-What is a Lyricon? The Lyricon is an analog electronic wind synthesizer. The Lyricon was invented by Bill Bernardi and Roger Noble of Computone Inc, in Massachussetts in the early 1970's. Three models were built: The original Lyricon I (additive synthesis, one oscillator split into different overtones), the Lyricon Driver (to be connected to an external analog synthesizer through Control Voltages), and the Lyricon II (with two oscillators, filter and LFO). No MIDI functionality was added, because MIDI didn't exist yet. Later MIDIfication modules were developed by JL Cooper and STEIM, but never worked very well. Of the Lyricon I, about 200 units were hand made, and about 2000 units of the Driver and the Lyricon II were manufactured by Selmer.

-Why is the Lyricon such an expressive instrument? The Lyricon reacts to wind pressure (the harder you blow, the louder the sound), lip pressure (for pitch bend and vibrato) and of course to changes in pitch by fingering. The body is modeled after the fingerings of the saxophone, with a few clarinet-like keys, and two octave keys (additional octave up and down switches are available through a foot pedal). Some people call it the synthesizer that is closest to the human body, because of these three control parameters (most keyboards only have two), and because of the fact that it works with (continuous) control voltages, rather than MIDI. The MIDI protocol works in small steps (zeros and ones), resulting in less fluent controls for wind and lip.

-How is it different from the EWI or WX7? Don't confuse the Lyricon with either the EWI (made by Akai) or the Yamaha WX5 or WX7. These are MIDI-based electronic wind instruments, invented after the Lyricon, capable of doing very different things (such as sounding like a string orchestra or drum machine). The MIDI-based Yamaha WX7 was modeled after the design of the Lyricon, which is one of the reasons the Lyricon lost in the small market of wind synthesizers in the 1980’s.

-What is the difference between the Lyricon I and the Lyricon II or Lyricon Wind Driver? Originally, when Bernardi invented the Lyricon I he modeled the control voltages for pitch after the overtone series, which meant an exponential increase of voltage for each octave. But other analog (modular) synth manufacturers such as Moog, ARP and Oberheim used a linear approach of 1 volt per octave. Bernardi received many requests to make the Lyricon compatible with other analog synths. Thus he invented the Lyricon Driver, which could be paired with these synths, and later the Lyricon II, which had it’s own two-oscillator analog synth built in. So the Lyricon I is NOT compatible with the Driver and the Lyricon II, and can NOT be used in conjunction with other analog synths. Only the Lyricon Wind Driver and the Lyricon II are. More on analog synths and the Lyricon below.

-Where can I buy a Lyricon? They are hard to find, but sometimes they show up on Ebay. The majority of them don't work very well anymore, so beware!! A Lyricon in questionable shape (needs repair) can go up to $750, a working Lyricon I could go up to $2500, a working Lyricon II or Driver between $500 and $2000 or so. In many cases the owner does not know if the instrument is still working properly or not. If you have one for sale or are seriously looking for one, please post a comment below to the Marketplace post.

-My Lyricon produces a constant sound, regardless if I blow into it, or turn the threshold knob. What's wrong? Most Lyricons that haven't been played for a few years, don't function well anymore. The membrane in the transducer gets hard, and the Lyricon doesn't respond to wind pressure anymore. The Lyricon will produce a constant sound, and upon blowing into it, the volume won't change. This is bad news, the membrane needs to be replaced, a time consuming and tedious repair job. Especially the Lyricon I has fragile 1970's style electronics inside, that can have a temperament...

-Where can I get my Lyricon repaired? Up to a few years ago, the only person who could rally repair them was the inventor himself: Bill Bernardi. But unfortunately Bill passed away in February 2014. Lyricon player Jorrit Dijkstra and electronic technician David O’Brien are helping the Bernardi family to continue the Lyricon legacy, and to set up a small repair business. The Bernardi family has given David exclusive access to Bill’s archive of documentation and spare parts. Please contact David O’Brien (see link on right) if you want your Lyricon repaired. Please contact Jorrit Dijkstra for questions about the Lyricon history and for musical questions on how to use the Lyricon.

-How can I hook up my Lyricon to the Eurorack system of modular synths? The Lyricon Wind Driver has outputs for Pitch, Wind and Lip control voltages, as well as a Gate signal, which can be plugged directly into Eurorack synth modules. However, David O’Brien is also working on a Eurorack interface between the Lyricon II/Driver body and the Eurorack system of analog synthesis, which eliminates the use of the Lyricon Wind Driver and Lyricon II case. Please contact him for more details on this module if you are interested.

-More on Eurorack modules and the Lyricon: These days a wide range of small boutique analog synth companies are building a great collection of very interesting analog synth modules, that can be used in conjunction with the Lyricon. To get a very basic setup you only need one or two VCOs, a filter, a VCA module and an output module. Additional modules such as LFO, wave shaper, ring modulator can be added for more sound options. There is no need for an envelope generator, because the Wind signal is already a modulation source (envelope) that can shape the amplifier through an VCA module. The Lip signal can be used to shape the filter, the LFO rate, or various other modulation parameters. A great resource for modular synths is http://www.modulargrid.net