Harmonic Synthesizer Looks Steampunk, But Is Actually Really Old

Image: Ricardipus

The Harmonic Synthesizer is an the lobby of the McLennan physics building, University of Toronto.

Here’s the description from the accompanying card:

This marvelous machine was used to dress the output of the large fork and resonator with a controlled set of overtones. Each fork is mounted in front of the appropriate resonator and driven by coils connected in series using the electronome interrupter tuned to the fundamental. A small keyboard opens the resonators.

It appears that the componenets of this apparatus have been redeployed, as the present set-up does not agree with the illustration in the 1889 catalogue and several pieces have been mounted with screws through the maker’s ark – an unlikely occurrence in the original mounting. This was probably done to allow operation of the keyboard from the back.

No word on how this would sound. If you know anything more about this Harmonic Synthesizer, leave a comment!

2 thoughts on “Harmonic Synthesizer Looks Steampunk, But Is Actually Really Old

  1. A few of us at U of T have operated this a few times. We recreated Helmholtz’s original vowel experiments from the 1850s. The sound combinations remotely resembled vowel sounds, if a bit thin due to the limited harmonics. We also took into account that Helmholtz’s German vowel sounds were quite different. You can find more detail on the these recreations and the history of this particular synthesizer in my book on its maker, “Altered Sensations: Rudolph Koenig’s Acoustical Workshop in Nineteenth-Century Paris” http://www.springer.com/psychology/psychology+general/book/978-90-481-2815-0

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