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Wie ist der Klang? [How is the sound?]

An Historical overview of Harald Bode’s instruments

In one of his notebooks ca. 1937, Harald Bode wrote, “Wie ist der Klang?” The following article gives an overview on his instruments from 1937 until 1981. “How is the sound?” is an expanded version of a text the author prepared for the Harald Bode exhibition “A Lifetime for Sound” at the Estey Museum (Brattleboro VT) in 2010.

Around 1935, Harald Bode, an educated physicist at the age of 26, with a strong musical background — his father was an organ player and teacher, his mother played harpsichord — started a recording business in his hometown Hamburg, Germany, with a microphone and a recording device.

Recording technology was not very advanced at this time, so Harald got in touch with the problem of recording a grand piano properly. At this time grand pianos with pickups to transfer the vibrations of the strings into electric waves were developed already. One of these was the Steinway-Hiller Grand Piano (which was patented but never went into production). Harald got knowledge of this and improved it. But he had in mind to build an instrument which would produce musical sounds completely out of electronics, using vacuum tubes, which at that time were the state of the art basic technology for radios and many other electric devices.

There was a demand for new sound colours, Klangfarben, by composers that had been written about in Germany as early as 1888. The physicists Herrmann and Trautwein had, in the 1920s and early 30s, examined the characteristics of human voice, and through that found out, that all musical sounds were based on the same principle: the formants and the hall formants, groups of overtones with higher intensity than other overtones formed the Klangfarbe, the sound colour, or timbre of sound. Following that principle, Harald planned his first instrument, which would have in fact the capabilities of a synthesizer, as he himself and Dr. Thom Rhea later have pointed out. The sounds could be created freely from different parameters by using half-rotary and stop knobs.

The term synthesizer though was not around yet. A few electronic instruments here and there existed, making more press as a curiosity than being heard by a broader audience. Only Hammond had made a commercially successful instrument in America. Ondes Martenot in France had a wide support by music academies and contemporary composers, and the Sphaerophon, Trautonium and Hellertion were known to a certain extent in Germany. Trautonium and Hellertion had been developed in academic circumstances and development of the Sphaerophon and its predecessors had been widely supported by government, private sponsors and the big electronics company, Telefunken. When Harald decided to build something that he would call an electronic organ, he was, in relation to financial support, in the middle of nowhere. How should he get the means? At a lecture he held on his Steinway-Hiller piano development he found Christian Warnke, a violinist with a strong interest in those new means of musicality. After Harald had proven the instrument’s feasibility with a breadboard model using doorbell buttons as keys, Mr. Warnke sponsored the project.

Warbo Formant Organ

Figure 1
Figure 1. Photograph of Warbo Formant Organ from a period magazine article. All images and recordings in this article © Harald Bode Archive. [Click image to enlarge]

With the Warbo Formant Organ four notes could be played at a time. That was unusual as polyphony in electronic instruments was not as easy to implement as today. What Harald implemented for the very first time was polyphony with dramatically fewer tubes than were necessary in other instruments. The construction also allowed a unique way of sound creation. In September 1937, the Warbo Formant Organ was presented to the public in a cinema and in November in a matinée style event at an artist’s studio. It made quite some press. 1[1. See also Tom Rhea’s article on the Warbo Formant Organ in this issue of eContact! : “Harald Bode’s Four-Voice Assignment Keyboard (1937).”]

The thought was that this kind of instruments could be successful, if composers could be found willing to use the opportunities of new, original sounds instead of imitating known instrumental sounds. A review of the presentation concluded with, “Bode’s talent seems big and promising enough, to demand from him further steps towards that aim.” Two versions of the instruments were made and later brought to the Institute for High Frequency Technology at the University of Hanover, where Oskar Vierling and Fritz Sennheiser, later founder of the Sennheiser company, were professors. The institute was destroyed during the war and so was the Warbo Formant Organ. No recording of the Warbo Formant has been found to date. The earliest known recordings of Harald’s instruments are with the Melodium, which followed up the Warbo Formant around three years later.

The Melodium

Figure 2
Figure 2. Photograph of the Melodium from a period magazine article. [Click image to enlarge]

The Melodium was a monophonic, touch-sensitive keyboard instrument, a melody instrument that produced a broad variety of timbres. 2[2. See also Tom Rhea’s article on “Bode’s Melodium and Melochord” in this issue of eContact!] Like the Warbo Formant Organ it was created out of Harald’s own initiative, alongside daytime jobs. Harald in the meantime had finished postgraduate studies at the Institute for Oscillation Research, the former Heinrich Hertz Institute and worked as a developing engineer in various fields of electronics. Harald’s intention was to enable research and creation of rich sound colours and playing them as easily as one would on a piano. Dr. Tom Rhea wrote about the Melodium:

Its monophonic design arose from a technical liability of the Warbo Formant Organ. [He] realized that a monophonic instrument would present far fewer tuning problems than the radical Formant Organ. (Rhea 1980a, 68)

The Melodium was created with Oskar Vierling, a very experienced builder of electric and electronic instruments. Vierling was head of the Group “Elektrische Musik” at the Institut für Schwingungsforschung [Institute for Oscillation Research] in Berlin, Germany, which had been the top address for electric music instrument design from 1930 on. American inventors Benjamin Miessner, pioneer of the electrified piano and Winston E. Kock, creator of the Baldwin electric organ had studied and worked there with Vierling some years before. Another collaborator was Fekko von Ompteda, a light music composer and player, pioneer of playing the Trautonium, the 1930 instrument development by Friedrich Trautwein.

New experimental music was not possible, it was in fact prohibited, fiercely suppressed by the Nazi government in all artistic realms, with one exception: the movies. Film was considered and conceived as a most important propaganda weapon for the regime, so in film, technical innovation even in musical instruments was very welcome. The Melodium was thus supported by the authorities and used by renowned film score composers and at least at one time for theatre music. The Melodium was also played on the radio nationwide and shown on one of the very first television stations.

The Melodium featured in 1940s Film Music

The Melodium is featured as a solo instrument in Theo Mackeben’s Münchner G’schichten (Audio 1), a waltz from the 1940 movie Bal Paré, directed by Karl Ritter. Mackeben, who was a renowned composer of light and film music in Germany, played the instrument together with the symphonic orchestra of the Berlin Opera. The melody line of the piece is played with the Melodium. Harald and Mackeben developed a unique way to overcome the limitations of monophony with the given technology of that time. Notes were played one after another on different optical sound stripes on film before being simultaneously played back and re-recorded. That was what we would now call multi-track recording, but at the time there was not even a term for it.

Audio 1 (1:48). The Melodium played with an orchestral accompaniment in Theo Mackeben’s Münchner G’schichten (1940).

Another example of the Melodium in use is from the movie Friedemann Bach (1941, dir. Traugott Müller and Gustaf Gründgens). It is an adaptation of an original work [title unknown] by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, son of J.S. Bach, arranged by composer Mark Lothar (Audio 2).

Audio 2 (1:01). The melodium is prominently featured in the movie Friedemann Bach from 1941. Mark Lothar wrote arrangements on Friedemann Bach compositions for Melodium, Harald Bode was in charge of operating his instrument technically and soundwise. The actual player(s) are unknown.

In other feature movies like Veit Harlan’s Die goldene Stadt (The Golden City, 1942), Immensee (1943) and Opfergang (The Great Sacrifice, 1944), the Melodium was used to illustrate extreme feelings by the female star. In Jud Süß (Jew Süss, 1940, dir. Veit Harlan) it was used by composer Wolfgang Zeller to fabricate a sinister atmosphere for the scenes where Jewish people were depicted. In Carl Froelich’s Das Herz der Königin (The Heart of a Queen, 1940), Mackeben used the instrument, apart from melody, to construct a much cleaner bagpipe sound than an original bagpipe would sound.

Harald had a Melodium in his house for his own use. The Melodium existed until 1946. It was the predecessor of the Melochord and most likely cannibalized for that new instrument.

The Melochord

Figure 3
Figure 3. The Melochord in the Studio für elektronische Musik, Cologne, Germany. [Click image to enlarge]

The Melochord, like the Melodium and Warbo Formant Organ, were created out of Harald’s own initiative. 3[3. See also Tom Rhea’s article on “Bode’s Melodium and Melochord” in this issue of eContact!] The Melochord would later be recognized as the first known post-war electronic instrument in Europe. After the war, Harald quit his daytime job as a development engineer. After service on duty for the US occupation forces, running a radio repair business and collecting metal to support himself and his family, he made a dream come true. He followed his ideas. He became a freelance inventor.

The Melochord allowed more sound colours than the Melodium. It had a split keyboard, so two notes with different sound colours could be played at one time. An octave selector allowed different pitches on different keys. It also had foot controls. So the long time virulent idea of Klangfarbenmusik music of timbres and sound colours found its realization in the Melochord.

The Melochord was played by Harald himself for light music of the time and also for radio plays mainly on Radio Munich with composers who had used the Melodium before in Berlin. But at least once he played a concert in the place he lived in Neubeuern, in the alps, south of Munich. In a local newspaper article from 1949, a brief report appeared:

Der hier ansässige Erfinder Harald Bode spielte bei einer Veranstaltung das von ihm geschaffene Musikinstrument Bode Melochord im Zusammenwirken mit der Tanzkapelle Herbert Beckh. Dieses neuartige elektrische Musikinstrument überraschte durch seine Modulationsfähigkeit und kann vielleicht der modernen Tanzmusik neue Wege weisen. 4[4. The locally based inventor Harald Bode played one of his own instruments, the Bode Melochord, in a collaboration with Herbert Beckh’s dance orchestra. This new-fangled music instrument is surprising in its capacity for modulation and could possibly open up new paths for modern dance music.]

Harald also made his contribution to early electronic music composition around 1948. A sound-on-sound, multi-track composition by Harald for the North German Radio Network (NWDR) in Hamburg demonstrated what could be done with the Melochord (Audio 3).

Audio 3 (4:36). Harald Bode playing the 1948 Melochord in a range of musical styles.

By 1949, Harald had a broadcast featuring his instrument on Bavarian radio, with his wife Irmgard as the narrator and Fekko von Ompteda as his musical companion. They mainly played familiar instrumental sounds on the program, but presented some sound experiments as well.

Harald’s own use of his instrument was only the beginning of a story that musically went into another direction. Professor Meyer-Eppler, physicist at the Phonetics and Communication faculty of the University of Bonn, was very interested in “elektrische Musik” [“Electric music”], the term used in Germany at that time for sound with electronics, and ordered a customized Melochord from Harald. It was used to create examples of what was possible with electronic means (sometimes recorded in conjunction with a vocoder). Meyer-Eppler played his “example pieces” to young composers to convince them to work with electronic sound.

In 1951, Werner Meyer-Eppler, Herbert Eimert and Robert Beyer started an institution called the Studio für elektronische Musik at the Cologne radio station (WDR), which later became synonymous with the work and name of Karlheinz Stockhausen. The first sounds out of this early Electronic Music Studio presented to the astonished listeners were Melochord sounds by Meyer-Eppler.

The fresh air after the brutal suppression of new æsthetic ideas in art by the Nazi regime in Germany and the end of the war allowed and encouraged young composers to set their sails towards new horizons, towards the genres of electronic music as we know them today. Harald’s Melochord was an important means for the first excursions into an unknown field, and Harald, already in his forties, was among the early explorers.

Altogether Harald built only a handful of Melochords.

The Polychord

Figure 4
Figure 4. The Polychord. [Click image to enlarge]

A good thing like the Melochord could be improved or modified for other uses. After the success of the Melochord, which was a two-voice instrument, Harald decided to propose a further development to Bayerischer Rundfunk München, where his Melochord had first been presented and was still in extensive use. It required great skill to operate, and Harald himself quite often provided this. The new instrument would be polyphonic, many notes could be played at the same time, thus enabling the playing of chords (Audio 4). So the name was easily found, the Polychord. The Bayerischer Rundfunk, Southern German Radio, agreed to commission this instrument and so he built it. Throughout 1950, the Polychord was presented on-air by Fekko von Ompteda on some occasions and once by Harald Bode himself.

Audio 4 (2:39). A chordal passage is followed by the exposition of an accompanied “oboe solo”, vox humana, another “organ” example, railway-like sounds and Hörspiel sound effects. All sounds are played on the Polychord by Harald Bode.

The Polychord was similar to an organ in design and in that way nearer to the demand of most musicians at the time. It included some sound presets imitating existing instruments, while the Melochord had controls to control the parameters of sound freely. It was a step towards the electronic organ that Harald would soon design and direct to the market, aiming at the needs and demands of a higher number of musicians.

Audio 5 (0:16). Since it was first stationed in a radio station in Munich in 1950, the Polychord was used for a variety of purposes until 1973. One of these purposes was to accompany the cantor at religious ceremonies of the Munich Jewish Community. This short excerpt of the Polychord is from the piece Ela-Eskern by Schlomo Rawiz played by Richard Schreml.

The Polychord remained in the hands of Bayerischer Rundfunk until 1973. It was used for anything produced in-house: special effects, music for comedy shows, dance music and religious music. In 1973 it was given to a private user and is today part of the Musical Instruments collection at the Deutsches Museum von Meisterwerken der Naturwissenschaft und Technik [Deutsches Museum — Masterpieces of Science and Technology] in Munich, Germany.

Electronic Organs — The Polychord III and Bode Organ

Figure 5
Figure 5. Apparatewerk Bayern [Bavarian Machine Factory] advertisement for the Polychord III with tone cabinet. [Click image to enlarge]

Around 1950, Harald felt that avant-gardist instruments like the Melochord had a very limited market potential. He started creating instruments now that seemed to have wider acceptance, a broader market potential: electronic organs. The first of them shared the name, but not the principle, of the Polychord, and was called the Polychord III.

Audio 6 (0:32). Excerpt of Michael Paulsson playing the tune Wyoming (by Morey Amsterdam) on the Polychord-Orgel accompanied by other instruments.

Harald joined Apparatewerk Bayern (AWB), a company run by the Bavarian state to create jobs in the southern German region, still suffering from the devastation of the war. This instrument was the first German electronic organ on the market and was also called the AWB Organ. AWB was targeting two markets: churches — who were in need of new instruments — and popular entertainment musicians.

Audio 7 (4:04). Hans-Hendrik Wehding — Sphynx / Skizze, performed on the Polychord III by the composer with the Wolfram Kolbe Ensemble. Permission pending.

Some of these instruments also made their way into experimental electronic studios like the Technical University in West Berlin, the Experimental Broadcast Studio in East Germany, UNESCO Studio Gravesano in Switzerland and others. The main use of the instrument occurred in the entertainment industry. At this time the names of the electronic organs used on recordings were often printed directly on the labels of the records on which they featured. Hammond, who brought the first known electronic organ to the market in 1935, were masters of exploiting this means to promote their instruments. But a remarkable number of record labels in Germany in those days showed the name “Polychord-Orgel” as well. When a piece was to be played on the radio that featured the instrument, its name was sometimes mentioned on-air as well; the Polychord-Orgel was for a short time indeed a household name.

Figure 6
Figure 6. The Bode Organ with tone cabinet (right). [Click image to enlarge]

At a congregation on electric and electronic music instruments at a trade fair in 1952, the Polychord found the highest acceptance of all devices presented. East German industry leaders considered producing it in a license deal. At the electronic studio of East German Radio, modern composers made extensive use of it. The church officials in West Germany, by contrast, refused electronic organs completely, so there was no way for electronic organs to be sold to churches. They were actually banned by church officials out of principle because of the connotations of modernity that they were opposed to at the time. Their main points of contention were the ease of playing and the modernity of the instrument’s design. Electronic church organs were “devilish” to them. Harald faced this problem in 1953 when he produced his own model called the Bode Organ (Fig. 6), although the strict ban was beginning to waiver. But now the competition got fierce. Hammond hired an organ player, Gerhard Gregor, who had promoted the Polychord and Bode Organ for quite some time in several recordings for the North German Radio and on records. He now was quoted in a Hamburg newspaper that “Bach kann auf einem elektroakustischen Instrument nicht gespielt werden.” [“Bach can not be played with an electronic organ”]. Only the electro-mechanical Hammond organ, he continued, would be capable of that and he counselled Protestant church officials that way. That was around 25 years before Wendy Carlos played Bach on a Moog synthesizer and made the Moog synthesizer a household name for original electronic sound. That Moog synthesizer would have major contributions by Harald, but that’s for another chapter.

The Cembaphon

Figure 7
Figure 7. Harald Bode demonstrating the Cembaphon. [Click image to enlarge]

In the years around 1950, the harpsichord was of some popularity in Germany. Electrified versions of acoustic stringed instruments were increasingly common, and it was self-evident that there would be interest in creating electric harpsichords. So Harald, the number one expert in the field of electro-acoustic instruments, was asked to create such an instrument, which he did in collaboration with the Voglgsang company. It would be named the Cembaphon. Like a traditional keyboard instrument, it had strings played by a keyboard. The vibration of the strings were magnetically picked up, amplified and heard through a loudspeaker. Strong bass sounds could be made very well with it. It also had filters to increase or decrease the high, low or mid frequencies and an electric vibrato. These electronic filters enabled a broad variety of sound colours. The real technical innovation was in fact that Harald had found a way to eliminate the disturbing electric hum common to the magnetic pickups. The Cembaphon was presented in a periodical for instrument builders and used by dance musicians. A few years later electric harpsichords from Germany became a huge market success worldwide.

Audio 8 (0:42). This tape, performed by an unknown player around 1950, is the only known document of Cembaphon sound in full length. The melody played is part of Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss auf Liebe eingestellt [Falling in Love Again (Can’t Help It), composed by Friedrich Holländer in 1930.

The Clavioline, Tuttivox and Combichord

Figure 8
Figure 8. Joergensen advertisement for the Tuttivox and Clavioline. [Click image to enlarge]

In the beginning of the 1950s, small keyboard instruments hit the market. They could be placed under a piano and accompany small dance bands with imitations of organ and other instrumental sounds (Audio 9). Later they were used by rock and roll bands that needed a broader variety of sounds. To musician and author Gordon Reid, this type of instrument, with its capability to freely mix the preset instrument imitations, was “the precursor of today’s polyphonic synthesizers” commonly used in pop music (Reid 2007). The most successful of these instruments was Raymond Martin’s Clavioline. This inventor licensed his patents to many manufacturers all over Europe. Among them were Selmer (London) and Joergensen (Denmark), with production sites in Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands (Audio 10).

Audio 9 (0:43). Bach played on one Clavioline and a Bode-Orgel by unknown players. Excerpt from a Jörgensen (Düsseldorf) promotional tape titled “6 Claviolines” produced for promotional purpose in 1952. The tape was discovered by the author in Werner Meyer-Eppler’s heritage in 2009 and digitized by him.
Audio 10 (0:51). A chorale-like passage played by an ensemble of Joergensen Claviolines shows the instrument’s warm sound and vibrato. It is not known if a Tuttivox — Harald Bode and René Seybolds’ polyphonic version of the Clavioline — was included. From the Jörgensen (Düsseldorf) promotional tape, “6 Claviolines”.

Harald developed a Clavioline with two more octaves than the original, thus allowing deep basses to be played. It was called the Concert Clavioline. In collaboration with French instrument maker, René Seybold, Harald created a polyphonic version, called the Tuttivox for Joergensen (Audio 11). The combination of Clavioline for melody and Tuttivox for chords was marketed as the Combichord. In their catalogue, Joergensen called the Clavioline “the smallest church organ in the world,” and it had some success in the Netherlands. Harald contributed details to the Combichord and was a consultant to Jörgensen-Düsseldorf whilst living already in the USA.

Audio 11 (0:32). An ensemble of claviolines performing dance music with a range of orchestral sounds. From the Jörgensen (Düsseldorf) promotional tape, “6 Claviolines”.

The Estey Model S and Model AS-1

Since Harald had built the Melochord and the first German electronic organ created for mass production, he was widely recognized in Germany and worldwide as the number one expert in the field of sound with electronics. His research and work on electronic sound instruments was widely quoted in the scientific literature of the time. Meanwhile Harald felt a desire to go to the USA where he saw broader opportunities for his work. Elisabeth McKay, former vice-president to the Hammond company, asked him to join the Estey company as head of development and production of Estey electronic organs. Georg Steinmeyer, then head of the pipe organ department at Estey, recently pointed out (Abocab 2009), “They saw the success of Hammond, and thought they could do as good as them, if not better, if they had Harald.” With the help of a professional agent, the deal was completed.

Figure 9
Figure 9. Harald Bode playing an Estey AS1 in the factory showroom. [Click image to enlarge]

In May of 1954, Harald, his wife Irmgard and their two sons Ralf (14) and Peer (2) moved to Brattleboro Vermont, later to become naturalized American citizens. In Brattleboro in 1955 Harald again met George Steinmeyer, who had known him since 1949 in Germany. Hanne Steinmeyer, Georg’s wife and Irmgard Bode became good friends and so did the men, although working in different departments. The Estey company was at that time already in crisis and had made an attempt to break into the relative new market of electronic organs through a cooperation with Minshall Electronic Organ Company. A number of electronic organ companies were competing on the market. Hammond, Wurlitzer and Baldwin had entered the scene in the 30s and 40s with the first organs founded on electric principles. The Baldwin Organ was a development of Winston E. Kock, who had researched and studied around 1933 with Harald’s co-inventor of the Melodium, Oskar Vierling, in 1940. Now Harald brought his developments and skills with electronic organs to Estey, working together with a young team of engineering talents, including Leslie Nicholas. There they developed the new, state of the art Estey Electronic Organ Models S and AS1.

Audio 12 (0:46). The Estey Organ, played by Harald Bode.
Audio 13 (0:39). The Estey Electric Harmonium, played by Harald Bode.

Harald’s desire for the unique potential of electronic sounds that go beyond imitating acoustic instruments didn’t disappear. In the time of the dissolution of Estey, that led finally to the closing of the company in 1960, he designed and built his own Audio System Synthesizer.

The Modular Synthesizer and Sound Processor

In 1959, working part-time for Estey, Harald decided to set up a new home workshop and laboratory. He wanted to find something new, a novel instrument. The idea was to combine many devices in one instrument to create new electronic sounds. He aimed for special sounds to be used for multiple purposes, including soundtracks for films. And most important he wanted to make an instrument that would allow him to do this himself. Louis and Bebe Barron in the USA had done the soundtrack for the film Forbidden Planet completely with electronic sound only a few years earlier, while Oskar Sala and Remy Gassmann used the Trautonium for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Harald designed and built an instrument that included everything needed for electronic sound production.

Figure 10
Figure 10. Harald and the Audio System Synthesizer, a modular synthesizer and sound processor. [Click image to enlarge]

The Audio System Synthesizer had inputs for sound sources of all kinds, These signals could be modified by several filters and a ring modulator. The new principle to create instruments with inputs of given sound sources that could then be modified into something new stayed with him from this point onwards. The Bode Frequency Shifter and the Vocoder that followed later would follow that principle. The original version of his Synthesizer included a reverberation unit and a tape machine to record the sound produced or to do sound-on-sound recording, or multi-tracking.

Audio 14 (4:36). Excerpt from a demo tape of the Audio System Synthesizer from 1960. Harald introduces the various features of the instrument and — clearly enjoying himself — gives a demonstration of them in use.

The system was modular, as it included independently working sound modification devices that could be combined with each other. “A combination of well-known devices enabled the creation of new sounds” as Harald put it himself in one sentence (Bode 1961). All that was in one box, with even with a handle to carry it to recording studios.

On October 11, 1960, Harald presented his Audio System Synthesizer at the Audio Engineering Society (AES) convention in New York, the place where everybody in the field of electroacoustics would meet. Robert Moog was in attendance and was inspired by Harald’s concept of the modular sound studio. This led to the development of the famed Moog Synthesizer. Harald later said that he first met Robert Moog there, at the time a young man producing and selling do-it-yourself kits for the Theremin (produced in 1917), the first electronic instrument to be produced in series. In December 1961, the widely read Electronics Magazine published an article written by Harald featuring his Sound Synthesizer, the first known instrument of its kind. Harald and Robert’s collaboration would however not begin before 1966.

Bode Ring Modulator

Figure 11
Figure 11. Bode Ring Modulator, Moog model 6401 (1967). [Click image to enlarge]

The Ring Modulator was a widely used device in electronic technologies. It was created in order to be able to mix two voltages into one constant voltage. For instance, it was used to control the flight of rockets during the Second World War, because of the stability of voltage it provided. Soon it was discovered as a means of modifying sounds. When Harald created his Melochord for Professor Meyer-Eppler in Bonn, he was asked to include a ring modulator. This was, in his own words, how Harald learned about Ring Modulators, which were relatively unknown in the USA at the time. A Ring Modulator was one of the modules in Harald’s 1960 Audio System Synthesizer that would break the ground for the later Modular Synthesizers developed by Robert Moog. In 1966, Harald licensed two versions of the Bode Ring Modulator to the R.A. Moog Co.

Audio 15 (0:40). The Bode Ring Modulator.

Bode Frequency Shifter

Figure 12
Figure 12. Prototype of the Bode Frequency Shifter, Moog model 6552 (1968). [Click image to enlarge]

In 1962, contemporary composer and professor Vladimir Ussachevsky commissioned Harald to create a Ring Modulator and then in 1963 a Klangumwandler [Frequency Shifter] for the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York. Ussachevsky had discovered this instrument during a trip to visit European studios and presented it to the AES in 1958. A few years earlier, Harald had been involved in creating such a device for the Cologne studios. The Klangumwandler was capable of changing the overtones and the characteristics of a sound in such a way that completely new sounds arose. The fundamental acoustic principle of the instrument is that harmonic overtones are changed to non-harmonic ones. Harald decided to change the technical principle and technique of this instrument completely to obtain a much broader range of frequencies that could be altered, which of course produced fundamentally richer sounds and allowed for more opportunities to create new sounds. In 1965, Harald presented a paper on his Frequency Shifter at the Acoustic Society Engineers Convention. The Colombia-Princeton Electronic Music Center went on to use numerous Bode Ring Modulators and Frequency Shifters extensively. In 1966, Harald licensed the Bode Frequency Shifter to the R.A. Moog Co.

Audio 16 (0:21). An example of the results of applying the Bode Frequency Shifter to a monophonic melody.

The first Frequency Shifters had limitations, due to the given technology at the time. In 1972, Harald and Robert Moog presented a state of the art “High Accuracy Frequency Shifter” at the AES that overcame those limitations. Up until the 1980s, Harald made different variations on the instrument and incorporated some new ideas into the Klangumwandler technologies. The instruments enjoyed great popularity in many realms of musical creation: when Oscar-winning Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer (The Lion King) replaced his Moog Modular with new synthesizers, he still kept his Bode Frequency Shifter (AMS [date unknown]). And for quite a number of years, it was also Harald’s own favourite tool to experiment and compose with in his own home studio. 5[5. An overview of “The Compositions of Harald Bode” is published in this issue.] The music made with the Bode Frequency Shifter ranges from the classical avant-garde of Vlademir Ussachewsky and Wendy Carlos to the electro-pop of Kraftwerk. The Bode Ring Modulators (1962) were also used in major academic and professional music studios, including those of Joel Chadabe, Paul Bley and Motown Studios.

Audio 17 (2:30). The Bode Frequency Shifter could be used not only to alter the sound of acoustic instruments, but also to create new electronic timbres, as this series of excerpts shows.

Bode Frequency Shifters are to date very sought-after as hardware clones of the originals and have often been emulated by software. The Bode Frequency Shifter has become a legend, a synonym for this kind of instrument.

Bode Vocoder

In 1974, Harald retired from his daytime engineering job at Bell Aerospace, after ten years. In 1972, he had founded his own Bode Sound Company, a one-man enterprise. Now it was time for him to really concentrate on electronic sound. He worked on different new models of the Frequency Shifters, and a device to eliminate feedback howl in live performances, composed his own music and thought about making a dream come true that he had planned since 1949, to create his own vocoder.

A vocoder splits the frequency bands of the “input signal” (such as the human voice) and mixes it with a “carrier signal” for the dynamics, pitch and timbre. That way you can create a choir out of one voice, or modify the sound of a voice, changing it into a singing train, car or bell, for example. You also can filter out or increase the components of the voice, to process the input such that a normal voice is changed to a robotic voice, or a bass voice is transformed into a soprano voice. Obviously you can use any other acoustic signal as “input”  or  “carrier”.

Figure 13
Figure 13. Early version of the Bode Vocoder model 7702. [Click image to enlarge]

Originally vocoders were invented to encode speech to save bandwidth in telephone lines and later used to encode conversations for military purposes. When Harald built the Melochord for Meyer-Eppler in Bonn in 1949, he learned of the vocoder as a possible source of musicality. Meyer-Eppler used the Melochord as a carrier for the first known serious and published experiments with the vocoder as a musical device in Germany. Since 1949, Harald had sketched out musical and technical ideas for the vocoder in his notebooks. 6[6. An article featuring many scans of “Harald Bode’s Notebooks”, introduced and annotated by Rebekkah Palov, is published in this issue.] By 1976 as vocoders had entered the musical scene and the technology was available and cost effective, he decided to build his own, a Bode Vocoder.

Audio 18 (0:40). “This is the voice of a Bode Vocoder” sung by Harald is the inspiration for a happy little tune.

Harald’s Vocoder had unusual features. It had the capability to bypass higher frequencies, as they appear in consonants that are not necessarily relevant for the actual musical sound of voice, but influence the vocoded signal and take up bandwidth. These bypassed frequencies could be mixed with the vocoded signal.

Audio 19 (1:33). A chorale-like piece using the Bode Vocoder.

The Bode Vocoder was also licensed under the name Moog Vocoder. From 1978, the Bode Vocoder was marketed under the Moog name parallel to Harald’s own brand. Harald’s Bode Vocoder (1977) and then the Moog Vocoder (1978) was a particular success and noted for its unique sound. It can be found on hit records of the era including the 1979 Lipps Inc. mega-hit, Funkytown. Among the many artists who purchased the instrument was musician and producer Michael Boddicker, later keyboard player and vocoder operator on Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Lionel Richie’s Can’t Stop, and others. Video artists like Gary Hill, Steina and Woody Vasulka also used Bode vocoders in their work.

The renowned composer Suzanne Ciani, creator of sound for commercials and later her own meditative music, used it on recordings for her own work as well as for her work on the “disco” version of the Star Wars soundtrack recorded by Meco, and to create sound effects, music and voices for a pinball game, Xenon. Her “voice box”, a rack with several devices around the Bode vocoder, was demonstrated on the late-night David Letterman Show in August 1980, vocoding David’s voice with Harald’s Vocoder. In an interview in 1985 she said, “I just love [the Bode Vocoder]” (Doershuk 1985). The making of and success of the instrument made Harald very happy. Around 1984, he planned to do another version of the Vocoder with Ciani. It was to be a matte vocoder, to replace an original voice by another voice (Ibid.), but Harald’s state of health would not allow the finishing of this instrument. The contemporary Carrier Band, with Harald’s son Peer, Andrew Deutsch, Pauline Oliveros, Stephen Vitiello and many guest musicians, use the Bode Vocoder as a central source for their music, using it to perform the writings and original sounds by Harald.

The Barberpole Phaser

Figure 14
Figure 14. The Barberpole Phaser is rare, only three are known to have been built. [Click image to enlarge]

The Barberpole Phaser is based on the psychoacoustic principles of the Shepard scale and the Shepard-Risset glissando discovered in the 1960s. A tone or sound input to the Barberpole Phaser seemingly has an everlasting glissando upwards or downwards, as long as the tone is played.

Audio 20 (0:57). A “continually rising” sound created using the Barberpole Phaser.

Harald decided to create a device that would provide that effect and aside some more useful filters like a fuzz. He called it Barberpole Phaser due to the acoustic similarity to the optics of a barber pole in front of a barbershop. The instrument works with comb filter peaks. Harald had the term Barberpole Phaser trademarked. Less than a handful of Barberpole Phasers were made. The instrument was completed in 1981 at the beginning of the age of personal computers. The limitations of memory and processing speed at the time made it impossible to achieve high quality sound on the computer without crackling caused by the infinite phasing.

Audio 21 (0:18). A much more complex rising sound created using the Barberpole Phaser, with a necessarily lower quality of sound.

Harald later made an attempt to emulate the principle on a Commodore personal computer, but that was never presented to the public. An interesting sound could be created with it when used to modify a bass guitar.

Audio 22 (0:48). Funk bass riffing run through the Barberpole Phaser.

The Barberpole Phaser turned out to be Harald’s last completed instrument.


AMS. “[Interview with Hans Zimmer].” Originally published on (?) [Link dead as of 8 July 2011] [link] [Last accessed 8 July 2011]

Bode, Harald. “Sound Synthesizer Creates New Musical Effects.” Electronics (1 December 1961). Republished in eContact! 13.4 — Harald Bode Archive (July 2011).

Doershuk, Bob. “Suzanne Ciani and her Ace Apprentices Set the Pace of Commercial Synthesis.” Keyboard Magazine (April 1985).

Rhea, Thomas L. “Electronic Perspectives: Bode’s Melodium and Melochord.” Contemporary Keyboard (January 1980), p. 68. Republished in eContact! 13.4 — Harald Bode Archive (July 2011).

Reid, Gordon. “The Story of the Clavioline.” Sound on Sound (March 2007).

Steinmeyer, Georg. Personal interview. May 2009.

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