Raymond Scott’s Electronium is one of the great, odd sound inventions of all time. Scott developed the machine as an automatic performance and composing machine, a great, mechanical algorithmic music creation device.
The idea of the machine, with no keyboard and the ability to “automatically” create music, is still a bit radical today. The sonic results are as whimsical and fresh now as then. But it’s the underlying technology that’s impressive: the device “suggests” musical motives, and allows contrapuntal techniques and development of the materials into music. Not bad for the 1950s — and a lot more fun to listen to than a lot of supposedly more-sophisticated computer algorithmic music.
Motown got interested in the results, I think because it was the only hardware at the time to come with a DOOWAH control.
Raymond Scott was also a major inspiration for a young Robert Moog, a relationship described in Moog’s own words on the Raymond Scott website. In fact, had it not been for Scott apprenticing him, it’s possible Bob Moog would have stuck to Theremins and never gotten into the synth business.
The instrument survives, but sadly in non-working order, in the basement of Mark Mothersbaugh’s office. It’s bittersweet looking at the instrument through this video, posted in April, and not hearing it work. But before you despair, Mothersbaugh is promising to fix his Electronium. Let’s hope he does.