Carlo de Wijs

World of Hammond organ




The micro dynamics of musical innovation: history and the future of the Hammond organ


This might come as a surprise, but in this research the central focus will be on the Hammond organ.

The Hammond organ has enriched the musical culture with both the instrument itself and its sound. It has known periods of prosperity and decline. The history, current revival and today’s innovations are going to be studied in collaboration with scientists and musicians.

The historical research will capture the past by reconstructing the cultural and technological biography of the Hammond organ. Despite the obvious artistic and technical significance of the Hammond organ there has been done little or no systematic research on the instrument and sound.

In addition to the historical research, I will enter the studio for laboratory sessions: the innovation part. During these sessions the actor network around the Hammond organ will be analysed to see how it functions in the current practice*. Professional musicians and music students will jointly explore the interaction between the instrument and new technologies, develop new playing styles and also examine whether and how the innovations can be used in other art practices.

The combination of historical analysis and the concrete practice of the music is expected to yield important scientific and immediately applicable insights on the micro dynamics of innovation.

* The actor network theory of Latour and the social shaping approach of Science and Technology Studies apply here as the main theoretical power.


Research Questions

During the research a couple of questions will be answered:

  • What was the role of the individual, social, technical, economic or other actors in the fractures in the history of the Hammond organ? 

Non-human actors such as technology and sound will be included here. 

  • Which interactions between these actors can be observed in a series of laboratory sessions with the Hammond organ? 

Students, professionals, educational partners and the creative industries will explore the capabilities of the renewed instrument in this phase.

  • Which changes and continuity can be identified based on the biography and laboratory sessions in the micro dynamics of the Hammond innovation?

Actor Network Hammond

The schematic representation of the ANT model applies to both the biography and the lab sessions. One lab series consist of five sessions with a constant actor and changing actors. The first series will look like the following:

The Actor Network Theory model as used in the first chapter of my PhD

The Actor Network Theory model as used in the first chapter of my PhD

  • A group of people (musicians, composers, producers, technicians) will interact with another part of the network. 

  • Matter is about the physical instrument, playing techniques and body coordination.

  • Analog and digital technology: comparing the seemingly imperfection of the original analog instrument with expected perfect digital derivatives and the impact this has on playing techniques.

  • Sound and performance: working in various areas like studio and live, experiment with sound manipulation and interdisciplinarities.

  • Production and regulation are about the costs, durability and the role of the industry.

A second series of labs keeps another actor constant and interacts with the other elements.

Relevance of the research

Short- and long-term

The research will be of relevance to society, science and education. The social contribution concerns the continuation of the tradition of the instrument in music practice by building a complete prototype of a new Hammond instrument. The development of this prototype is in process. It also concerns the interaction that occurs in the lab sessions between professional and student musicians, the expansion into new artistic practices, new market applications and a wider creative industry, and the formation of an international Hammond-community. I have already begun the where classics, inspiring and different examples of use of the Hammond were recorded live and on audio media. This Hammond tradition gets a new impulse that not only exists in the form of a revival, but also inspires young performers and new genres. This social contribution is notably established through interaction with the teaching practice and the development of educational materials.

         The revenues for educational practice are diverse and directly. First of all will the results of the research and the lab sessions integrate into my teaching as new lecture content. Secondly, the lab sessions with multiple participants will include students who follow the major Keyboards at Codarts conservatory. Their contribution will both expand their professional network and contribute to their artistic training. Lastly the basis of the research will also function as basis for the development of new teaching and educational material. This will be usefull for other art schools and can be deployed in the new initiatives of online & blended learning and the development of Music Moocs. The research and implementation of the results are expected to lead to an innovative European Academy for the Hammond practice and education. 


This research is made possible by the NWO, Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research and started on April 2016.