In 1955, RCA unveiled its Electronic Music Synthesizer, and a new era in the history of music began.
Developed at RCA’s David Sarnoff Research Center (near Princeton, NJ), it was the brainchild of Harry Olson (standing), and Herbert Belar. Olson was also the designer of a number of RCA’s microphones.
This huge and unwieldy system was controlled by a punched paper roll, similar to a player piano roll. A keyboard was used to punch the roll (Olson has his finger on it). Each note had to be individually described by a number of parameters (frequency, volume, envelope, etc.) The output was fed to disk recording machines, which stored the results on lacquer-coated disks. One of these can be seen at the left in the above photo.
Programming this machine must have been a laborious and time consuming process, but it caught the attention of electronic music pioneers such as Milton Babbit. A more advanced version of this system became the basis of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in 1957, located at Princeton University.
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