Astounding History of Science auction


I don’t recall hearing of the _ Helmholtz Sound Synthesizer_ before, but am glad for the excuse to look it up today.

Has anybody found real audio of it working (or mal-working)? I could only locate a flash-based simulator. :-(

The leaded glass viewport. Waaaaaaaaaaaant!!!

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They should probably have a grounding strap on that thing – I think that those windows can build up a pretty impressive charge over time.

I have long cherished my copy of Helmholtz’s book ‘On the sensations of tone’ in which he ran the experiments this was based on. I can’t find this device in the book’s illustrations, but there are pieces illustrated that are similar. This was essentially a demonstration of the effectiveness of fourier analysis–composing sounds out of mixtures of pure sinewaves produced by amplified tuning forks. He showed that proper combinations of tuning forks could produce voice-like sounds. I pored over the auction hoping one of his tachistiscopic devices would be there and i’d be able to see a photo. In the 1880s, he achieved control on the order of 1/10 of a millisecond over visual presentation times with mechanical devices made of wood and brass. Nowadays, we are lucky to get control 100 times less precise (10+ms on modern computers.)

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