This rhythmicon was commissioned by Charles E. Ives for Nicolas Slonimsky and Henry Cowell. In January of 1932, Ives wrote to Slonimsky about the Rhythmicon, saying,
I sent the remitted check to Mr. Theremin yesterday–and he's started the building. It will be yours and Henry's–I just want to help–and sit under its
shadow on a nice day.
This rhythmicon was first owned by Nicolas Slonimsky who later sold it to Joseph Schillinger. Schillinger's widow, Frances, donated it in 1966 to The Smithsonian.
Nicolas Slonimsky spoke of the two rhythmicons, saying,
I kept my Rhythmicon for some ten years and then sold it to Schillinger. Cowell's own Rhythmicon went to the New School for Social Research. Neither of the two instruments could be activated for a performance.
The instrument is in the National Museum of American History at The Smithsonian, in their offsite storage facility. It is not currently in working condition.
This instrument was the second rhythmicon built by Lev. The first machine which was larger and less mobile, eventually fell into disrepair years later and was destroyed, with Cowell's permission. In the same letter to Slonimsky, Ives wrote that
the second one would be nearer to an instrument, than a machine. There will be a These controls are two rheostats which can be seen protruding on the left side of the machine.
lever that can readily change the
tempo with pedals and also the
This instrument employs a scanning disc and optical sensors, not unlike the
Nipkow disc that was used in experimental television receivers at that time.
The Rhythmicon can be considered the world's first drum machine, predating the first commercially produced rhythm machine by almost 30 years. Two pieces were written for the rhythmicon: Rhythmicana (renamed Concerto for Rhythmicon and Orchestra) and the now lost Music for Violin and Rhythmicon.
The audio output section of the Rhythmicon uses a Victor 245 Amplifier, employing a type 80 rectifier, a type 26 preamplifier tube, and a pair of type 45 triode output tubes arranged in a push-pull configuration.