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Phonogène

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Description
The phonogène was a machine capable of modifying sound structure significantly and it provided composers with a means to adapt sound to meet specific compositional contexts. The initial phonogènes were manufactured in 1953 by two subcontractors: the chromatic phonogène by a company called Tolana, and the sliding version by the SAREG Company (Poullin 1999). A third version was developed later at ORTF. An outline of the unique capabilities of the various phonogènes can be seen here:

Chromatic: The chromatic phonogène was controlled through a one-octave keyboard. Multiple capstans of differing diameters vary the tape speed over a single stationary magnetic tape head. A tape loop was put into the machine, and when a key was played, it would act on an individual pinch roller / capstan arrangement and cause the tape to be played at a specific speed. The machine worked with short sounds only (Poullin 1999).

Sliding: The sliding phonogène (also called continuous-variation phonogène) provided continuous variation of tape speed using a control rod (Poullin 1999). The range allowed the motor to arrive at almost a stop position, always through a continuous variation. It was basically a normal tape recorder but with the ability to control its speed, so it could modify any length of tape. One of the earliest examples of its use can by heard in Voile d’Orphée by Pierre Henry (1953), where a lengthy glissando is used to symbolise the removal of Orpheus's veil as he enters hell.

Universal: A final version called the universal phonogène was completed in 1963. The device's main ability was that it enabled the dissociation of pitch variation from time variation. This was the starting point for methods that would later become widely available using digital technology, for instance harmonising (transposing sound without modifying duration) and time stretching (modifying duration without pitch modification). This was obtained through a rotating magnetic head called the Springer temporal regulator, an ancestor of the rotating heads used in video machines.

Speed variation was a powerful tool for sound design applications. It had been identified that transformations brought about by varying playback speed lead to modification in the character of the sound material:

+ Variation in the sounds' length, in a manner directly proportional to the ratio of speed variation.

+ Variation in length is coupled with a variation in pitch, and is also proportional to the ratio of speed variation.

+ A sound's attack characteristic is altered, whereby it is either dislocated from succeeding events, or the energy of the attack is more sharply focused.

+ The distribution of spectral energy is altered, thereby influencing how the resulting timbre might be perceived, relative to its original unaltered state.
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Videos
Technical Specifications
Type: Analog
Synthesis: Tape Loops
Oscillators
Oscillators: 1
Osc Modulation: Envelope, Knob
Envelopes
Envelopes: 1
Evelope Paramerters: Attack
Polyphony & Tuning
Polyphony: 1
Timbrality: 1
Tuning: Standard
Modes: Mono
Patches
Patches RAM: 1
Storage: 6
Case
Case: Desktop, Keyboard
Case Details: 12 Keys
Keyboard: Non-weighted, Wood
Controls: Buttons, Knobs, Pitch -Wheel
Connections
Audio Output Connections: Mono Out
Audio Output Count: 1
Production
Year Released: 1953
Year Discontinued: 1963
Units Made: 3
Used By
Pierre Schaeffer
Design Notes:

Designed by Jacques Poullin.
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References & Sources

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