Music HistoryOngoing History of New Music

Ongoing History Daily: The Rhythmicon

The first real attempt at creating a drum machine happened in 1931 when the inventor of the Theremin accepted a challenge to build a device that could reliably play back some complicated rhythms that could accompany a human musician.

The result was a device that looked rather like an organ called the Rhythmicon. Pressing any of the 16 keys provided a different beat. If you wanted to get really complicated, you could hold down to or more keys and have the machine play multiple rhythms at the same time.

A second prototype was commissioned which could do even more. There was even an orchestral score written for it. Unfortunately, critics thought the whole thing was stupid and the Rhythmicon died a quick death. It was, however, the first step towards a programmable drum machine.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38319 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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