The Lyricon Electronic Wind Instrument,

April 14, 2010  |  Lyricon

The Lyricon is an electronic wind instrument, the first wind controller to be constructed.

Invented by Bill Bernardi (and co-engineered by Roger Noble and with former Lyricon performer Chuck Greenberg[1][2]), it was manufactured by a company called Computone Inc in Massachusetts. The Lyricon was available in two different designs, the first one being somewhat silver and resembling a soprano saxophone and the latter, black and resembling an alto clarinet. Using a form of additive synthesis, the player was allowed to change between types of overtones with a key switchable between fundamentals of G, B♭, C, E♭, and F (which meant that the instrument could be used to play transposed parts written for saxophones, trumpets, etc.) and an octave range that could be switched between low, medium, or high. The instrument also had controls for glissando, portamento, and “timbre attack” (a type of chorusing). The Lyricon used a bass clarinet mouthpiece, with a sprung metal sensor on the (non-vibrating) reed that detected lip pressure. Wind pressure was detected by a diaphragm, which moved and changed the light output from an LED, which was in turn sensed by a photocell to give dynamic control.

Two additional re-modelled Lyricons were engineered later. First the “Wind Synthesizer Driver”, which had control voltage outputs for lip pressure, wind pressure and pitch, to control the VCA and VCF and pitch of an external analog synthesizer. Then the “Lyricon II” was engineered, which included a two-oscillator synthesiser. All the Lyricons used the same saxophone style fingering system, with two octave keys above the left-hand thumb rest. The Wind Synthesizer Driver and the Lyricon II also had a transposition footswitch feature, where a foot pedal could be used to transpose the entire range up or down one octave. None of the Lyricons was engineered to use MIDI (which was invented after Computone went out of business in 1980), although external MIDIfication modules were produced by JL Cooper and STEIM.

The design of the Lyricon controller was later borrowed to form the basis for Yamaha’s Yamaha WX-series MIDI wind controllers.