The Lyricon is an analog electronic wind synthesizer made in the 1970's by Computone. These days a small amount of aficionados (such as me!) still own and play one of the three models.
Also check: http://lyricons.blogspot.com
The Original Lyricon Brochure
download here (8.1 MB)
I found my Lyricon I in 1999 in a junk store, and asked the inventor Bill Bernardi to repair it. He made a little time free and told me passionately the story of the invention and production. "I spent 5 years developing the instrument, I made 4 or 5 prototypes. I studied the acoustics of wind instruments, and made a sythesizer that works with additive synthesis to imitate the overtones. The transducer contains a membrane and a photo cell, which translate breath and attack into voltages. After the first Lyricon we got requests from players to simplify the synthesizer and add an extra oscillator, so they could play parallel intervals. So we developed the Lyricon II and the Wind Driver. The synthesizer in the Lyricon II is totally different and the Wind Driver has to be hooked up to an extern analog synthesizer. They were mass produced by Selmer. Of The Lyricon II 5000 pieces were produced. The Lyricon I was hand made, only about 300 of them were made. My favourite is still the Lyricon I, cause it has more control features and a better synthesiser."
Soon after the introduction various jazz and fusion musicians like Sonny Rollins, Roland Kirk, Wayne Shorter and Tom Scott started experimenting with it, not always with the most succesful artistic results. Bill Bernardi says: "Roland Kirk spent 12 days with me to learn the instrument. He drove up from NY with some other musicians. I made 2 consoles onto one body and mounted braille onto the keys. Beautiful guy. Stan Getz wanted me to give him one for free, but I refused. I felt he had just pay like everyone else..."
But there is also the sad story of how the factory had to close in 1980, because Yamaha started developing the WX7, a midi instrument, targeting to a bigger market. Bernardi: "Midi doesn't work very well with a wind instrument, because it's not precise enough." But Bernardi is waiting for his come back: "When I retire, I’m going to make a Lyricon III, using all the new technology available. I already have a prototype" he said, showing an abstract wooden saxophone shape. "I had a friend who’s a sculptor design the body. It’ll be amazing to be able to include presets and more up-to-date features. None of that existed when I made the first Lyricons."
The Lyricon is a beautifully made and fantastic sounding synthesizer (if in good shape!), with all the dynamics and accuracy of a saxophone or clarinet. It can produce fat and funky bass lines, whistling flute tones, dirty moog sounds and barely audible pitches with great dynamics. It has to be treated with love and care, since not all the parts are still available, and Bill Bernardi is practically the only one who can repair it. He says: "I tried at least a hundred different materials for the membrane of the transducer, to find the perfect one. Its not rubber, its some sort of fiber. When you dont play the Lyricon for a long time, the membrane gets hard and needs to be replaced. I have plenty of them, I stocked up for years on them. The photo cell is very hard to get too, they dont make them anymore, I bought all of the ones I could still find."
Bernardi seems happily surprised by the renewed attention for the Lyricon, which seems to come out of a retro seventies trend. "For years nobody was interested in the Lyricon but these days I get all the calls from Berklee kids who have a WX7 and an EWI, because Michael Brecker plays it. Theyve heard about the Lyricon and want to know what it is."
Update 2015: Sadly, in February 2014 Bill Bernardi passed away. I am now working with the Bernardi family to make a plan to continue Bill's legacy in the form of a lyricon repair service, and a website with information.
My Lyricon 1
My Lyricon Driver and the Cwejman S2 analog synthesizer. The S2 is an pre-patched analog synthesizer with CV inputs (NO MIDI INVOLVED!!), modified by Wowa Cwejman to work with the Driver. The Lyricon Driver's Wind output goes to extra added EG and VCA inputs on the Cwejman S2, the Lip output to the S2's Filter Cutoff, and the Bend Up (pitch) output to the S2's Tune input. But other connections are possible too.