Rolf Sudmann


Rolf Sudmann, born in 1961 in Bielefeld, Germany studied chemestry, physics, mathematics at Bielefeld University, music (piano and tuba) at Hochschule für Musik und Theater, Hannover, pedagogics and psychology at Bielefeld University. He worked as composer, pianist and performance artist in several national and international projects, movies and radio plays. In 1996 he started playing the theremin and other vintage electronic instruments.
He worked together with Michael Griener, Rudi Mahall,Axel Dörner Benny Bailey, Gerd Lisken, Jochen Bohnes, Pierre Dorge, Joe Sachse, Marty Cook, Laura Andel – Oli Bott Jazzorchestra, Die Kometen, Roland HH Biswurm (Das Seelenmargarine-Taxi), Work in Progress (synthesizer in Stockhausens Ylem), Antje Vowinckel, theremin-soloist in the premiere of Steffen Schleiermachers Concerto for Theremin and Symphony Orchestra, Jacques Remus (gesture controlled music at Exit-Festival, Paris/Maubeuge), German-Chinese projects with Xu Fengxia, Zhang Zhenfang, Li Jingxia, Wu Wei, Yu Jun, etc..


The Trautonium

The Trautonium was an important electronic musical instrument developed by the electrical engineer Freidrich Trautwein in Germany in 1930. Trautwein designed the first version of the instrument with the aim of freeing the performer from the restrictions of fixed (Piano) intonation. To achieve this, he removed the usual piano-style manual in his design and replaced it with a fingerboard consisting of a metal wire stretched over a rail, marked with a chromatic scale. By pressing the wire, the performer touches the rail below and completes a circuit generating a tone. A similar technique, copied by the Trautwein, was a feature of Bruno Hellberger’s Hellertion in 1929 and some time later in the Ondes Martenot.


The position of the player’s finger on the wire determines the resistance in the wire which in turn controls the pitch of the oscillator. This unusual approach allowed a great deal of expressive flexibility; by pressing harder on the wire, the player could subtly change the volume, and by moving the finger from side to side the instrument could produce violin like glissandi or more subtle vibrato effects. Overall volume was controlled by a foot-pedal allowing the performer to vary the volume and envelope of the notes.

The first Trautonium was a fairly simple monophonic vacuum tube ‘synthesiser’  generating sound from a single thyratron RK1 tube oscillator. However, by passing this tone through a series of resonant filters this simple sawtooth waveform could be coloured with a wide range of timbre characteristics. This unique form of subtractive synthesis (i.e. filtering down an existing complex waveform rather than creating a complex waveform from combinations of simple sine waves) produced a tone that was distinctive and unusual when compared to the rather plain sound of other valve instruments in the 1920-30’s.

The commercial version of the Trautonium or ‘Volkstrautonium’ was manufactured and marketed by Telefunken in 1932. But, probably due to the unpopularity of a new, somewhat complicated keyboard-less instrument and high purchase price (c400 Reichs Marks;  equivalent of two and a half months of a worker’s salary  or more than five times the price of radio), only around thirteen items were sold and by 1938 it was discontinued. Despite the lack of domestic commercial interest, a number of composers wrote works for the instrument including Paul Hindemith ( who, switching allegiances from Jörg Mager’s Sphäraphon, learnt to play the Trautonium)  ‘Concertina for Trautonium and Orchestra’ , Höffer, Genzmer, Julius Weismann and most notably Oskar Sala. Sala became a virtuoso on the machine and eventually took over the development of the Trautonium producing his own variations- the ‘Mixtur-Trautonium’, The ‘Concert-Trautonium’ and the ‘Radio – Trautonium’. After the commercial failure of the instrument Trautwein abandoned further development to Oskar Sala who continued to work with the Trautonium until his death in 2002. Trautwein also produced an ‘Amplified Harpsichord’ in 1936 and ‘Electronic Bells’ in 1947.