The first mass produced synth based on a breath controller.  It was developed by a Massachusetts company named Computone, which also manufactured some units itself, but some were licensed to and produced by the Selmer company.  The Lyricon was produced between about 1974 and 1980, in three versions.  Given the technology of the time, the Lyricon was a significant technical triumph, and its technology was widely used in later products from other manufacturers. 

All Lyricons used a controller that physically was the approximate size and shape of a clarinet, but had a "valve" fingering setup similar to a saxophone.  Operating the valves (which didn't actually admit or release air) determined the pitch of the played note.  An air passage that vented through a metered orifice had a pressure-sensing diaphragm that produced a control voltage proportional to how hard the performer blew.  An additional control voltage could be generated depending on how tight or loose the "embouchure" was; that is, how hard the performer's lips pressed on the (non-vibrating) mouthpiece reed.  The controller produced no sound of its own.

The Lyricon IEdit

This model consisted of the controller packaged with a synth having an unusual architecture based on a type of additive synthesis.  A "fundamentals" section produced five fairly pure harmonic tones whose level coudl be varied and controlled by the wind pressure.  A "wind" section generated additional overtone and noise to simulate typical brass tones, and a "reed" section generated a filtered pulse wave to add reed-like tones.  The pressure signal controlled the VCA directly; there was no envelope generator other than an attack-release unit tied to the filter.  Transpose switches allowed the unit to be set so as to play in the range of various wind instruments.  The reed pressure could be routed to control the volume of the reed-section sound, or to produce pitch bends (which the panel labeled "glissando"). 

This model excelled in imitative synthesis of brass and wind instruments; it was renown for its ability to simulate trumpets, flutes, and soprano and alto saxophones.  It also was capable of unusual and surprising bass tones, as well as some unusual and unnatural timbres; unfortunately, few players explored this aspect of the synth. 

The Lyricon IIEdit

This used the same controller as the Lyricon I, but the synth engine was a far more typical analog subtractive synth, with two VCOs, a VCF, a LFO, and VCA.  As on the Lricon I, the VCA was controlled directly by the wind pressure instead of being driven by an envelope generator. 

The Lyricon DriverEdit

This model had no synth engine; instead it had interface circuitry that supplied a CV/Gate interface to drive an external synth.  The wind pressure and reed pressure were available at the outputs as additional control voltages.  The interface could also produce additional signals that corresponded to certain individual valves or valve combinations, allowing the possibility of a connected synth doing something different when the performer used an alternate fingering.


No Lyricons were ever produced with MIDI, being that the time frame was prior to MIDI's invention.  The JL Cooper company produced in the early 1980s a MIDI retrofit for the Lyricon.

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