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Posts Tagged ‘history of electronic musical instruments

Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood…

Consider the case of Gregor Mendel:

You probably know Mendel as the guy who pioneered the science of genetics… Anybody with a high school diploma has filled out those dominant/recessive trait Punnett squares … … though astute readers are probably wondering why that technique is called a Punnett square if it predicts patterns Mendel discovered.

What you probably didn’t know was that before making his revolutionary discovery, Gregor Mendel flunked out of school and resigned himself to a quiet life as the abbot of a monastery. It had an extensive experimental garden and there Mendel patiently spent the next seven years of his life breeding and cross-breeding peas.

He carefully documented his work and developed what would eventually be known as Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance. Then he wrote it up and got it published in an lesser-known journal, the Journal of the Brno Natural History Society in 1866.

His genius was rewarded by … A quiet life of complete anonymity. Mendel’s work was read by about zero people, even after he took it upon himself to contact the highest minds of his time by personally sending them copies of his theory… Why did they ignore him? Because the greatest minds of his time couldn’t understand him. It wasn’t until 16 years after his death that three independent botanists rediscover Mendel’s work and started the genetics ball rolling.

Read a more colorfully-worded version of Mendel’s story, and the tales of four other scientific pioneers, in “5 Famous Scientists Dismissed as Morons in Their Time.”

[Special Holiday Bonus:  The Animals singing this post’s title song]

As we reconsider the advice we got from the wild-eyed gentleman standing in the DMV line this morning, we might recall that it was on this date in 1900 that Nature reported the development of the first fully-electric musical instrument, the Musical Arc (or Singing Arc) developed by English physicist and engineer William Dudell.

Before Edison “invented” the electric light bulb in the United States, electric street lighting was in wide use throughout Europe; the carbon arc lamp generated light by creating a spark between two carbon nodes. But this method of lighting produced an annoying constant humming noise from the electric arc.  Duddell, who was appointed to solve the problem in London in 1899,  found that by varying the voltage supplied to the lamps he could create controllable audible frequencies from a resonant circuit caused by the rate of pulsation of exposed electrical arcs.  He attached a keyboard to the arc lamps– and created the first electronic instrument that was audible without using the yet-to-be-invented amplifier or loudspeaker.

Duddell– who also invented the moving-coil oscillograph (an early oscillator-type device for the photographic monitoring of audio frequency waveforms), the thermo-ammeter, thermo-galvanometer (an instrument for measuring minute currents and potential differences later used for measuring antenna currents and still used in modified form today), and a magnetic standard (used for the calibration of ballistic galvanometers)–  never patented his discovery.



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