A Wonderful New Musical Instrument
RAY STANNARD BAKER IN MCCLURE'S MAGAZINE
A scientific musician, Dr. Thaddeus Cahill, has invented a musical instrument called the dynamophone, which is believed to be the most perfect machine yet produced for making music By the use of electricity scientifically perfect music can be turnea out and transmitted by wire to distant points.
DR. CAHILL’S new invention suggests, if it does not promise, a complete change in the system by which a comparatively few rich people enjoy the best music to the exclusion of all others. Instead of bringing the people to the music the new method sencs the music to the people. The instrument itself produces no music, it merely gives out electrical waves of viuious sorts which are carried over wires like a telegraph message. Highly skilled musicians located in a quiet room distant from the whir of ihe machinery, regulate the production of these waves by playing upon keyboards similar to those of the pipe-organ. Connecting with the central plant, cables are laid, in the streets, from which wires may be run into your house or mine, or into restaurants, theatres, churches, schools, or wherever music is desired. Upon our table, or attached to thé wall, we have an ordinary telephone receiver with a funnel attached. By opening a switch we may “turn on” he music. The electric waves sent out by the great central machine are transformed, by the familiar device of the telephone, into sound waves, and reach our ears as symphonies, lullabies or other music, at the will of the players. Louder tones and greater volume of music may be secured for theatres and churches, by the simple regulation of a switch. Of course the same selections, performed by the musician, go over the wires at the
same time, so that you and I maysit in our homes on Easter morning and hear the same music that is being produced in the churches, or in the evening, dining at the restaurant, we may enjoy the identical selections given in the opera house or the theatre. It is the dream of the inventor that, in the future, we may be awakened by appropriate music in the morning and go to bed at night wfitk lullabies—sleep-music being a department of musical composition which he thinks has been sadly neglected. The machine as now constructed is, indeed, peculiarly adapted to the swTeet, soft strains of sleep-music. It would be difficult to produce more exquisite effects than Dr. Cahill gets in such selections as “Träumerei.”
One’s first feeling, upon hearing of the new machine, is one of utter incredulity. When the telephone was invented the idea of talking over wires was just as inconceivable ; and more recently the announcement that messages might be conveyed from Europe to America wholly without the use of wires, ivas looked upon with much the same skepticism. But Dr. Cahill’s machinéis actually in existence, players have been trained to perform upon it. and the music has really been conveyed over wires and produced in distant balls and houses, as it will soon be delivered through the streets of New York. When one is convinced that so much of the story is true his next impression—for we are of weak
faith—is that this is only another device, like the phonograph, or the much advertised piano-player, for producing mechanical music. In other words, we imagine a sort of overgrown, hurdy-gurdy. The news of all great inventions seems at first too good to he true. It is amusing, the wistfulness with which the inquirer, eager to believe in the instrument, is sure to ask; “But is the music not mechanical ? Cannot you hear the machinery? Is it possible that such a machine can be made to convey the emotion of the player?” These were the questions uppermost in my own mind when I went to Holyoke, Massachusetts, where Dr. Cahill has his laboratory, and where he has just completed his second machine, the one now being installed in New York City. A wire runs from the laboratory to the Hamilton Hotel, about a mile away, and the telephone receiver, fitted with a big paper horn, was placed on a chair in the ball-room at the top of the building. A switch near at hand turned on the music and regulated the tones, either soft or loud, the musicians, of course, being located at the keyboard in their own small room at the laboratory a mile away. I am not a musical critic, 'but of a few things any one may at once make sure. When the music began, it seemed to fill the entire room with singularly clear, sweet, perfect tones. Although expecting somehow to hear the whir of machinery, or the scraping sounds common to the phonograph, I was at first so much interested in the music itself that I did not once recall its source. Afterwards, I listened especially for some evidence of the noisy dynamos which I had just seen, but without dis-
tinguishing a single jarring sound; nor was there any hollowness or strangeness traceable to the telephone or its horn attachment. It was pure music, iconveying musical emotion without interference or diversion. As one listens, the marvel of it grows upon him—the marvel and the possibilities which it suggests. The music apparently comes out of nothingness, no players to be seen, no instrument, nothing but two wires running out of the wall; and in hundreds of different places widely separated—the present machine can supply over one thousand subscribers—the same music may be heard at the same moment.
The first impression the music makes upon the listener is its singular difference from any music ever heard before ; in the fullness, roundness, completeness, of its tones. And truly it is different and more perfect; but strangely enough, while it possesses ranges of tones all its own, it can be made to imitate closely other musical instruments; the flute, oboe, bugle, French horn and ’cello best of all, the piano and violin not as yet so perfectly. Ask the players for fife music and they play Dixie for you with the squealing of the pipes deceptively perfect. Indeed, the performer upon this marvelous machine, as I shall explain later, can “build up” any sort of tone he wishes; he can produce the peifect note of the flute or the imperfect note of file piano—though the present machine is not adapted to the production of all sorts of music, as future and more extensive machines may be.
After several selections had been given I was conscious of a subtle
change in the music. Dr. Cahill said :
“Mr. Harris has taken Mr. Pierce’s place.”
It is cpiite as possible, indeed, to distinguish the individuality of the players upon this instrument as it is upon the piano or violin. The machine responds perfectly to the skill and emotion of the player; he gets out of it what he puts into it: so that the music is as much a human production as though the player performed upon a piano. In an hour’s time we had many selections, varying all the way from Bach and Schubert to the “Arkansas Traveler” and a popular Stein song. One duet was played by Mr. Pierce and Mr. Schulíz. The present machine is best adapted to the higher class of music. It does not produce with any great success the rattle-bang of rag-time, which is perhaps an advantage.
By the time I had heard the music and had speculated upon what the influence of such an instrument might be upon the development of the aesthetic side of our common life, I wanted to understand the invention itself and to know something of the man who created it.
A first glance at the machinery in the Holyoke laboratory is rather discouraging to the ordinary visitor who is untrained in the .science of electricity and sound. It seems, like the pictures that go with this article, almost too difficult to understand. But, like all great inventions, its fundamental principles are really simple.
A musical fuote, in its Simplest sense, is a pleasant sound, produced by vibrations in the air. Strike a key of a piano; the string vibrates
and sets the air to pulsating, sound waves are conveyed to our ears and we hear a musical note. Some strings produce rapid vibrations and give us high notes. Others, slower vibrations with low notes. By striking various keys in succession these vibrations may be blended or combined to produce music.
Every one knows how different is the music produced, for example, by the piano from that of the cornet or violin. The tones are wholly different. Why?
Helmholtz in his great work on “Sensations of Tone” analyzed musical tones as a chemist analyzes water. A tone which seems to us perfectly simple may be extremely complex. Helmholtz showed .that, when a note struck, we have first a “ground tone,” consisting of a certain number of vibrations a second. But this is not .all ; accompanying the “ground tone” and coexisting with it are other vibrations called “harmonics,” which are two, three, four, five or more times as rapid.
In some instruments the ground tone is strong and clear, and the harmonics much less distinct—as in the violin and the flute. In brass instruments the ground tone m weaker and the harmonics stronger. In other words, the quality of a musi cal instrument depends upon the combination of the original ground tone and its many harmonics.
Helmholtz, by the use of many tuning forks, one giving the pure primary tone, the others yielding the pure harmonics, was actually able to “build up” or imitate the tones of various instruments.
Here, then, in its acoustic form, was one of the basic ideas out of
which the music of the future will grow—is now growing. If Helmholtz could have gone on and built a machine for opeiating and controlling his tuning forks he could have produced any sort of music he desired, and with scientific perfection. But such a machine would have presented mechanical difficulties impossible of solution. Helmholtz, moreover, had no idea of producing music. His work was to investigate the physiological basis of our musical sensations.
Dr. Cahill, on the contrary, using the scientific knowledge which Helmholtz and a host of others had developed, sought to create a new system of musical production that would be more plastic and expressive than anything known before. Later he set himself the further task of finding some way of distributing widely the music so produced.
It is impossible here to describe the tortuous and difficult pathway of his progress, or to tell of the obstacles which he was compelled to surmount. It will be sufficient to explain, simply—for it is really simple—how lie finally solved the pioblem.
Electricity, like sound, travels in waves or vibrations, electricity in the ether, and sound in the air. Why should there not be a way, argued Dr. Cahill, for producing the various vibrations corresponding to the pitch of a musical note by electricity and then changing them into sound-vibrations? This was the problem he studied; and he finally hit upon the use of electric dynamos. Each dynamo was so built that it gave out alternating currents which vibrated (or alternated, as the electrician would sav) at a certain rate.
Each dynamo produced vibrations representing a isingie pure musical tone, or a single one of Helmholtz's tuning forks. Other dynamos or alternators were used to represent other pure tones, until in the present machine Dr. Cahill has not fewer than 145 such alternators. They are placed upon great steel shafts, and operated by power machinery. Each alternator is connected by wires with the playing keyboard in another room. When one key is pressed one alternator gives off its vibrations; when two are pressed, two alternators come into play. Let us suppose. now, that the player wishes to produce the peculiar sweet note of an A string (open) upon the violin. The ground tone of the A string has 435 vibrations a second. One key controlling one alternator will produce this ground tone, but it will sound more like a flute note than a violin note. Harmonics must be added— exactly as Helmholtz built up a tone with his tuning forks. Stops aie drawn producing the first harmonic, 870 vibrations, the second harmonic, 1,305 vibrations and so on, until the approximate note of the violin is reached. In other words, the player, by using the proper keys and stops can construct the tones of any instrument he wishes. He can have the clear note of the flute, the heavy burr of the ’cello or the squeal of the fife. The qualities of all instruments—the vivacity of the piano, the emotion of the violin, the purity of the clarinet, are thus within instant reach of the player upon a machine of this type. The present instrument with 145 alternators, while producing the most extraordinary results, will not reach all of the combinations necessary, let us say, to
produce the marvelously complex music of an orchestra, but the inventor is already planing a much larger machine, with hundreds of alternators, upon which eight or ten musicians may perform together, making possible heights of musical harmony never before imagined.
The fundamental feature of the machine, then, lies in these alternators, but many other' devices, wonderful inventions in themselves, contribute to the production of musical sopnd. For example, the currents from various alternators must be combined to make a given tone; consequently the inventor has produced what lie calls “tone-mixers” where the various sorts of vibrations, carried on wires, are combined. Leaving the mixer, mysterious as it is to the non-technical mind, the current is “refined” by passing it through other devices from which it emerges ready for distribution by wire to the subscriber in his home or at his restaurant. It is perfectly marvelous, the way in which these currents are regulated and controlled —molded as it were, by the delicate touch of the artist’s hand.
One final device is necessary. So far we have only an electrical current, properly mixed and refined, to produce a given musical tone, but there is no sound whatever. The machine itself, as I have said, is silent. The inventor here has recourse to the simple device of the telephone receiver, the purpose of which is to translate ,an electric current, which comes to it over the the wires, into sound waves. The familiar little black diaphragm of the telephone is made to vibrate by the current and that vibration is
communicated to the air, producing sound waves which we hear, exactly as we hear the sound waves excited by a piano string. Thus the new music comes to us. It can be transmitted over ordinary telephone wires and received in pur ordinary telephones, but inasmuch as the current used for the music is much stronger than that employed for carrying the human voice, it is the plan of the inventor to have separate wires laid in the streets, and a separate telephone apparatus in the theatre or in the home of the subscriber. In New York the plan is ultimately to have four different sets of wires, one carrying operatic music, and one popular airs, so that subscribers may take their choice.
Having produced his new instrument it was necessary to find an operator. Curiously enough, although Dr. Cahill is a profound student of music and a lover of musical art he plays no instrument. About three years ago Edwin H. Pierce, a professional pianist and organist of many years experience, undertook the task of mastering the new instrument. The keyboard which he uses fills all one side of the music room. It is surrounded by a jungle of wires leading from the keyboard to the 2,000 or more switches which control the instrument. The musician sits oil a high bench, like that of a pipe-organ, with double-banked keyboard. Sixteen stops are used to regulate the harmonics, and there are other devices, pedals and “expression levers.” for otherwise controlling the tones. One telephone with a funnel is arranged behind the player, so that by listening to his own music he may get exactly the proper effect.