Electronic Sackbut Synthesizer – Canada Museum of Science and Technology


Hugh LeCaine of Ottawa created
the Electronic Sackbut Synthesizer in his home studio
between 1945 and 1948. This is the first voltage-controlled synthesizer
ever built, preceding the manufacture of
commercial synthesizers by twenty years. As a nuclear physicist with
the National Research Council,
who was passionate about music and determined to shape technology
to expand the possibilities of musical sound, LeCaine achieved complex variations in pitch
and tone through the innovative use of voltage control. The technique provides
an automatic background voltage that can remain stable or be altered
through the manipulation of the knobs and keyboard. The keys are sensitive to a vertical pressure
that controls the volume and a lateral pressure
that changes the pitch, producing gradual transitions
from one sound to the next. The rudimentary appearance of the synthesizer –
its three legs made of crossed pieces of scrap wood and with instructions penciled onto its surface –
camouflages the brilliant concept behind this invention. LeCaine’s Electronic Sackbut Synthesizer
is the precursor of to-day’s electronic instruments.

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