These instruments are the experiments, the prototypes and inventions. They were made by innovators tinkering in their home garage or, occasionally, research laboratories.
Quirky, bizarre, delicate and unique, they represent both successful and less successful explorations in electronic music.
When they emerged in the mid-20th century technology was changing fast. Improvements to solid state technology made the marriage of electronics and the musical world inevitable.
They are rare, often one-off ODDITIES that hold an important place in the evolution of electronic instrument design and music.
The National Music Centre presents a selection of ODDITIES from its electronic musical instrument collection.
The Delta Music Research Modular computer-based polyphonic synthesizer was manufactured by Delta Music Research Limited (DMR), which was founded by the late Calgary composer Tim J. Lawrence. Learn More Here
Though not a commercial success, unlike earlier monophonic systems the Model 1100’s keyboard was polyphonic, meaning that multiple notes could be played together, giving users more freedom to explore creatively. Learn More Here
New York’s Museum of Modern Art commissioned the Moog company to configure this "Chris Swansen" Moog for a historic performance of electronic music held at MOMA in 1969. One of only four such units produced, it was used at the concert by a quartet led by jazz composer Swansen. Learn More Here
The "McLeyvier" helped pave the way for the evolution of computerized music in contemporary culture. It is a computer-controlled analog synthesizer designed for composing, sequencing, performing, editing and notating music. Learn More Here
Though innovative at the time, it coincided with the rise of digital synthesis—a factor that made this analog machine fade into obscurity. Its inventor, David McLey, was an American-born musician and instrument designer who spent the latter part of his life in Toronto. Learn More Here
The Berkeley-based engineer Donald Buchla designed the Buchla 100, an analog, modular synthesizer, at the request of pioneering composers Morton Subotnick and Ramòn Sender, who were looking for a new electronic instrument that could be used in live performances. Learn More Here
A pioneer in electronic music technology, Buchla is credited with several notable innovations and in 2002 received a Lifetime Achievement Award from SEAMUS (The Society for Electroacoustic Music in the United States). Learn More Here
The Buchla 400 belongs to an era of synthesizers that incorporated microprocessor-based integrated circuits. More reliable and less expensive to manufacture, they were, to varying extents, also programmable, meaning various parameters could be stored within the instrument’s internal memory or on an external device. Learn More Here
Though not a commercial success, the 400 stands among the most sophisticated digital-analog hybrid synthesizers of the time. The various input and output jacks located on its front panel can also be connected to modules from the 100 and 200 Series to expand its capabilities. Learn More Here
If you’ve ever watched ’70s-era Doctor Who or tuned into The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on BBC Radio, you’ve probably heard the Synthi 100. Designed by hardware engineer David Cockerell, this instrument helped define the sound of ’70s sci-fi. Learn More Here
Produced by London’s Electronic Music Studios, the EMS company was to the European synthesizer market what Moog and ARP were to the American market. This particular unit came from the Soviet Union’s Radio Melodiya, and was famously featured in the score to Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker. Learn More Here
Designed for composition, orchestration, and live performance, the E-mu Audity was one of the first of its kind to include digital control of its analog sound producing and modifying components. Learn More Here
Originally created for the German electronic music group Tangerine Dream, the Audity never went into production due to its size and lack of funding. It remains to this day a one-of-a-kind prototype. Learn More Here
The E-mu 2000 follows the conventions of modular synthesis, with connections being made between modules via physical patch cables, but is unique in that it allows the user to set patches on the back of each module to save certain special sounds or frequently used patches - a feature particularly useful for live performance. Learn More Here
Notable composer, producer, and professional sound designer Patrick Gleeson purchased this customized system in early 1973, citing the importance of the instrument’s polyphonic digital scanning keyboard in his performance approach. Learn More Here
Decades ahead of its time, the Hammond Novachord is considered the very first analog, fully polyphonic synthesizer. It was designed in 1938 by Americans Laurens Hammond, John Hanert, and C.N. Williams. Learn More Here
Briefly used for film soundtracks—most notably Gone With the Wind—the Novachord’s complexity limited its appeal. Nevertheless, it became one of the world’s most sought-after electronic instruments and was a favourite of legendary musician/producer Brian Eno during his visit to NMC for a residency in 2011. Learn More Here
As with the first model, pressing a key on the MKII keyboard triggered playback of a sound sample on a reel of magnetic tape, which might be strings, brass or flute, among others; however, the Mark II was more portable and used extensively in live contexts, allowing bands to employ a single person to produce a multitude of different sounds. Learn More Here
Released in 1970, the Minimoog was the first truly portable and integrated analog synthesizer, and it revolutionized popular music by moving the synth from high-profile studios into the public sphere. It was used rampantly throughout the 1970s and 1980s, especially in the genres of progressive rock, disco and jazz. Learn More Here
In electronic music, the theremin stands alone. It remains the first and only instrument of its kind that can be played without any physical contact from the performer. Instead, it is played by hovering one's hands over radio antennae. Learn More Here
Its eerie sounds were used in the 1930s by symphony orchestras, and by the 1970s it had found a place in popular music—showing up on songs by Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones. Invented by Russian physicist Leon Theremin, this theremin was manufactured by RCA as part of a pilot run of approximately 500 units in 1929. Learn More Here
The Raymond Scott Clavivox is, effectively, a keyboard-controlled theremin. It uses the same electronic sound-generating mechanism, but replaces the theremin's antennae with a chromatic keyboard. For musicians already trained in piano it provided a much more intuitive approach. Learn More Here
Designed in the early 1950s by inventor and composer Raymond Scott—known for his compositions for Warner Bros. cartoons such as Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig—it’s an incredibly rare artifact. So rare, in fact, that NMC’s Clavivox is believed to be the only one in existence. Learn More Here
The first drum machine available on the commercial market, the Wurlitzer SideMan was made to provide percussive accompaniment to an organist or pianist. The name even references the old term for studio musicians, brought in to deliver a particular musical specialty during a recording session. Learn More Here
An analog, tube-based, electro-mechanical instrument, it produced its sound entirely via electronic means rather than pre-recorded samples. With twelve possible rhythmic patterns, each preset corresponds to a popular dance step of the era, from the waltz to the fox trot. Learn More Here
Like this Roger Luther Moog, Moog systems incorporated various modules for sound production, manipulation, and amplification within a single cabinet—allowing for uninhibited methods of experimentation and control. This innovation set a standard followed and expanded on by every other manufacturer in the 70s and 80s—with several Moog modules becoming essential components of synth design. Learn More Here
In the 1977 sci-fi classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind, five electronic-sounding notes allow humanity to communicate with aliens. The source of those notes likely came from the ARP 2500—a modular, analog synthesizer. Learn More Here
Designed by former NASA engineer Alan R. Pearlman, the instrument’s most significant innovation is its matrix of patchable sliders. The sliders stand in stark contrast to the loose patch cables found on other systems of the time. The company’s first instrument was not a commercial success however—only selling about 100 units. Learn More Here
Kissing cousin to the more famous theremin, the ondes Martenot was immensely popular upon its release in 1928. Far easier to play than the theremin, but producing a very similar sound, it was immediately incorporated into the Western art music of the time by composers such as Olivier Messiaen and Edgar Varèse. Learn More Here