices at the same time. With the vast number of button arrays, the composer could instantly change from one precise value to the next at the push of a preset button. A system based on preset values also meant that compositions could be saved to and recalled from digital tape.

Much remains to be discovered about the machine's functionality, since detailed documentation on its workings are unavailable, 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." This may sound vague, but it is probably the best description we have of what the Electronium was meant to do. At the be most fundemental level, the machine presents a pattern by playing it. The person can then change its tempo, key, timbre, range, and so on to create something interesting.

Adding to the mystery of the Electronium 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 and even new modern designs for an Mk III and other electronic instruments. Stopping only when his deteriorating health and multiple heart attacks prevented him from carrying on.

What we can say about the Electronium is that it was not only the first polyphonic sequencer. It was the first musical workstation for composers to write and record music all by themselves. It also proved that that music could be digitally realized as a computational model to be used as a tool in the creative process as well.

Technical Specifications
Type: Analog, Digital
Synthesis: Oscillator(s), Subtractive
Oscillators: 1
Waveforms: Square
Osc Modulation: Envelope, Glide / Portamento, Keyboard, Knob, LFO, Sequencer
Envelopes: 1
Evelope Paramerters: Attack, Decay
Filters: 1
Types: 12dB Slope (2-pole), Low Pass
Filter Modulation: Knob
LFO: 1
LFO Parameters: Saw Down, Sine, Square
Polyphony & Tuning
Polyphony: 1
Timbrality: 12
Tuning: Standard
Modes: Mono
Patches RAM: 1
Multipatches RAM: 0
Storage: Internal, Tape
+ Reverb
+ Preset Patterns
Case: Desktop, Keyboard
Keyboard: 32 keys, Non-weighted, Ivory
Controls: Buttons, Knobs, Switches, Tempo Knob, Sequencer
Display Type: LED, Numeric, Vacuum Fluorescent
Display Count H: 4
Display Count V: 1
Audio Output Connections: RCA, Stereo Main
Audio Output Count: 2
Year Released: 1970
Year Discontinued: 1977
Units Made: 1
Used By
Motown, Raymond Scott
Design Notes:

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.
MSRP List Price: $23,500 - convert
References & Sources

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