As early as 1937 Le Caine had designed an electronic free reed organ, and in 1945 he began to develop electronic instruments at his home studio in his spare time. His Electronic Sackbut, built at this time, is now recognized to have been the first synthesizer. It featured continuous controls for timbre and a keyboard that was sensitive to both vertical and horizontal pressure, affecting volume and pitch respectively. At least 20 years passed before similar instruments were available commercially. Le Caine was also developing a polyphonic touch sensitive organ and a device to play several tape recordings simultaneously. In 1954 he was permitted to develop these instruments through facilities at NRC. One of his first projects there was the development of the Multi-track (Special Purpose) Tape Recorder, capable of altering the playback speed of several recordings simultaneously, through a keyboard. In 1955 he composed his landmark piece Dripsody for this instrument, using only the sound of the fall of a single drop of water. Several different instruments followed, using varying techniques for generating and controlling sound. He co-operated in the installation of Canada's first electronic music studio (1959, University of Toronto) and another (1964) at McGill University and in 1966 gave the first of many seminars on his subject at these universities. In 1961 he developed equipment for the studio at Hebrew U, Jerusalem.
Le Caine's works represent a duality of art and science: they extend the aesthetic field of electronic music while serving as clear demonstrations of the instruments he invented.
The Harrison-Le Caine Hall at Queen's University was named (1974) in his honour. In 1978 members of the Canadian Electronic Ensemble organized the Hugh Le Caine Project to assemble and disseminate information on Le Caine and to publish a newsletter, which began to appear in June 1979. The ensemble included at least one work by Le Caine in every concert in the 1978-9 season, in Canada, the northern USA, and Europe. On 3 Jun 1979 the CBC broadcast a radio program featuring music by Le Caine, music dedicated to him, and music written for his instruments. Lectures demonstrating Le Caine's contribution to music have been sponsored by scientific and musical organizations around the world. His papers and original recordings are at the Music Division of the National Library of Canada.
See also Electroacoustic music.
The Touch Sensitive Organ. 1955. Touch sensitive organ
Dripsody. 1955. Special purpose tape recorder. Folk FMS-33436/4-ACM 37 (CD)
Ninety-nine Generators. Touch sensitive organ, pitch changer
This Thing Called Key. 1956. Special purpose tape recorder
Arcane Presents Lulu. 1956. Special purpose tape recorder
Invocation. 1957. Special purpose tape recorder
Study No. 1 for Player Piano and Tape. 1957. Player piano, special purpose tape recorder
The Burning Deck. 1958. Player piano, special purpose tape recorder, voice
A Noisome Pestilence. 1959. Special purpose tape recorder
Textures. 1959. Trb, special purpose tape recorder
Nocturne. 1962. Conductive keys, tape delay system
Music for Expo. 1967. Serial sound structure generator
Mobile. 1970. NRC computer music system. RCI 373/4-ACM 37 (CD)
Paulution. 1972. Polyphonic synthesizer
All of the compositions listed above are included on the album Hugh Le Caine, Compositions and Demonstrations 1948-1972 (JWD 02/RCI 622)
'Touch-sensitive organ based on an electrostatic coupling device,' J of the Acoustical Soc of America, vol 27, Jul 1955
'Electronic music,' Proceedings of the IRE, vol 44, no. 22, 1956
'A touch-sensitive keyboard for the organ,' CMJ, Spring 1959
Revised Specifications for a Tape Recorder for Use in Electronic Music Studios Developed by the National Research Council of Canada. Government of Canada report ERB-581 (May 1961)
'A tape recorder for use in electronic music studios and related equipment,' J of Music Theory, vol 7, Spring 1963
'Electronic music,' New Scientist, 16 Dec 1965
'Some applications of electrical level controls,' Electronic Music Review, 4, Oct 1967
- and Ciamaga, Gustav. 'A preliminary report on the serial sound structure generator,' Perspectives of New Music, vol 6, Fall-Winter 1967
'Apparatus for generating serial sound structures,' J of the Audio Engineering Soc, vol 17, Jun 1969
- and Ciamaga, Gustav. '''The Sonde'' a new approach to multiple sine wave generation,' J of the Audio Engineering Soc, vol 18, no. 5 1970
Author Gayle Young, Clifford Ford
Gillmor, Alan. 'Hugh Le Caine: a pioneer in electronic sound generation,' CanComp, Feb 1976
Rickerd, J.P. 'Hugh LeCaine - portrait of a scientist/musician,' Science Dimension, vol 9, no. 6, 1977
Anhalt, István. 'Hugh Le Caine,' Mcan, 33, Oct 1977
Young, Gayle. 'Hugh Le Caine's 1948 sackbut synthesizer: performance modes in electronic instruments,' Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference (Paris 1983)
- The Sackbut Blues (Ottawa 1989)
- 'Organ donor: the legacy of Hugh Le Caine's electronic instruments,' Ear, vol 15, Nov 1990
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Music Centre
Search the extensive CMC website for Canadian composer biographies and interviews, music scores, online newsletters, audio clips, podcasts, and more. Check out "CentreStreams" to listen to online archived recordings featuring outstanding Canadian composers.
Hugh Le Caine
Canadian composer and writer Gayle Young created this website about innovative Canadian scientist and musician Hugh Le Caine. Features a biography, description of instruments he created, and audio clips of his compositions. Also offers a synopsis of Young’s book “The Sackbut Blues: Hugh Le Caine, Pioneer in Electronic Music.”
Hugh Le Caine fonds
Information page for the Hugh Le Caine fonds. From Library and Archives Canada.
Portrait of a Scientist/Musician
An obituary for Dr. Hugh LeCaine, the father of electronic music in Canada. From the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Canada.
The sackbut blues: Hugh Le Caine, pioneer in electronic music
View an archived copy of a review of Gayle Young's biography of electronic music pioneer Hugh Le Caine. From "The CAML Review."