Stylophone: The Greatest Little [Musical] Instrument of the [Last] Century? *

The UCSD Arts Library presents an exhibit** of Stylophones on the lower level, West wing of Geisel Library at UCSD. Exhibit opens March 28th and closes April 30.

Opening event: Wednesday, March 28th at 12:30 p.m. features a premiere of new works for Stylophone by composer Pea Hicks. Additional event: Sunday, April 15th, 2:30 p.m., features a premiere of a new work for multiple Stylophones by composer Scott Paulson.

About the Stylophone:

In 2002, David Bowie made a surprising Stylophone confession: “It’s the only instrument I take on holiday with me to compose on.” In fact, David Bowie’s 1969 album “Space Oddity” was composed entirely on a Stylophone. The small British company that manufactured the instrument (Dubreq) was surprised to hear this news, as they had invented and marketed the instrument merely as a musical toy.

Invented in 1967. the Stylophone is a pocket electronic musical synthesizer. Originally invented by Brian Jarvis as a toy and made available to the general public in 1968, the little instrument was presented as a novelty electronic organ with an iconic transistor radio look… A small pen (or stylus) was attached to the unit, and touching the metal tip of the stylus upon the engraving of a flat piano-like keyboard allowed single notes to be played. The limited aspects of this single note action made the Stylophone a popular musical toy for amateurs.

Its pocket size and cheap price also made the Stylophone a handy extra tool for experimental musicians of the late 1960’s (as with David Bowie’s 1969 album “Space Oddity”) and through the early 1980’s (as heard in Kraftwerk’s 1981 “Pocket Calculator”.)

A 1968 British television show hosted by novelty songwriter Rolf Harris was the launching pad for introducing the instrument to the public. Harris’ image was often featured on the packaging that one received after placing a mail-order for the instrument. The earliest models had no volume control, a flaw that was later addressed. In 2007 the Stylophone was re-launched by Ben Jarvis, the son of Brian Jarvis, the original inventor. The retro-look of the instrument is intact, as well as the simple, charming, naïve functions.

 Read more at The Reader Online!

* no, the Stylophone is probably not the world’s greatest little musical instrument, but it has a lot of charm in small doses.

** Our exhibit of Stylophones contains items from the Stylophone collections of Sean Ryan (UCSD graduate student), Pea Hicks (composer and UCLA alumnus) and Scott Paulson (UCSD alumnus and outreach coordinator of the UCSD Arts Library).

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