HSS Workshop: "A Berlin Ensemble: Natural Scientists, Radio Engineers, Musicians, and the Trautonium."

Myles Jackson

University of Pennsylvania

Monday, March 18, 2019 - 3:30pm

University of Pennsylvania
337 Cohen Hall
249 S 36th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Berlin of the 1920s and ‘30s witnessed the collaborations of natural scientists, engineers, and musicians that resulted in the invention of new musical instruments and genres. The technical expertise of radio engineers and physicists, combined with the musical expertise present in the Berlin Conservatoire and the financial backing of German electrical companies and the Prussian Ministry of Science, Art, and Popular Education, enabled the production of a new electric musical instrument, the trautonium, which could be used for microtonal pieces and could mimic the timbre of numerous, more traditional instruments. The initial goal of the collaborations was to improve the fidelity of radio broadcasts, which also required the work of physiologists who analyzed and synthesized human sounds via the study of formants. It was also a period of a new aesthetic, Neue Sachlichkeit, exemplified by avant-garde composers such as Paul Hindemith, Igor Stravinsky, and Arnold Schoenberg, all of whom wished to create a new form of musical aesthetics. Electric music played an important role in that new aesthetic.