|2003 International Conference on
New Interfaces for Musical Expression
The Le Caine Instruments : A Disappearing Technology
Room C201 - Friday, May 23 - 16:30 to 17:30
This presentation will be devoted to an explanation of the more important
among the many electroacoustic inventions of Hugh Le Caine. A visual
documentation of the machines which, at one time were part of the
Electronic Music Studio at McGill, will give an idea of the rather large
scope of his research.
Some short works produced with the Le Caine machinery will be played: John
Bowsher: Sonata Pian e Forte [solo tape, based on a Giovanni Gabrieli
piece]; alcides lanza: plectros III, for piano and tape; Hugh Le Caine:
Dripsody [solo tape, version from 1957]
Some of the Le Caine inventions to be included in today's presentation were:
- Oscillator Bank [OB] [1957-59], the unit at our EMS [built in 1961]
consisted of 24 wave generators [sine, square, pulse and sawtooth waves]
controlled by a touch sensitive keyboard.
- Tone Mixture Generator [TMG]: this very special unit consisted of 13
sine tone generators, each equipped with pitch and amplitude controls.
- Filter Bank [FB]: octave filters, six of them on a panel, designated as
A, B, C, etc. These filters could be used in series or in parallel.
Structured Sound Generator [SSSG], or the Multi-Track Tape Recorder [MTTR]
for further treatment.
- Voltage Controlled Filter [VCF]: built in 1957 [an improved version
was produced in 1962] had a HI-Pass, LO-Pass filter, controllable by
voltage. More advanced versions of these filters became part of the
- Multi-Track Tape Recorder [MTTR] was also known as "Special Purpose Tape
Recorder for Montreal". The initial machine  had six stereo tape
recorder heads. The unit at McGill had ten stereo heads, hence a potential
for 20 different channels of recorded information. It was the six head
machine that Le Caine used for the creation of his well known piece,
- Serial Sound Structure Generator [SSSG]: Separate modules stored
sequences applied to four musical aspects of sound events: duration, pitch,
envelope and timbre. All sequences were stored and coordinated by 'timers'.
An additional switch provided a choice of a set of 12 'tempi', controlling
the overall duration of the sequence. This sophisticated unit could also
play the sequences in reverse mode, inversion and retrograde inversion. The
number of terms or steps programmed for each module - from 4 to 13 - could
be assigned individually.
The SSSG could interact with other Le Caine units, like the TMG, the VCF
and also the Multi-Track
- Polyphone: The prototype - and only unit built - was delivered to the EMS
in 1970. In essence, it was a polyphonic analogue synthesizer, utilizing
voltage controllable sources and procedures, and operated by a keyboard
with touch-sensitive keys. As far as anyone can tell, the Poly was the
first analogue, voltage controlled, polyphonic synthesizer in the world,
pre-dating the Moog and Buchla by almost a decade.
In the 1980's, at the initiative of the Hugh Le Caine Project, an effort
was made to bring together all surviving Le Caine creations under one roof:
the Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa. In September 1987, the
McGill EMS donated all the Le Caine units housed at McGill to that Museum's