Oskar Sala the German physicist is honored by Google Doodle on his 112th birthday. Let’s see what did Oskar Sala do to the music industry and why Google Doodle honor him.
Who is Oskar Sala?
German physicist, composer, and early adopter of electronic music Oskar Sala was born in Greiz. He used the Trautonium, a synthesizer’s predecessor, as his instrument.
When Sala was younger, he studied the piano and organ and gave classical piano performances. He relocated to Berlin in 1929 to pursue piano and composition studies at the Berlin Conservatory under the guidance of violist and composer Paul Hindemith. In the school’s laboratory, he also saw Dr. Friedrich Trautwein’s research while learning to play the Trautonium, a groundbreaking electronic instrument.
Let’s see why Oskar Sala was featured on Google doodle.
Discovery of First electronic musical instrument Mixture-Trautonium
Oskar Sala with Dr. Ing. Friedrich Trautwein constructed the first presentable preliminary studies for an electronic musical instrument “under the roof” in the radio test center. Sala was immediately drawn to the new instrument with the strange manual fascinated, in contrast to his fellow students. So Sala offered his help and Trautwein agreed.
From then on, Oskar Sala was significantly involved in the development and construction of the Trautonium. First, Sala, Trautwein, and a technical assistant built three instruments that Hindemith had wanted for a new composition. On June 20, 1930, the time had come. The first electronic concert with a performance by Trautwein, sound samples on Sala’s instrument, and the premiere of Paul Hindemith’s “Seven Trio Pieces” took place in the large concert hall of the Berlin Music Academy. Later, Sala performed as the soloist in Hindemith’s Concert for Trautonium with String Quartet while on tour in Germany with the instrument. Additionally, he performed a solo in Harald Genzmer’s “Concert for Trautonium AND Orchestra,” which had its debut.
Hindemith played the upper part, the piano professor Rudolf Schmidt the bass part, and Oskar Sala was entrusted with the middle part. These pieces were re-recorded by Mr. Sala in 1977 using the playback method for recordings and were reissued on CD in 1998 by Erdenklang Musikverlag.
Together with Trautwein, Sala refined the technique and sound of the instrument. They succeeded in imitating natural vowel production electronically. This gave the inventors timbres at their disposal. How seriously Oskar Sala took this instrument may be illustrated by the fact that Sala studied natural sciences at the University of Berlin from 1932 to 1936 specifically for this purpose. In 1933 Sala developed the Volkstrautonium for Telefunken, of which around 80 to 100 were built before the factory facilities were needed for ‘more important things. Sala also wrote the ‘Trautonium School’ for this instrument, which dealt with both the commissioning and the basic playing technique.
The Rundfunktrautonium followed in 1935, and the Konzerttrautonium in 1938, with which he undertook several concert tours to other European countries. After the war, in which Oskar Sala narrowly escaped on the Russian front, he set up his own business and constructed the Mixturtrautonium from 1949 to 1953. He invents a new electronic circuit and receives patents for it in the USA, France, and Germany.
Sala had been composing for the Mixturtrautonium since 1953 and set up his own studio in Berlin in 1958.
Here he set the music to cultural, industrial, and feature films. The highlight is certainly the setting of the birdsong in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ in 1962. However, winning the Grand Prix in Rouen in 1960 seemed to mean just as much to him personally. This was the soundtrack of a Mannesmann documentary film ‘Steel, Theme with Variations’, which differed greatly in style from the films of the time.
As with everything else, Sala had achieved unbelievable perfection by synchronizing the sound directly with the picture – in other words: the film producer got a finished product. Word got around quickly and brought him a few orders. Film scores for NASA, the ‘Edgar Wallace series, and much more followed. He received many awards for this, including the 1987 film ribbon in gold.
A major disadvantage of the increasingly complex mixture trautonium was that it was no longer portable. So there were no more concerts. Public appearances were limited to film and sound presentations, as well as lectures.
At one of these lectures in the early 1980s, 3 professors from the former Fachhochschule der Deutsche Bundespost Berlin were present in the auditorium, where the course in communications engineering was taught (for the younger ones: Telekom as part of the DBP until around 1990). These 3 professors – Hans-Jörg Borowicz, Dietmar Rudolph, and Helmut Zahn – were so impressed by Mr. Sala and the instrument that they offered him to recreate the device (as part of his diploma theses) with microelectronics according to his wishes.
However, it was not until 1988 that Mr. Sala was not only satisfied with the new ‘mixture trautonium according to Oskar Sala’, but also recognized that it was superior to his tube trautonium in many ways. And so, on August 18, 1988, Mr. Sala appeared publicly with Trautonium in Congress Hall for the first time in 30 years. A year later, an appearance at the Berlin radio exhibition followed. This performance was then broadcast by SFB radio. A large number of concerts and performances followed until his death.
In 1958 he established his own studio at Mars film GmbH (4th incarnation) in Berlin. There he produced electronic soundtracks for such films as Veit Harlan’s Different from You and Me (1957) and Fritz Lang’s Das Indische Grabmal (1959). He received many awards for his film scores, but never an Oscar.
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