The Keyboard in London

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We (Mike Lurie, Greg Dunbar, Lauren Buono, Shawn Riley & Bryn Coveney) are a group of students studying abroad in London for the semester from Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York. This blog is to document our class experiences in "The Keyboard and it's Role in London Society" course, which is being taught by Diane Birr at the Ithaca College London Center, in South Kensington. Our studies focus on keyboard instruments (the Virginal, Harpsichord, Pianoforte, Piano, Organ, Electronic keyboard) and explore how these instruments are historically interwoven with the personal and social fabric of London society.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

The Clavioline

The Clavioline was the first electronic keyboard available for mass production.  Developed in 1947 by Constant Martin in Versailles, France, this versatile keyboard had success in the early 1950’s in the UK under the Selmer Company.  Originally designed to be bolted under a piano and imitate a variety of instruments found in an orchestra, the Clavioline soon became popular as its own unique instrument.  It has been used on a variety of hit songs, from the Tornados’ “Telstar” released in 1962 (the first UK song to hit #1 on US charts) to “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” by the Beatles, included on their “Yellow Submarine” album.

Features of the Clavioline:
• 36 “higher-priority” keys (meaning it is monophonic) and if two keys are pressed at once, you’ll only hear the higher one.
• Volume/expression control lever under the keyboard that players squeeze sideways with their leg to increase the volume.
• 18 switches called “stops” (tribute to the older days of keyboards) on the front of the instrument.  There are 14 tone modifiers, numbered 1-9 and lettered O, B, V, P and F. To the left of them are three vibrato switches (I, II, III) ranging in speed with an amplitude switch to affect the depth of each one.
• Octave slider connected to jutting metal rods can be pushed left or right to expand the range an octave lower or higher, giving the keyboard five total.

Selmer offered a table explaining the various instrumental sounds that can be produced when certain switches are pushed.  The 'Range' category refers to what mode the octave switch should be on (Low, Medium or High).  You can view the table and find more information on the Clavioline here.  The standard Clavioline, known as the Auditorium Model under Selmer, hit the UK market in 1951 and sold over 15,000 units. 

Today, Clavioline enthusiasts will find more pleasure in collecting the instruments rather than playing them regularly, for many have found trouble with keys breaking, dead notes and swollen or burnt out capacitors and resistors.  Despite the issues, their history as setting the standard for a wealth of synthetic sound make them worth any keyboardists’ time to restore and keep forever.

Information provided by Mike

1 comment:

Byron Elwell said...

Started playing the clavioline in 1967 on "Telstar". On my web site I have a page with loads of detail