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Part 2 of The Distinctive Electronic Music of Oskar Sala and the Mixtur-Trautonium

My blog for the Bob Moog Foundation.


In this episode, we present the second part of our exploration of the electronic music of Oskar Sala. Beginning in 1930, when he was a young composition student of Paul Hindemith in Germany, to 2002 when Sala passed from us at the age of 92, his work was singularly focused on creating music with the Trautonium and four subsequent models. Of these, the Mixtur-Trautonium was the best known and from 1952 until his death this was the key instrument that Sala used to make his unique music.


We discussed the technology of the Mixtur-Trautonium in the previous podcast, but let’s recap it here. Sala was responsible for making modifications to the instrument over the years. It had two manuals, an upper and a lower, making it duophonic. Each manual consisted of a metal plate above which was stretched a resistor wire. Pressing the wire with a finger so that it touched the plate closed a circuit and sent electricity to a neon-tube oscillator, producing a tone. A rail was mounted just a few centimeters above and running parallel to each of the two resistor wires. To this were attached 10–15 springy metal strips or “tongues” covered in leather, each of which could be slid to any position along the length of the wire. This enabled the musician to preset the location of notes to be played. Pressing a tongue was like pressing a key: it pushed the wire down so that it contacted the metal plate and played a tone. The sawtooth waveform produced was rich in overtones and these could be manipulated using a set of rotary dials. The instrument had a rich, warm sound and was easily distinguishable from the Theremin and Onde Martenot, which used a beat frequency technology to fashion sine wave tones that were much cleaner.


1952 marked the first appearance of a distinctive new version of the instrument that he called the Mixtur-Trautonium. Sala expanded the harmonics available for the tones and improved controls. He added a noise generator, an envelope generator, bandpass filters, and expanded subharmonic oscillators. This made the instrument highly adaptable to studio recording and Sala saw its evolution from being a live performance instrument to a kind of mini-laboratory for producing electronic music on tape.

In the previous episode, we explored concert music and film music made using the Mixtur-Trautonium, including excerpts from Sala’s remarkable soundtrack of effects for Hitchcock’s 1963 film The Birds. In this episode, we will listen to Sala’s electronic compositions that stand apart from his film work, primarily studio compositions spanning 1955 to 1995. We will also hear a work from 2001 when he composed what may have been his last work for a short film, The Box.


As you immerse yourself in listening, I am sure you will agree that nothing quite sounded like the music of Oskar Sala who brought a classical composer’s sensibility to the abstractions that were possible in electronic music.


Timeline of the Trautonium

This timeline shows the evolution of the Trautonium and Mixtur-Trautonium, all played by Oskar Sala.

1929-30: Trautonium (Friedriech Trautwein). One manual.

1935: Radio-Trautonium. Two manuals, two pedals.

1938: Konzerttrautonium (Concert Trautonium, a portable model. Two manuals, two pedals.

1952: Mixturtrautonium (Mixtur-Trautonium). Two manuals, two pedals.

1988: Micro-Electronic Mixtur-Trautonium (transistorized model). Two manuals, two pedals.


Episode 109

Part 2 of The Distinctive Electronic Music of Oskar Sala and the Mixtur-Trautonium

Playlist

1. Oskar Sala, “Elektronische Tanzsuite (Für Mixturtrautonium Solo Und Mixturorchester (Tonband) In Fünf Sätzen)” (1955) from My Fascinating Instrument (1990 Erdenklang). 24:28


2. Oskar Sala, “Fantasie-Suite In Drei Sätzen Für Mixturtrautonium Solo” (1988-89)from My Fascinating Instrument (1990 Erdenklang). Composed, performed, produced, electronics, Mixtur-Trautonium, Oskar Sala. 21:47


3. Oskar Sala, “Subharmonische Mixturen III”(1995) from Subharmonic Mixtures (1997 Erdenklang). 8:57


4. Oskar Sala, “Nr. 2” from Elektronische Impressionen (1979 Telfunken). Mixtur-Trautonium, producer, mixer, composer, Oskar Sala. 3:27


5. Oskar Sala, “Nr. 3” from Elektronische Impressionen (1979 Telfunken). Mixtur-Trautonium, producer, mixer, composer, Oskar Sala. 6:45


6. Oskar Sala, “Nr. 4” from Elektronische Impressionen (1979 Telfunken). Mixtur-Trautonium, producer, mixer, composer, Oskar Sala. 2:30


7. Oskar Sala, “Nr. 7” from Elektronische Impressionen (1979 Telfunken). Mixtur-Trautonium, producer, mixer, composer, Oskar Sala. 4:28


8. Oskar Sala, “Nr. 9” from Elektronische Impressionen (1979 Telfunken). Mixtur-Trautonium, producer, mixer, composer, Oskar Sala. 3:21


9. Caprice With Variations (1992-95) from Subharmonic Mixtures (1997 Erdenklang). Mixtur-Trautonium, producer, mixer, composer, Oskar Sala. 12:35


10.Oskar Sala, “Chaconne Electronique” (1995-96) from Subharmonic Mixtures (1997 Erdenklang). Mixtur-Trautonium, producer, mixer, composer, Oskar Sala. 7:42


11.Oskar Sala, “Glissando-Caprice” (1992-95) from Subharmonic Mixtures (1997 Erdenklang). Mixtur-Trautonium, producer, mixer, composer, Oskar Sala. 4:35


12.Oskar Sala, “The Box,” a score for a short film 2001 (2001 Red Cat Films). This Canadian film production hired Oskar Sala to contribute to the score using the Mixtur-Trautonium. Any electronic sounds that you hear were created by Sala. This may have been his last completed film work before his death at age 92 the following year. 9:05


13.Surf Riders, “The Birds” from Blues For The Birds / The Birds (1963 Decca). What better way to promote a movie than by issuing a 45 rpm single by a surf group from California? "Inspired by the Alfred Hitchcock Production 'The Birds' A Universal Release and featuring sound effects from the original soundtrack." 1:49


14.Surf Riders, “Blues For The Birds” from Blues For The Birds / The Birds (1963 Decca). "Inspired by the Alfred Hitchcock Production 'The Birds' A Universal Release and featuring sound effects from the original soundtrack." 2:38


Opening background music: Oskar Sala, “Der Würger Von Schloß Blackmoor” (1963 Soundtrack)” from Subharmonic Mixtures (1997 Erdenklang). This was a full-length feature with electronic music and sound effects by Sala. The track included here is a version containing essential electronic elements from the motion picture. The German film was a murder mystery with horror undertones, a perfect platform for Sala’s spooky sounds and incidental music. Composed, Performed on the Mixtur-Trautonium and produced by Oskar Sala. 12.31.


Opening and closing sequences voiced by Anne Benkovitz.

Additional opening, closing, and other incidental music by Thom Holmes.

See my companion blog that I write for the Bob Moog Foundation.






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NOISE AND NOTATIONS

Electronic and Experimental Music

Notes on the development and continuing history of electronic music, its creators, and the technology.

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