MATRIXSYNTH: Cristal Baschet & Ethervox Theremin

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Cristal Baschet & Ethervox Theremin

Published on Feb 4, 2020 Peter Pringle

"There has been a lot of interest in the last few years in the instrument known as the “cristal baschet” (aka, “crystal organ” and “euphone”), so I decided to make a video showing what it looks and sounds like. The instrument was developed in the early 1950’s by the late Bernard and Fran├žois Baschet, two brothers who lived and worked in Paris. It is entirely acoustic, and constructed mainly of glass and stainless steel. There are resonators attached to it to amplify the sound. In the above video the large “sail” (“voile” in French) is made of mirror polished stainless steel, while the three other teardrop-shaped resonators are made from arborite (these are usually made of fiberglass but I have found that arborite, which is much harder, gives a superior tone).

The sound of the “cristal” is produced by dipping your fingers in water, and rubbing them along a series of parallel glass rods. The rods are attached to a row of chromatically tuned steel bars, similar in principle to tuning forks, and the vibration set up by these bars is communicated to the resonators. This idea was first developed two hundred years ago by the German musician and physicist, Ernst Chladni.

Because the “cristal” must be played with wet hands, it is not easy to find a second instrument that you can play at the same time. The obvious choice is the THEREMIN, because it is played without touching. The theremin in the video is a 1998 Moog MIDI Ethervox, the only fully capable MIDI theremin ever made, and believed by many to be one of the late Robert Moog’s crowning achievements. Sadly, there were only about 50 of these instruments ever made.

Since I only had my left hand to play the theremin (my right hand is playing the “cristal”) I was forced to control the volume of the theremin by means of a pedal. It is interesting to note that with Russian inventor Leon Theremin’s early prototypes (which he called the “etherphone”) volume was also controlled by a pedal - not by a volume antenna. I would like to thank the original designer of the Ethervox MIDI software, Rudi Linhard of LINTRONICS, for certain improvements he made to foot control of the MIDI functions - my left foot is on a MIDI pedal which you cannot see in the video.

I built the cristal baschet in the video myself, with the kind help of the wonderful French musician and “cristaliste”, Karinn Helbert, who shared her knowledge of the instrument and was an endless source of encouragement. For those who are interested in the construction of this instrument, here is a webpage I put together describing the process. It was lots of fun to build (I really like making stuff) but I will not be making another.

This webpage is in French, but I hope to get around to doing a translation soon for English speakers who are interested in the subject."

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