Great composers have always needed collaborators and interpreters of brilliance to bring their work into the real world. These are usually conductors and performers but the 'modern', electronic-influenced classical music of the mid-20th century required a technological element for presentation. Peter Lawo was among the engineers who helped realise the strange, different and difficult compositions of composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez and Luigi Nono.
Peter Lawo founded the company that bears his name in 1970 when he set up "an engineer's office" in Rastatt, Germany to develop electronic equipment. Stockhausen was among the first to use Lawo's services, specifying a device that became the Modul 69 B. This played a key role in the performance of Stockhausen's 1970 composition Mantra, which featured two ring-modulated pianos, chromatic crotales (antique cymbals), wood blocks and Morse code pulses produced from either a short-wave radio or a tape recording.
The Modul 69 B featured three microphone inputs controlled by regulating microphone amplifiers, plus a compressor, filters, sine wave generator and a sophisticated ring modulator. Mantra was a success and led to the formation of an experimental studio at German regional broadcaster SWR in 1971. Lawo worked there with the first director of this facility, composer and electro-acoustic pioneer Hanspeter Haller, on the Halaphon, (HAller-LAwo-PHON), a sound projector that could control rotational trajectories of sound in real-time.
Lawo's move into consoles began with the PTR, a hybrid desk with analogue signal processing and a digital, programmable controller. Designed for Stockhausen's 1991 work Oktophonie, it provided fast fader position recall. This experimentation influenced commercial products from the 90s onwards, starting with the digital, modular mc series. This led to mc² series of networked desks, initially using ATM.
As time and technology moved on Lawo the company, driven by the founder's son Philipp, has developed IP distribution and control systems for both audio and video. Which means the talent for innovation, if not genius, could be genetic.
Pictures: Top: Karlheinz Stockhausen using Lawo's early Modul 69 B. Second: Peter Lawo with the PTR. Last: The PTR in the Lawo factory today
Published earlier this year and sponsored by QSC Audio, Genius!2 is the second edition of Genius!, celebrating those clever people whose inventions have transformed the world of professional audio. The 30-page supplement is also available to read in a handy digital-edition form