Object, Instrument, Technology

Wooden sticks, when dropped on the floor, sound a variety of tones. While the bars of a xylophone are varied in tone by changing their length, these “tone bars” are all of the same length and width, but have different thicknesses and different densities and elastic properties.

Object, Instrument, Technology

This apparatus consists of three wires, each bent to resemble transverse waves. The wires are mounted in a rectangular brass box that was placed in front of the lens of a projector. The top two wires are identical, but positioned so that their shadows appear to move in opposite directions as a crank on the side of the box is turned. As they do this, the crests and troughs of the waves alternately lineup and overlap. The corresponding “interference” of the two waves is seen in the changing shape of the third wire.

Object, Instrument, Technology

The German scientist Ernst Chladni was one of the pioneers of experimental acoustics. His research on different kinds of vibrations served as the basis for the scientific understanding of sound that later emerged in the 19th century. 

Object, Instrument, Technology

Koenig’s flame analyser was, next to the sound synthesizer, one of the clearest expressions of Hermann von Helmholtz’s theory that complex sounds were made up of a spectrum of elemental or pure tones. The adjustable resonators covering a range of 65 notes from sol1 to mi5 (96–1,280 Hz), could each be rendered visible with a connection to a manometric flame capsule. The resonators were connected to a gas-filled capsule with a rubber tube. If activated, the distinctive pattern would appear in the rotating mirror.

Object, Instrument, Technology

This specific array of precision tuning forks are highly-specialized experimental forks that relate directly to Koenig’s long-standing disagreement with Helmholtz on the nature of combination tones. Some of them date back to Koenig's display at the 1876 Philadelphia exposition.

Videos:

The history of the tuning forks in the Koenig collection

Object, Instrument, Technology

The sound synthesiser was Helmholtz’s clearest instrumental expression of his theory of timbre, or sound quality. Whereas his spherical resonators dissected compound sounds (vowels or musical sounds) into elemental frequencies, the synthesiser did this by building up complex sounds from simple frequencies. In 1857 he went to the instrument maker Friedrich Fessel of Cologne to turn this idea into reality. The initial instruments used a combination of electrically driven tuning forks, resonators and piano keys to synthesise compound sounds.

Text
Robartes, Francis. 1692. “A Discourse Concerning The Musical Notes Of The Trumpet, And Trumpet-Marine, And Of The Defects Of The Same”. Philosophical Transactions 16 (95): 559-563.
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MPIWG,. n.d. “Tuning Fork 1”. Berlin.
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MPIWG,. n.d. “Tuning Fork 2”. Berlin.
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MPIWG,. n.d. “Tuning Fork 3”. Berlin.