Hugh Le Caine at the Sackbut
Photograph © Canadian Electrical Engineering Division
Alcides Lanza explaining the work of Hugh Le Caine (April 6, 2004).
At the Hugh Le Caine collection, Museum of Science and Technology, Ottawa, Canada.
“Vascillating between music and physics, the former became the all-consuming interest of his life. With the invention of the electronic Sackbut in 1945, Hugh LeCaine opened the era of electronic music (the more widely-accepted advent of this music occurred three years later when the French engineer / composer Pierre Schaeffer recorded street sounds in Paris, combining them in various ways to form his “musique concrete”). The original Sackbut was the earliest form of the slide trumpet derived from the Roman buccina, which afterwards developed into the trombone. Although LeCaine’s work on the instrument began at home, NRC entered the picture in 1954, supporting it as a form of communication between scientists and artists.
“My primary concern,” Hugh once said, “was making an electronic instrument that was musically expressive.” The problem, he felt, lay in the cold, mechanical sounds of available electronic instruments. LeCaine’s answer was the construction of an extremely sensitive instrument which, unlike other keyboard instruments, could slur and slide from note to note, producing continuously variable sounds with an additional capacity for making constant tone, color and pitch adjustments. Musicians who have played it, maintain that its best feature is the way a note can be made louder by pressing a key harder or to waiver with a sideward movement of the finger; and it is adaptable to every kind of music. “