Filler By Proxy LXXIV: Percy Grainger’s Electric Eye Tone Tool

Tuesday 22 September 2009

A short video of Warren Burt and Catherine Schieve playing the last of Percy Grainger’s free music instruments, the Electric Eye Tone Tool:

Between 1954 and 1961, Percy Grainger and Burnett Cross worked on a machine called the Electric Eye Tone Tool. Years later, I was looking at the diagram of the Electric Eye machine in the Grainger Museum and I said, “That should be fairly easy to rebuild.” Well, it turns out it’s not fairly easy to rebuild but it was rebuildable.

The Electric Eye Tone Tool seems to be the first light-controlled synthesizer. Its oscillator circuits were transistorised (more stable than the old valve technology) and could be controlled graphically, simply by painting a score onto a transparent plastic sheet which could then be passed over the instrument’s array of photoelectric cells. Take that, UPIC.

Burt has written a brief study of the history of experimental music in Australia, reprinted at the Australian Music Centre website.

(Hat tip to Mr Graeve.)