The Hohner Electronium: a 1950s portable monophonic valve synthesizer

Williams, Sean (2016). The Hohner Electronium: a 1950s portable monophonic valve synthesizer. In: Alternative Histories of Electronic Music, 14-15 Apr 2016, Scinece Museum, London.



In the early 1950s René Seybold designed an electronic accordion for the Hohner company, named the Electronium. This design ostensibly allowed an accordionist to play with more volume, and also allowed sounds in the lower octave ranges to be loud enough to be heard in more festive and noisy situations. In the early 1960s Harald Bojé started playing the Electronium as a tabletop keyboard instrument rather than using the shoulder straps, and modified his instrument to allow for this. Within the context of the electronic music made in Cologne at the time, the use of a piano style keyboard was anathema. The two electronic instruments initially present in the WDR Studio for Electronic Music at its inception – the Melochord and the Monochord – had been summarily ejected primarily because the keyboard interface was a problematic link to an old fashioned way of thinking about music.
Bojé’s choice of instrument, then, to play mostly compositions by Karlheinz Stockhausen within the Cologne Ensemble was a strange one. Through documents including photographs and letters, this paper will show the evolution of Bojé’s Electronium, and the reactions of technicians and co-performers will illustrate the reception of this electronic instrument in the key period of the mid 1960s when portable synthesizers were not yet available. The many modifications made to the instrument and its appearance in Stockhausen’s compositions from 1967 to 1973 provide great early examples of repurposing and DIY culture in electronic music performance practice, and I will demonstrate how the design of the instrument itself affords many of these modifications, and therefore influences the sound of the music made and composed with this device.

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