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. For an official source of information, be sure to read up at the Raymond Scott site, which has this fantastic music demo:

Electronium Music Sample

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.

  • http://studionebula.com Adam Schabtach

    The really sad thing is that years have gone by since Mothersbaugh first started promising to fix the thing.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Anyone want to help start the Electronium Preservation Society? Maybe Mothersbaugh needs a little push. (Restoring the thing has to be a bit of a challenge.)

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  • http://www.theMOTIQUE.com Paul Lindsay

    I would love to be a member of “The Electronium Preservation Society”

    I wonder how this would rank in difficulty compard to the Novachord Restoration?

  • leni st monkey

    just found this site afta hearing raymond scott on radio 3's late junction

    i have some whackily creative ideas regardin all of this and would love to have contact with any of u above

    ! MM EPS HER indeed !

    please contact me wheneva, let's talk creativ bizness

    Leni

  • Darren Davison

    Mark Mothersbaugh is having the Electronium restored to working order currenlty. The project started April 22, 2009.

    The biggest challenge, of course, is that there is no substantive documentation on the device and it was being robbed of parts for another project on top of that.

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  • http://ericarcher.net eric archer

    I would love to help with this. Maybe we can get them to post high-res photos of the circuit boards? Someone may be able to make suggestions to clarify the functionality.

  • http://none Paul Greiner

    I agreee I would love to get involved in this. The Electronium looks like it would be well worth a group effort to bring it back to life. Anyone hear/know of any updates from Mark Mothersbaugh? I'm a novice but this is the type of thing that I would spend days and days getting know if I could forsee being able to help.

    @ Eric Archer…you should assist eric, you could throw a drone commander in there with some doowop!!