A lifelong partnership

Press photo featuring Oskar Sala in front of an image of the Mixturtrautonium. Photo: Deutsches Museum, Archives, BN 50068 CC BY-SA 4.0

Following the successful debut of Trautwein’s earliest Trautoniums in 1930, Sala helmed the subsequent technical development of the instrument. Sala furthered its evolution through various models leading up to the Mixturtrautonium’s completion in 1952.[24] Using the tacit knowledge he obtained as the instrument’s builder, performer and in the later years its most prolific composer, he improved on the instrument’s features at each of the Trautonium’s evolutionary steps. As he advanced the Trautonium technologically, it in turn opened up new dimensions of artistic expression and creative production in a feedback loop spanning the evolution of the instrument. Each model presented him with new tone generating capacities and novel timbres, which enabled him to establish a distinct, idiomatic sound for his works.

Thus, Sala and the Trautonium – a chronicle of a single individual’s life-long interaction with one instrument –make an excellent case in studying the intimate process of exchange between humans and machines. Additionally, considering the impact Sala’s instruments had on his musical career, the Sala-Trautonium case testifies to importance of increasing the visibility of the very instruments that inform musical discourse and to the necessity of acknowledging the roles musical instruments play in the shaping of cultural history in general.

[24] For details on the micro-electronic instrument ‘Mixturtrautonium nach Oskar Sala’ built by three professors at the Berliner Fachhochschule der Bundespost and their students based on Sala’s Mixturtrautonium, please refer to http://www.oskar-sala.de/oskar-sala-fonds/trautonium/mixturtrautonium-nach-oskar-sala/ The instrument is currently housed at the Musikinstrumenten-Museum Berlin, for more information please visit https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/oskar-salas-last-mixturtrautonium/6gGWgg_Uu9ti6Q.

Citation: Julin Lee, ‘Subharmonic Fantasias: The Legacy of Oskar Sala and the Mixturtrautonium’, in: Materiality of Musical Instruments. A Virtual Exhibition.