Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography

A short history of vintage keyboards currently used in prog rock

Written by Philippe Blache

Historically the first musical keyboard created and used a few decades after his conception is the electronic organ. Conceived in 1930 by two French engineers (Coupleux and Givelet), the idea was to introduce an organ whose pipes should be replaced by lamps and amplifiers. In new York, 1931, an American, Richard Ranger presented an organ, associating vibrations to photo-electric cells. The term “Rangertone” was used. In 1935, the society Hammond Instrument Company from Chicago was the first to start the commercialisation of the electric-acoustic organs. After a few technical modifications have been made on the material, with special circuits, oscillators (entirely electronic) and phonic wheels. During the 60's Hammond Organs became a major “electronic” instrument to accompany recordings in popular rock, blues, jazz music (Jon Lord, Steve Winwood, the jazz musicians Jimmy Smith & Jimmy Mc Griff ...)

A few years after the popularization of the Hammond Organ, an American engineer (Robert Moog) who previously works on MIDI Theremins started to design synthesisers in 1964. Robert Moog’s main idea will become soon a revolution in the developpment of electronic musical instrument technology. He has gone further than the previous realisations conceived during the 50’s by the RCA Victor Company (who made huge, heavy machines based on a technology with tubes).

With the help of Donald Buchla, Robert Moog formed his own society to conduct thorough researches in the fabrication of synthesisers. Contrary to the old ones, the new keyboards assure an easier way of manipulation, integrating a tension regulator, modular conceptions often portable, used in studio or during concerts. The new dispositifs added to the machines can provide a vast scale of sounds and tones. During the same period, Robert Moog, Rowland and EMS manufactured the “vocoders” or vocal synthesisers. Artistically speaking, the modular Moog synthesiser was first used in 1966 by the keyboarder Walter (Wendy) Carlos with her “Switched on Bach” album.

Paul Beaver also experimented this modular system and recorded an album for Elektra called “Zodia Cosmic Sounds”. We can also include The contemporary “minimalist” American composer Terry Riley who performed his seminal “IN C” in version for the Moog Synth. On the progressive rock scene, Keith Emerson was among the first musicians who utilised the synthesiser. He began to use it on stage. Florian Fricke from Popol Vuh were among the pioneers prog artists who obtained a Moog synth. His album “Affestunde” (1970) was entirely built around this instrument.

Since the end of the 60’s, progressive rock music has made extensive synth experimentations thanks to the coming of new materials on the market. After Frank Zappa’s exploration in tape manipulation and electronic collages, a few bands as the Pink Floyd, Heldon, the electronic / krautrock scene from Germany  will constantly use new analogic, synth  instruments. They ocasionally appeals to electronic experimentations put in light by 60's contemporary musicians (La Monte Young, Morton Subotnick, Karlheinz Stokhausen among others). With his “ambient parts” project Brian Eno also contributed to the growing fancy for sounds manipulations. He developed the theme of “environemental music” at the end of the 70’s.

The function of synthesisers will improve with the addition of “sequencers”. This new technology produces curves of tension that we can use to commend materials for the same objectives described by the RCA synthesisers. The continuous progresses released in electronic music industry will be orientated to a method of control elaborated under the micro computer form, digital technologies for the synthesis of sounds.

A classification by each type of instrument is more and more difficult to establish because numerous models provide several applications.

The Mellotron - key bands: Edgar Froese, Arthur Brown, Eloy, Clearlight…

Hammond Organ - Key bands: ELP, Focus, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Uriah Heep, Yes…

Fender Rhodes - Magma, Weather report, The Mahavishnu Orchestra…

Moog synth - Yes, ELP, Camel, Trimuviat, Popol Vuh, Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream…

Farfisa Organ - Klaus Schulze, Mike Oldfield, Brian Eno…
Inventory of Electronic / keyboard Musical Instrument
The Rangertone organ / inventor: Richard H Ranger / country: USA / date:1932

L’orgue des ondes / inventor: Armand Givelet / country: France / date: 1933

The Hammond Organ / inventor: Laurens Hammond / country: France / date: 1935

The Univox / iventor: Univox corporation / country: England / date: 1940

The Melochord / inventor: Harald Bode / country: Germany / date: 1947

The Polychord Organ / inventor: Harald Bode / country: Germany / date: 1950

The RCA synthesisers / inventor: Harry Olsen & Herbert Belar / country: USA / date: 1952

Moog Synthesisers / inventor: Robert Moog / country: USA / date: 1963

The Mellotron & Chamberlin/ inventor: Leslie Bradley / country: United Kingdom / date: 1963

Buchla Synthesisers / inventor: Donald Buchla / country: USA / date: 1963

EMS Synthesisers / inventor: Peter Zinovieff & David Cockrell / country: United Kingdom / date : 1969

Roland Synthesisers / inventor: Roland Corporation / country: Japan / date: 1972

Korg Synthesisers / inventor: Korg corporation / country: Japan / date: 1975

Yamaha Synthesisers / inventor: Yamaha corporation / country: Japan / date: 1976

Kawai Synthesisers / inventor: Kawai corporation / country: Japan / date: 1980

Steinberg software / inventor: Steinberg / country: Germany / date: 1985

Kurzweil synthesisers & samplers / inventor : Kurzweil / country: USA / date: 1983
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