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Object, Instrument, Technology

Double siren

Rudolph, Koenig, Rudolph Koenig
Hermann von, Helmholtz, Hermann von Helmholtz
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The double siren is an instrument that produces sounds from two sources in a way that allows the phase of one sound to be changed relative to that of the other. It is capable of producing everything in the range of a half-tone to an octave. A double siren consists of two coaxial Dove sirens—disks rotating at high speed. As air flows through a series of holes in each disk, a distinct tone is produced, the frequency of which depends on the rotational speed of the disk, and the spacing of the holes in the disk. On top of the instrument is a crank for adjusting the phase of the top disk relative to the bottom. In addition, each disk has multiple concentric series of holes that can be opened or closed, for producing multiple tones. Each disk contains eight concentric circles of holes. The frequency of the sound is determined by running the siren for a known period of time, and then reading the dials on the front of the device, which count the total number of revolutions of the siren.

Double siren by Max Kohl
Fig. 1: Double siren by Max Kohl
Double siren by Max Kohl
Fig. 2: Double siren by Max Kohl

This was the first of the instruments built by Rudolph Koenig based on the designs of Hermann von Helmholtz, who published a description of the instrument in Die Lehre von den Tonempfindungen als physiologische Grundlage für die Theorie der Musik (On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for a Theory of Music).

Illustration of a double siren from Koenig’s Acoustic Catalogue, 1865. Cost: 400 francs
Fig. 3: Illustration of a double siren from Koenig’s Acoustic Catalogue, 1865. Cost: 400 francs

Text & figures by Brian Tinker, republished with the kind permission of Case Western Reserve University and William Fickinger, Prof Emeritus of Physics.

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