Oskar Sala: why Google honors him today | News Arts and Culture

Electronic music composer and innovative physicist Oskar Sala would have celebrated his 112th birthday on Monday.

The German is hailed for producing sound effects on a musical instrument called a trautonium mix that transformed the world of radio, film and television.

On Monday, Google changes its logo in 27 countries to a doodle, or illustration, in his honor.

Here is his story:

Early life

Sala was born in Greiz, Germany in 1910. Since birth he was surrounded by music. Her mother was a singer and her father was an ophthalmologist with musical talent.

Sala studied piano and organ at an early age. As a teenager, he started giving classical piano concerts and creating compositions and songs.

At the age of 19, Sala moved to Berlin to study piano and composition with violinist Paul Hindemith.

There he was introduced to the work of Friedrich Trautwein, an engineer credited with developing one of the first electronic musical instruments, the trautonium, an instrument whose sound produces an electronic pulse which is converted into sound by a loudspeaker. .

The instrument can sound like a violin, oboe or siren and can produce vocal sounds. Sala quickly became fascinated by the possibilities of this invention.


Sala focused on the mastery of trautonium and its further development, which later inspired his studies. Additionally, he took part in public performances and toured throughout Germany to introduce the instrument to others.

Sala entered the University of Berlin to study physics in 1932 to further his research, focusing on expanding his knowledge of mathematics and the natural sciences.

As a result, he helped develop volkstrautonium, a popular trautonium produced by Telefunken, a German radio and television company.

During Nazi Germany, electronic music was banned. However, Trautwein managed to meet Josef Goebbels, the propaganda minister, where Sala played the instrument.

Nazi authorities approved of his work and let him continue.

A man playing a trautonium, an electrically powered keyboard instrument that produces the sounds of a variety of instruments by producing variations in pitch and tone through electronic waves.  (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
A man playing a trautonium, an electrically powered keyboard instrument that emits the sounds of a variety of instruments by producing variations in pitch and tone through electronic waves [File: Hulton-Deutsch/Getty Images]

Trautonium mix

In 1935 Sala developed a new trautonium, and three years later a radio-traautonium which was a portable model for live performance.

At the age of 34, Sala was called to war on the Eastern Front, where he was wounded, forcing him to convalesce for most of the campaign. Then, in 1946, after the end of the Second World War, Sala, 36, returned to his laboratory in Berlin.

And two years later he started working on his latest invention, the trautonium mix – a polyphonic version of the original instrument. His invention was presented to the public at the end of 1952.

Sala then built a large version of his instrument, and in 1958 he established his studio within the German film company Mars Film. He began working in the production of electronic soundtracks, including Different from You and Me by Veit Harlan and Rosemary by Rolf Thiele. However, his best known film is The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock.

In this film, with his instrument, the musician creates noises such as the cries of birds, hammering and the slamming of doors and windows.

Sala went on to work for over 400 films. He was awarded the Filmband in Gold for his work on the soundtrack and also honored with the Cross of Merit for a Lifetime in Music.

In 1995 Sala made his instrument available to the German Museum of Contemporary Technology on permanent loan, and five years later, at the age of 85, he donated his estate to the museum.

Sala died on February 26, 2002 in Berlin at the age of 92.

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