20080312

The Stylophone



In 1981, Kraftwerk used the Stylophone to perform the track "Pocket Calculator". The Stylophone is a simple, battery operated instrument - you play it by touching it's metal keyboard with a stylus, thereby closing a circuit and generating sound. The device, marketed as a 'pocket electronic organ', was created already in 1967 by Dübrec, a british company. Dübrec closed down in the early eighties. By then, around 3 million Stylophones had been sold, mostly through toy stores.

The inventor of the Stylophone was Brian Jarvis, and his colleagues in Dübreq were Burt Coleman (managing director), and Ted Coleman (brother to Burt; artwork and finances). Dübreq got it's name from their original line of business, to dub and record movie sound tracks. I assume the umlauts and the "q" were added to create a certain "continental Europe" mystique.



The company employed australian musician/artist/comedian/childrens entertainer Rolf Harris (go here to see his Stylophone orchestra) to promote the invention. This rather funny quote from the now defunct "Stylophone Collectors Website" serves well the purpose of explaining his impact:

It almost seemed too good that such a person was around at the time the Stylophone was conceived, just imagine how it would have faired if Dübreq asked the Manic Street Preachers to promote the Stylophone, or maybe Nirvana, or even The Spice Girls. No one today has the sort of universal appeal that could sell millions of Stylophones to the kids of the world.
Since october 2007, the Stylophone is once again manufactured and available for purchase. The current product is a slightly updated version of the original, basic model. In addition to the On/Off, Vibrato and Pitch controls, the new version features three different sounds (instead of one), a volume control, and an mp3 input, that allows you the pleasure of playing along with your favorite songs.

I actually bought one last week for about £15, and it is quite enjoyable. Here it is! Look at it shine there, above my brothers rather murky carpeting.



While on the subject, you need to take a look at this video recording of Kraftwerk playing "Pocket Calculator" live in 1981. Check out the Stylophone action! Karl Bartos, the second person from the left, is handling it like there's no tomorrow. Also, don't miss Florian Schneider's vowel face action towards the end.



Related: Kraftwerks future live setup.

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