When Hermann von Helmholtz designed what was essentially the world’s first electric keyboard, he didn’t do out of a need to lay down crunchy riffs on the shores of the Rhine. What he needed was a way to generate tones and mix timbres in a bid to better understand the musicality and substance of vowel sounds. He ultimately came up with a series of electrically activated tuning forks hooked up to brass resonators, and now you can try to own one of your every own… assuming you’ve got between at least $20,000 burning a hole in your pocket. This particular unit — hewn of wood and keys whittled from African ivory — wasn’t made by Helmholtz himself, but it is one of the few remaining examples of such 19th century tech still in existence. To hear auction broker Bonhams tell the tale, there’s just one other floating around the United States (another seems to be in safe hands at the University of Toronto). Intrigued? The Helmholtz synthesizer will go up for auction in New York come late October along with a slew of other scientific curios from back in the day.
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