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Scientist in music

Scientist in music

The Work

This recording, which is a portion of an episode of CBC's Two New Hours, features an interview with composer and researcher Gayle Young about her book on Hugh LeCaine. At that time the working title of the book was "Hugh Le Caine Scientist in Music: A Biography". It would later become The Sackbut Blues : Hugh Le Caine, Pioneer in Electronic Music (1989).

Gayle Young's interest in this project started with the musical instrument that LeCaine had invented but she found that she became more interested in the man's motivations and his work in science (radar and subatomic physic) and its relationship to his music. His innovations lead to the first polyphonic synthesizer and the first touch sensitive electronic keyboard.

This broadcast features a recording of LeCaine demonstrating the monophonic synthesizer with keyboard control he created in 1948 and this includes a performance of his composition Sackbut Blues.


Canadian scientist and composer Hugh Le Caine (1914-77) was brought up in Port Arthur, now Thunder Bay, in northwestern Ontario. Throughout his youth he studied music, particularly piano, and dreamed of applying scientific techniques to the invention of musical instruments. At an early age he began building musical instruments and experimenting with electronic devices imagining "beautiful sounds" that he believed could be realized through these electronic inventions.

After earning his M.Sc. from Queen's University in 1939, Le Caine joined the National Research Council in Ottawa. There he worked on the development of the first radar systems and in atomic physics. At home he continued to pursue his interest in electronic music and sound generation, establishing a studio where he began to work on the design of electronic musical instruments. On the strength of his public demonstrations of his instruments, he was permitted to move his musical activities to the NRC and to work on them full time.

Over the next twenty years he built over 22 new instruments, and collaborated in the development of electronic studios at the University of Toronto and McGill University. Le Caine taught at both Universities and influenced a generation of composers of electroaccoustic music.

Scientist in music The Reprieve Beneath the Forest Floor Concerto pour Ondes-Martenot Riverrun

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This project was made possible through funding from the AV Preservation Trust and the Department of Canadian Heritage AV Trust Department of Canadian Heritage

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