William Weir

Raymond Scott and the Clavivox

In Uncategorized on January 2, 2011 at 3:04 am

Happy New Year! And now, for my first real post, I shall blog about … Raymond Scott and his Clavivox.

This post is prompted by two occasions: (A.) My brother-in-law Rich gave me for Christmas a figurine of Raymond Scott and his Clavivox (see above).  And (B.) Anyone in the Calgary area later this week can witness the only working Clavivox in action AND see a documentary about the incredible Mr. Scott called “Deconstructing Dad” directed by Scott’s son, Stan Warnow.

Scott’s accomplishments are surprisingly vast and surely the subject of future 440 hz posts. For now, we’ll focus on the Clavivox, which he invented in 1952 and patented in 1956. The three-octave keyboard allowed notes to glide into each other, creating a very expressive and often eerie sound. Its design incorporated a theremin module built by a 20-year-old Bob Moog. When Scott bought the module from the man who would later revolutionize music with his Moog synthesizer, he wouldn’t say what he wanted it for. Moog later got a chance to see what Scott was up to:

This was not a theremin anymore — Raymond quickly realized there were more elegant ways of controlling an electronic circuit. He used a very steady source of light instead of a theremin for subsequent models. There was a shutter consisting of photographic film that got progressively lighter as it went up. This produced a voltage which then changed the pitch of the tone.generator.

– – Raymond had everything adjusted so that, sure enough, when you played the keyboard you got the notes of the scale. But the really neat thing, as he pointed out, was that now you could glide from note to note — you could play expressively — you didn’t have to play discrete notes.

Unlike the Moog synthesizer, though, the Claviox didn’t go on toward mass production. The only working one is kept by the Audities Foundation in Calgary, which restores and preserves vintage electronic music equipment. And, apparently, the foundation has lent its use for the screening of “Deconstrucing Dad” at the Epcor Center for the Performing Arts in Calgary Jan. 7. Here’s more information about it. So if you’re a Calgarian, or just in the area, it sounds like a great opportunity to see a very rare and very ahead-of-its-time instrument in action.

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