Lyricon

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Lyricon patent info The Lyricon’s history Buying a Lyricon and some sound samples Lyricon I
Lyricon II Wind Driver Fingering system according to the patent The end of Computone. The evolution of the wind synth. The Lyricon III?
Vintage Lyricon ads Where to get more info & downloads of manuals

If you`re the owner of a wind controller, then you`ve benefitted from the work of Bill Bernardi and Roger Noble. These two men were the inventors of the first such wind synthesizer: the Lyricon.

Lyricon, The Driver, wind synthesizer, wind controller, wind synth

 Photography by: Brandon Daniel  Source: Wikipedia

Lyricon patent info

US Patent # 3,767,833 was awarded to Computone Inc.—the company Bernardi formed to manufacture the Lyricon—on October 23, 1973, and listed B. Bernardi and R. Noble as the instrument’s inventors. The patent Abstract describes the Lyricon as follows:

A wind-actuated electronic musical instrument for play by a musican. [sic] The musician uses substantially the same technique as is associated with acoustic wind instruments to vary the range of musical sound and expression produced by the electronic musical instrument. Transducers convert the musician-produced air flow, lip pressure and fingering of the instrument to appropriate electrical signals, which signals control the frequency, harmonic content and harmonic phase of the sound produced by a tone generator.

Source: Google Patents

The patent illustration shows an instrument that looks very similar to the Lyricon in the photo above.

Lyricon patent drawing, patent drawing, 1973 patents, wind controller, wind sythesizer, wind synth

Source: Google Patents  

The inventor’s explanation of the Lyricon’s history

The most definitive websites that I could find about the Lyricon, were those belonging to multi-instrumentalist and composer, Jorrit Dijkstra.

On his website Dijkstra has a page dedicated to this wind synth. After buying a Lyricon in 1999 that needed repairs, Dijkstra tracked down the wind synthesizer’s inventor, Bill Bernardi, and asked him to repair it for him. The information that Dijkstra obtained from Bernardi, is important to understanding the Lyricon’s history.

Bill Bernardi explained the evolution of the instrument like this:

I studied the acoustics of wind instruments, and made a sythesizer [sic] that works with additive synthesis to imitate the overtones. The transducer contains a membrane and a photo cell, which translate breath and attack into voltages. After the first Lyricon we got requests from players to simplify the synthesizer and add an extra oscillator, so they could play parallel intervals. So we developed the Lyricon II and the Wind Driver. The synthesizer in the Lyricon II is totally different and the Wind Driver has to be hooked up to an extern [sic] analog synthesizer. They were mass produced by Selmer. Of The Lyricon II 5000 pieces were produced. The Lyricon I was hand made, only about 300 of them were made. [About 250 units of the Driver were made.]1 My favourite is still the Lyricon I, cause it has more control features and a better synthesiser [sic].

Source: Jorrit Dijkstra.com

A critical element in the Lyricon’s ability to convert the player’s air flow, lip pressure, and fingerings to electrical signals is the transducer, and just as critically, the membrane that covers it. Furthermore, according to Bernardi:

I tried at least a hundred different materials for the membrane of the transducer, to find the perfect one. It’s not rubber, it’s some sort of fiber. When you don’t play the Lyricon for a long time, the membrane gets hard and needs to be replaced. I have plenty of them, I stocked up for years on them. The photo cell is very hard to get too, they don’t make them anymore, I bought all of the ones I could still find.

Source: Jorrit Dijkstra.com 


Buying a Lyricon today and some sound samples

By now it might be becoming clear to you that these are instruments for which replacement parts are not readily available. Also, it should be noted that the only known place to get a Lyricon repaired is through Bill Bernardi himself.2,3

Before you decide to pick up one of these vintage wind synthesizers on eBay, or even locally in a junk or pawn shop like Jorrit Dijkstra did, and have it repaired through Bill Bernardi, you might be asking yourself: What is this instrument going to sound like? Well, according to Lyricon owner and performer, Jorrit Dijkstra:

The Lyricon is a beautifully made and fantastic sounding synthesizer (if in good shape!), with all the dynamics and accuracy of a saxophone or clarinet. It can produce fat and funky bass lines, whistling flute tones, dirty moog sounds and barely audible pitches with great dynamics.

Source: Jorrit Dijkstra.com

Arguably, the Lyricon’s most famous recording was made by Tom Scott when he played the wind synth on Steely Dan’s 1977 hit, “Peg”4. And how many of you though that was a soprano sax? I gotta admit, I did for the longest time.

Here is Tom Scott playing the Lyricon in its best impersonation of a soprano sax…

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0xwku3Bitc

Then there is this one, that I just had to include here…

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLghCKGC0VM

The point is, type Lyricon into the YouTube search bar, and there are lots of examples to listen to. The Lyricon, when it is working properly, is an incredibly versatile and expressive instrument.

What Lyricons look like

Lyricon I

Lyricon I, wind controller, wind synth, wind synthesizer,

Source: quinntheeskimo Vintage Horns on eBay.com

Lyricon II

Lyricon II, wind controller, wind synth, wind synthesizer,

Source: papagoogoo on eBay.com

Wind Driver

Lyricon, The Driver, wind synthesizer, wind controller, wind synth

Photography by: Brandon Daniel  Source: Flickr

Fingering system according to the patent

To give you an idea of both the range and fingering system that the Lyricon used, here are the fingering charts, along with original patent drawing of the Lyricon again, that were supplied as part of the patent.

Lyricon patent drawing, patent drawing, 1973 patents, wind controller, wind sythesizer, wind synth
Lyricon fingerings, patent drawing, wind syth, wind controller, wind synthesizer Lyricon fingerings, patent drawing, wind syth, wind controller, wind synthesizer Lyricon fingerings, patent drawing, wind syth, wind controller, wind synthesizer

Source: Google Patents 

The end of Computone. The evolution of the wind synthesizer. A new Lyricon?

There is that cliché about all good things. Well such was case for Computone in 1980, as it found itself squeezed by the big kid on the block: Yamaha.

Yamaha was developing a midi instrument, the WX7, and was going after a much bigger market than Computone ever did. The result? All too predictable unfortunately, as the Lyricon faded into the annals of time, only to be rediscovered a couple of decades later, in part thanks to the Internet.

Thanks in part to the pioneering work of Bill Bernardi and Roger Noble, companies like Yamaha and Akai have created their own wind synthesizers, and the market for these instruments is strong—especially among horn players. Yamaha’s WX, as well as Akai’s EWI (electronic wind instrument) series of wind controllers offer the player a wide variety of choices, and have kept moving wind synthesizer technology forward.

Now however, we see things coming full circle again, as Bill Bernardi is in the planning stages of a Lyricon III, which will naturally, be utilizing today’s technology.5,6

Some vintage Lyricon ads

Over the past couple of years while I’ve been collecting information and images on the Lyricon, I’ve also found these vintage ads promoting the instrument. The first comes from a 1974 trade magazine.

1974 Lyricon I Advertisement from Computone

Lyricon I, wind controller, wind synth, wind synthesizer, vintage ad, 1974, Computone

Source: ANTIQUE~GRAPHIQUE on eBay.com

According to the seller, this ad is from about 1975. I’ve not seen any production dates for the Lyricon II, but that’s clearly what this is, since this wind controller is being marketed by Selmer, and they were the makers of the Lyricon II.

Circa 1975 Lyricon II Advertisement from Selmer

Lyricon II, wind controller, wind synth, wind synthesizer, vintage ad, 1975, Selmer

Source: OperaRex on eBay.com

Where to get more info and downloads of manuals

If you own a Lyricon, and are looking for a copy of an original manual to download, I suggest you check out Jorrit Dijkstra’s blog dedicated to this pioneering wind synth. Besides having a lot of info in his FAQ’s, he also offers the following PDF’s for downloading (in the right navigation menu):

  • A Lyricon brochure featuring all 3 models.
  • An original Lyricon I Owner’s Manual
  • An original Driver Owner’s Manual
  • The Lyricon I schematics (although I couldn’t open them, and was being given a message that the file was corrupted, or had a invalid structure).

Also in the right navigation menu, Dijkstra offers up a variety of links to other sources of information about the Lyricon.

The only additional Lyricon link that I might suggest, is a blog post in a weblog called sv synthesis. The author has some great interior shots of the instrument, as he documents his attempts to get his Lyricon II playing again.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

1 Source: The Lyricons: Information about the first (analog) electronic wind instrument. Jorrit Dijkstra’s Lyricon blog.

2 Source: The Lyricons: Information about the first (analog) electronic wind instrument. Jorrit Dijkstra’s Lyricon blog.

3 Source: Lyricon Repairs by Bill Bernardi page on Patchman Music

4 Source: Wikipedia

5 Source: Jorrit Dijkstra.com 

6 Source: The Boston Globe, July 6, 2013. With the ‘70s-era Lyricon, woodwind met synthesizer, by Matthew Guerrieri

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