'The Art of the Virtual Rhythmicon' INNOVA 120 CD

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Play the vitual Rhythmicon yourself : click here

The Rhythmicon was an early electronic music instrument built in 1930 by Leon Theremin at the request of composer Henry Cowell.

The Art of the Virtual Rhythmicon : Innova 120 CD
[commissioned by the American Composers Forum]

Works made mostly using the online rhythmicon created by Nick Didkovsky for <musicmavericks.org>

1. Janek Schaefer 'All Bombing is Terrorism' 12:00
2. Annie Gosfield 'A Sideways Glance from an Electric Eye' 7:35
3. Philip Blackburn 'Henry and Mimi at the Y' 4:34
4. Jeff Feddersen 'This Time I Want Them All' 5:48
5. Matthew Burtner 'Spectral for 0' 4:42
6. Matthew Burtner 'Spectral for 60' 4:27
7. Viv Corringham 'Eggcup, Teapot, Rhythmicon' 6:15
8. Mark Eden 'Cremation Science' 5:33
9. Robert Normandeau 'Chorus' 13:57

If you've never heard of an instrument called the "Rhythmicon", let alone a virtual one, your ears are about to get a treat.

Conceived and built in 1931 by musical forward-thinkers Leon Theremin and Henry Cowell, the Rhythmicon was a musical keyboard instrument. Each key played a repeated tone, proportional in pitch and rhythm to the overtone series (the second key played twice as high and twice as fast as the first key. The third key played three times higher, etc.). The online one (made by Nick Didkovsky, of Dr. Nerve fame, in 2003) does all that and more, just without the whirring optical disc mechanism inside the wooden cabinet.

If it sounds too nerdy, fear not, the results are anything but. In the hands of some of today’s leading sound-artist/composers, the Virtual Rhythmicon makes music that shimmers, pulses, and haunts with a beauty that would get even microscopic cells grooving with delight.



Foxy Digitalis

The Rhythmicon was a device developed in 1931 by Henry Cowell and Leon Theremin, and updated in a online version by Nick Didkovsky in 2003. Several composers were invited to write for the online version, and the result is a compilation that is rich in color and sonically tasty.

The Rhythmicon plays loops of three keys, each higher in pitch and rhythm to its predecessor. Yeah, but does it make good music? Yes. This is no
experiment for its own sake; the resulting works here are varied in passion and intent, and as with most good music, the composition is more important and impressive than the technology.

Especially effective are Janek Schaefer’s “All Bombing is Terrorism,” a long contemplative piece, and “A Sideway’s Glance from an Electric Eye” by Annie Gosfield, which reaches back into Modernism and updates its playfulness with moody cello samples.

Jeff Fedderson’s “This Time I Want Them All” is based on Cowell’s “The Banshee,” and makes good use of that track’s focus on disjointed,
unpredictable inner workings of exposed instruments. Likewise, Mark Eden’s “Cremation Science” also looks to the hidden machinery inside
instrumentation for its rhythms, which end up reminding one of the internal boiling of the creative artist.

This is a great collection, based on an inspired creation, manipulated beautifully.
This is a great example of experimentation with intent, and provides power and the occasional wisdom. 8/10
-- Mike Wood



It was Nick "Doctor Nerve" Didkovsky who in fact handled the programming, but he's not one of the artists featured here: Janek Schaefer, Annie Gosfeld, Innova head honcho Philip Blackburn, Jeff Feddersen, Matthew Burtner, Viv Corringham, Mark Eden and Robert Normandeau. Schaefer reroutes the Rhythmicon through FX pedals to generate a dreamy Ambient haze (despite its title All Bombing Is Terrorism), and Gosfeld contributes the distinctly metallic A Sideways Glance from an Electric Eye, while Blackburn's Henry and Mimi at the Y reworks Couper's 1925 Xanadu into an eerie spectral etude, exposing the inner workings of the Rhythmicon as thoroughly as [Couper did with her pianos]. There's little information provided on how sound artist and eco-technology pioneer Feddersen created This Time I Want Them All, but his website fddrsn.net is worth a visit; meanwhile Matthew Burtner provides copious notes explaining the mathematical ratios he uses in his two pristine "machine lullabies" Spectral for 0 and Spectral for 60. Viv Corringham's Eggcup, Teapot, Rhythmicon uses everyday objects (including, presumably, eggcups and teapots) as vocal resonators, Mark Eden's Cremation Science is a snappy Pop Art collage complete with science lecture and samples of, amongst other things, West Side Story, and proceedings end with a serious plea for religious tolerance in the form of Normandeau's Chorus, dedicated to the victims of September 11th 2001. It's a colourful and entertaining selection of pieces in keeping with the eclecticism associated with Innova's earlier Sonic Circuits compilations.
by Dan Warburton


I just simply wanted to express how impressed I am by this compilation CD - some very strong and quite outstanding work featured on there, so well done! The Normandeau piece is amazing!

Igloo Magazine

First of all, what is a Rhythmicon? I take this from the liner notes: “The Rhythmicon was a musical keyboard instrument built in 1931 by Leon Theremin at the request of composer/theorist Henry Cowell. Each key of the Rhythmicon played a repeated tone, proportional in pitch and rhythm to the overtone series (the second key played twice as high and twice as fast as the first key. The third key played three times higher and repeated three times faster than the first key, etc)”. Nick Didkovsky programmed the Virtual Rhythmicon --a recreation of Theremin and Cowell’s rhythmic tone generator-- using Java Music Specification Language (JSyn). It is available for anyone to play it (for free!). I highly recommend it.  

 Even though a piano player is useless without his piano, the piano a player uses isn't usually major discussion point in a conversation about, say, Dave Brubeck. But, as Kaoss Pad-owners that I have known will attest, the engineer-poets who design electronic instruments and processors play a much greater and more acknowledged role in the creative process and result. Ishkur, of the authoritative Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music,
says: “It's not like you can just pick up a sampler, synth and drum machine and jam away. Unlike conventional music, electronic music isn't played, per se. It is PROGRAMMED. So any study of the history of electronic music is really a study of its programmers --that is, the people who make the machines that make the sounds that make the music what it is.” He goes on: “In a way, the instruments don't make the music, the instruments ARE the music”. I know I’m not the first to point this out, but I’m bringing it up because, in many ways, the Rhythmicon is the most interesting thing about this album (hence it’s prominence in the title). If for no other reason, you should buy this album for the sake of hearing a fascinating noisemaker and a key moment in the history of electronic music.  

 But you should also buy this album because it’s a beautifully soothing and powerfully emotive collection of ambient experimental noise tone-poems. Janek Schaefer’s “All Bombing is Terrorism” introduces the Virtual Rhythmicon: many beautiful pulses, pulsing at different tempos, like so many heartbeats. In classic minimalist style, the track pulses and sparkles sparingly along for twelve minutes, one set of ethereal tones morphing gently into the next. And the Rhythmicon is fascinating because there is mystery to all this beauty: The ticking of a metronome isn’t necessarily beautiful. Why then do I hear such beautiful ambient noise, tones, overtones when several metronomes simultaneously tick different tones at different tempos? Weird.  

 Annie Gosfield’s “A Sideways Glance from an Electric Eye” grinds out the ambient equivalent of glitch: excruciatingly meaningful, satisfyingly irritating. Philip Blackburn’s “Henry and Mimi at the Y” is a work for piano, Rhythmicon, and various noises. It shows off how useful of a tool the online Rhythmicon could be for creating ambient pads and textures which would harmoniously contrast more traditional instruments like piano (note to self). On track five and eight (Jeff Federsen’s “This Time I Want Them All” and Mark Eden’s “Cremation Science”), the composers mix human voices with the Rhythmicon, emphasizing its old-timey eeriness, giving voice to the moaning ghost in the machine.  

The Art of the Virtual Rhythmicon exists by the grace of numerous philanthropic apparatuses (American Public Media, The Jerome Foundation, The McKnight foundation, The National Endowment for the Arts), which simultaneously fund and provide the project with a certain amount of fine-art credibility. The composers are accomplished in art, music, and experimental noise in ways too numerous to mention. Supported by important arts foundations and grounded in lots of theory and academia, this album is arguably a must have for those of us who like to drop old-skool-experimental names like Theremin, Cowell, or Ives into our conversations.