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Hugh Le Caine

the Electronic Sackbut (named after the medieval forerunner to the trombone), produced in 1948 as an electronic instrument capable of emulating the sonic complexity of acoustic instruments. The Sackbut was a monophonic keyboard with several channels of articulation control. The volume and attack of a sound were determined by the displacement and pressure of the keys and the position of a foot pedal. The keys could also move horizontally, changing the note's pitch, plus another foot pedal controlled the amount of portamento between notes; pitch could also be altered through a touch-sensitive strip mounted above the keyboard. LeCaine designed an extremely dexterous timbre controller for the left hand, with the thumb controlling a pair of formant resonances, the index finger manipulating a capacitive "joystick" mixer that adjusted the basic oscillator waveshape, and the outer three fingers introducing different types of frequency modulation. With all of these continuous input channels available, the Sackbut came alive in the hands of a trained performer, as can still be heard in LeCaine's recordings, such as the excerpt presented here (1.3 MEG3 Audio) (recorded in 1952), where we hear him emulate string sounds, play a string quartet (familiar excerpt from Gluck's Dance of the Blessed Spirits), and do a very early synthesized blues number.