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music and sound

Tape-players and tape-recorders were perhaps the most important instruments for many of electronic music’s pioneers, and for the staff of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in particular. With few electronic instruments existing, early sonic explorers were forced to adapt and abuse existing technologies, and practices such as tape-splicing soon became vital tools in the search for new sounds. Since then, the situation has changed dramatically for most musicians and electronic instruments and equipment have become ever more accessible and affordable. Or […]

This article was written by Rob Sommerlad, Volunteer Research Assistant for Electronic Music. Last week we looked at a curious fire-powered organ invented by Strasbourg’s Fréderic Kastner in 1873. For part one of The Amazing Adventures of Kastner’s Miraculous Pyrophone click here. The instrument wasn’t a great success, but Kastner’s family connections brought it a certain amount of acknowledgement.  While he “was not a distinguished physicist …he had a rich and influential mother who, it has been said, encouraged him […]

The 14 February 1876 is a very significant date in the history of the telephone. On that day both Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray filed papers with the US Patent Office for a working telephone. Following a dispute Bell’s patent was granted and published on the 7th of March 1876. Recently some historians have suggested that the dispute may have been resolved so quickly because Bell found a way to incorporate some of Gray’s ideas into his patent applications – but what could […]

This article was written by Rob Sommerlad, Volunteer Research Assistant for Electronic Music. There’s more to the relationship between fire and music than simply bad metaphors and innuendos, as I learnt this week at Blythe House. In a dark corner of the Science Museum’s storage facility sits a small, awkward-looking wooden box with intriguing glass pipes sprouting out of it. However, this unassuming little object just so happens to be one of the world’s last remaining pyrophones, an instrument which, as the name […]

Recently, one of my colleagues sent me this link to a small synthesizer hidden in a book. The synthesiser is a bought piece of equipment, but it’s designed to be hacked and modified by whoever uses it and this particular owner probably had a good reason to keep it hidden. Or he just thought it would be fun to stick a synth in an old book. Either way, this quirky instrument instantly reminded me of one of the objects in […]

Alan Sutcliffe speaking at the meeting

While researching our new exhibition about the history of electronic music, we had the amazing opportunity to meet a few of the people who were there making music in the 1960s and 70s, when futuristic electronic sounds were being experimented with for the very first time.

The Oramics Machine during conservation

Would you like to co-create an exhibit in our new temporary exhibition together with other musicians and curators from the Science Museum? Then drop us a line before 30 May (noon) and let us know why you love electronic music.

“We have also sound-houses, where we practise and demonstrate all sounds, and their generation. We have harmonies which you have not, of quarter-sounds, and lesser slides of sounds. Divers instruments of music likewise to you unknown, some sweeter than any you have, together with bells and rings that are dainty and sweet…” Daphne Oram, founder of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, returned time and again to this quotation from Francis Bacon’s 17th century fantasy, The New Atlantis. Now, with help from […]

This week I learnt about a mystery object in the museum’s collections – the mystery is not what the object is, but what the object contains. What you can see is a wax coated cardboard tube, similar in size to a loo roll, with three bands in the surface of the wax. The tube was used with a graphophone, a device invented in the 1880s which recorded sound in a similar way to a vinyl record. The Museum acquired the […]

Our car is still fitted with a cassette player. Albums from long ago (Steely Dan and Beatles are current favourites) provide regular entertainment on journeys and are also enjoyed by the younger members of the family. I suppose we should have moved over to a CD player or something more exotic still, but somehow it seems unnecessary while the cassettes hold out (now 25 years old plus and still working fine!) I suppose the same can now be said of […]