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RCA Mark I

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    The RCA Mark I used a bank of 12 oscillator circuits, which used electron tubes to generate the 12 basic tones of a musical “scale.” These basic sounds could be shaped in virtually limitless ways by passing them through other electronic circuits, including high-pass filters, low-pass filters, envelope filters, frequency dividers, modulators and resonators.

    Never mind the details of how all these circuits work, the end result was that the Mark I could take those 12 basic notes and reshape them into any imaginable sound. At least in theory. In practice, it was easy to create weird, unearthly sounds, and to imitate certain kinds of existing musical instruments but almost impossible to imitate other sounds like human voices or the smooth transitions between notes on a violin or trombone.

    Still, the Mark I, demonstrated in 1955, was impressive. It was “played” by laboriously programming a sequence of notes to be played, along with information about how the sound of each note was to be shaped, by punching holes into a long roll of paper, similar to the kind used on a player piano. When all that was prepared, the roll was fed into the machine, the holes read, and music produced.
    Type: Analog
    Synthesis: Oscillator(s), Resonators, Subtractive
    Oscillators: 12
    Waveforms: Sine
    Envelopes: 2
    LFO: 2
    Polyphony & Tuning
    Polyphony: 2
    Timbrality: 2
    Tuning: Standard
    Modes: Mono
    Patches RAM: 1
    + Spring reverb
    Case: Desktop
    Controls: Buttons, Knobs
    Display Type: LED, Vacuum Fluorescent, VU Meter, Backlit
    Audio Output Connections: Mono Out
    Audio Output Notes: Output to speaker or disc lathes
    Year Released: 1955
    Year Discontinued: 1957
    Units Made: 1
    Manuals & Documents
    YouTube Videos
    Related Synthesizers
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