Audio samples are available in MP3 player format.

  • Dripsody: An Etude for Variable Speed Recorder (mono version) (1955) 1:28
  • Ninety-Nine Generators (1956) 1:41
  • Invocation (1957) 2:20
  • Study No. 1 for Player Piano and Tape (1957) 1:17
  • The Burning Desk (without words) (1958) 4:16
  • A Noisome Pestilence (1958) 2:05
  • Textures (1959) 1:23
  • Nocturne (1962) 3:09
  • Bird Spectrogram (1963-64) 0:59
  • Music for Expo (1967) 2:15
  • Safari: Eine Kleine Klangfarbenmelodie (ca. 1968) 3:08
  • Mobile: The Computer Laughed (Perpetual Motion) (1970) 1:51
  • Paulution (Charnel Number Five) (1971-72) 4:09


  • This Thing Called Key (1956) 1:54
  • Arcane Presents Lulu (1956) 1:50
  • The Burning Deck, original version with words (1958) 4:35
  • Sounds To Forget (excerpt) (1963) 2:39


  • The Sackbut
  • Coded Music Apparatus: Patterns on the Pitch Graph (1955) 0:52
  • The Touch Sensitive Organ
  • Dripsody: An Etude for Variable Speed Recorder (stereo version) (1957) 2:02




[1] Dripsody: An Étude for Variable Speed Recorder (mono version) (1955) (1:28) was Le Caine's first project for his new Multi-track (formally known as the Special Purpose Tape Recorder). It was composed in one night using a recording of a drop of water falling into a bucket, re-recorded at different speeds to produce the pitches of a pentatonic scale.

Ninety-Nine Generators (1956) (1:41) was played on the Touch Sensitive Organ, using the organ's 99 sound generators, a sustaining pedal, a device that could shift the pitch, and the reverberations of the small outbuilding in which it was recorded.

Invocation (1957) (2:20) opens with a trio of three recorded sounds, played on the Multi-track at the speed at which they were originally recorded: a breaking pane of glass, a ping-pong ball hitting the bat, and the water drop from Dripsody. Changes in playback speed soon follow. The words "concrète rock" are pencilled on a page of the score.

Study No. 1 for Player Piano and Tape (1957) (1:17) compares the player piano and the Multi-track-both devices for sound reproduction-with regard to their treatment of pitch, volume, and timbre. A series of permutations of six motifs for player piano is treated by changes in tape playback speed performed on the Multi-track.

The Burning Deck (without words) (1958) (4:16) is structured around a sentimental Victorian poem. Player piano sound is modified by the Multi-track. The complexity of the textures developed from the comparatively simple original materials illustrates Le Caine's imagination and technical control of sound.

A Noisome Pestilence (1958) (2:05) is built from narrow-band noise organized into tape loops containing short rhythmic motifs using the Multi-track. There is a surprising degree of timbral vibration within the piece; the characteristics of the sounds sometimes change quite dramatically.

Textures (1959) (1:23) uses trombone sounds with the Multi-track, exploring a twelve-tone row. Every detail is carefully defined in three sections of a sixteen-page score. At the climax, a dense cloud of several hundred pitches is heard, each of them one tenth of a semitone apart.

[8] Nocturne (1962) (3:07) is played on the Conductive Keyboard (with tape-delay) using printed-circuit keys in which sound is controlled by the conductivity of the performer's finger. Since the conductivity increases with pressure, the keys are touch sensitive.

Bird Spectrogram (1963) (0:59) was used by Le Caine in his public lectures with the Spectrogram, an instrument which used photo cells to read information drawn on rolls of graph paper to control a bank of oscillators and facilitate additive synthesis.

Music for Expo (1967) (2:15) uses the Serial Sound Structure Generator, an instrument which was displayed at Expo 67 in Montreal. The instrument was designed to serialize several parameters of sound which could then be repeated, expanded, contracted, and altered in pitch and timbre.

Safari: Eine Kleine Klangfarbenmelodie (1964) (3:08) was generated by the Sonde, an instrument capable of generating 200 sine tones separated by intervals of five Hertz. The piece demonstrates timbral and melodic results of changes in clouds of sine tones.

Mobile: The Computer Laughed (Perpetual Motion) (1970) (1:51) was one of the first pieces to be produced on the NRC Computer Music System. The form was influenced by the mobiles of Alexander Calder: the elements seem to build recognizable harmony and counterpoint, but then shift to something unexpected.

Paulution (Charnel Number Five) (1971-72) (4:09) demonstrates a liberal use of pitch bending and vibrato. The three-octave touch-sensitive keyboard of the polyphonic synthesizer had a separate tunable oscillator and waveform control for each key.

Humorous Sketches

This Thing Called Key (1956) (1:54) demonstrates the effects of tape-speed change on what Le Caine describes as "a poor defenceless little piece," recorded on a tape loop and repeated over and over, while the playback speed is changed.

Arcane Presents Lulu (1956) (1:50) was Le Caine's response to the use of barking of dogs in a recording of "Jingle Bells." Le Caine found an "even more annoying sound," coloratura screaming. The melody line is constructed, using the Multi-track, from the scream which ends Lulu's part in Alban Berg's opera.

The Burning Deck (with words) (1958) (4:35) was completed six months before the final version of the piece. The text spoken by Le Caine is from "Casabianca" by Dorothea Felicia Hemens. Le Caine commented that "the brutal and shocking pictures seem admirably suited to be set against the portentous sounds of electronic music ... The temptation to fit together the clichés of Victorian poetry and the clichés of electronic music proved too great to resist."

Sounds to Forget (excerpt) (1963) (2:39) is the opening of a mono recording made with Le Caine's Tone Shifter, which combined frequency modulation with a complex filter, used here to distort and satirize a demonstration for a stereo tape recorder.


The Sackbut Synthesizer

Bill Farrow Plays the Sackbut (1946) (0:35) is among the earliest Sackbut recordings, transferred to magnetic tape from a home-made acetate disc recording made in 1946, and demonstrating the Sackbut at an early stage of its development.

Mal Clark Plays the Sackbut (1946) (2:21) was also transferred to tape from an acetate disc. Le Caine held regular weekend jam sessions in his home studio with his physicist friends Bill Farrow and Mal Clark.

The 1948 Sackbut Demonstration Tapes (1953) are narrated by Le Caine, and illustrate well-known wave forms (square, pulse, sawtooth) played with the touch-sensitive keys and timbral controls of the Sackbut, now recognized as the "first" analogue synthesizer. The Sackbut is accompanied by piano and the prototype Touch Sensitive Organ, the tracks combined using the prototype Multi-track Tape Recorder.

Rhapsody in Blue (G. Gershwin) (0:58) The Sackbut plays the clarinet part using only a square wave and the touch-sensitive keyboard.

Sugar Blues (C. McCoy) (1:02) The variable formant control (later known as the "doo-wah" effect) coloured the timbre by including high-register frequencies unrelated to the basic waveshape.

Sackbut String Quartet (C.W. Glück, arr. Le Caine) (2:10) replicates the sounds of string instruments using multiple recordings of the Sackbut.

The Sackbut Blues (1:20) This composition by Le Caine demonstrates some unique characteristics of the Sackbut.

Coded Music Apparatus: Patterns on the Pitch Graph (1955) (0:52) This was an automated control system for the Sackbut, using a time/pitch graph to generate melody and rhythm.

Improved Timbre Controls (ca. 1956) (1:18) The sounds of the control switches are audible in this recording, as are the improvements in the controls for the subtle changes in the timbre of the sound. No further development of the Sackbut took place until the early 1970s.

Artificial Larynx, driven by Sackbut (1957) (0:30) There is no indication of the technical methods used to produce this recording, though it may have been an early voice box.

Touch Sensitive Organ

Xmas Music: Organ Control for Automatic Light Display (excerpt) (1954) (0:36) was recorded soon after Le Caine began to work on musical instruments full time. The lobby of the new NRC research building had a Christmas light display which would change in response to the music.

The Touch Sensitive Organ Demonstration Tapes (1955) were made for the Canadian Trade Fair where the Baldwin Organ Company took an option on the patent on touch-sensitive keys.

Volume Changes (1:04) Changes in loudness allow independent melody and accompaniment to be played on the same manual.

Accents (0:49) Accents on specific notes enhance the effect of syncopated music.

Independent Voicing (0:57) In contrapuntal music, touch sensitivity maintains the independence of several parts.

Repeated Notes (0:53) When the same note appears in two parts it can be played using contrast ing attacks, which sounds as if there were two manuals in use.

Attacks (1:29) Gradual and percussive attack techniques familiar to pianists are highly effective on the touch-sensitive keyboard.

Attack and Volume (2:05) Loudness and attack can vary from note to note.

Mouth Cavity Oscillator with MKI Touch Sensitive Organ (1955) (1:42) was recorded two years before the Sackbut Artificial Larynx tape, and is a less developed device, nevertheless suited to Le Caine's sense of humour. Again, there is no indication of the technical methods used.

Artificial Larynx (ca. 1957) (0:30) This recording was on the same reel with the Sackbut Artificial Larynx, but uses a polyphonic instrument. There is no explanation of technical methods.

Organ Experiment with Pitch Control (1956) (2:15) demonstrates an experiment judged unsuccessful by Le Caine, in which the oscillators were coupled with one another so that the tuning of the organ would automatically adjust to the whole number ratios of the overtone series (just intonation) as the music modulated into different keys. It worked with simple music, but the system tended to retune any dissonant pitch to its current fundamental pitch, sometimes leaving only a gruff bass note, as heard in this example.

Special Purpose Tape Recorder (Multi-track)

Dripsody Demonstration (1958) (5:42) is a step-by-step explanation of the techniques used to construct Dripsody from the sound of a single drop of water falling into a bucket. Thousands of sound events were produced using only twenty-five splices by changing the playback speeds and recombining the resulting sounds using the Multi-track.

Dripsody: An Étude for Variable Speed Recorder (stereo version) (1957) (2:01) was re-composed after Le Caine's Multi-track was equipped with a stereo mixing system. In overall shape both versions of the piece follow the form of a rain shower.

All rights reserved/Tous droits réservés, © Gayle Young, 1999
Photographs courtesy of the Music Division of the National Library of Canada.