A synthesizer (often abbreviated as synth) is an electronic musical instrument that generates electric signals that are converted to sound through instrument amplifiers and loudspeakers or headphones. Synthesizers may either imitate traditional musical instruments like piano, Hammond organ, flute, vocals; natural sounds like ocean waves, etc.; or generate novel electronic timbres. They are often played with a musical keyboard, but they can be controlled via a variety of other input devices, including music sequencers, instrument controllers, fingerboards, guitar synthesizers, wind controllers, and electronic drums. Synthesizers without built-in controllers are often called sound modules, and are controlled via USB, MIDI or CV/gate using a controller device, often a MIDI keyboard or other controller.
The RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer (nicknamed Victor) featured here was the first programmable electronic synthesizer and the flagship piece of equipment at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. Designed by Herbert Belar and Harry Olson at RCA, it was installed at Columbia University in 1957. Consisting of a room-sized array of interconnected sound synthesis components, much of the design of the machine was contributed by Vladimir Ussachevsky and Peter Mauzey. The Mark II gave the user more flexibility and had twice the tone oscillators of its predecessor, the Mark I. The synthesizer was funded with a large grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.
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