Mechanical Music-Hall

Today, Sat­ur­day Novem­ber 20, we present a var­ied pro­gramme of music from, on, and some­times by, machines.

And we mean musi­cal machines in the broad­est sense, from glass har­mon­i­cas, Vic­to­ri­an musi­cal box­es and the mighty Sym­pho­nion, to steam organs, pianolas and bar­rel pianos on the one hand, but touch­ing the capa­bil­i­ties of ear­ly com­put­ers and syn­the­sis­ers on the other.

And don’t miss anoth­er chance to hear the lat­est episode of “Where Have You Been? in which Cale­do­nia and Elrik dis­cuss two fas­ci­nat­ing art gal­leries in Sec­ond Life.

Includ­ed in the pro­gramme today, we will be fea­tur­ing a col­lec­tion of piano rolls from the ear­ly 1920s, along with some of the music that would have been heard in the bars and speakeasies of the peri­od, on instru­ments like the Wurl­itzer Organette (which com­bined organ pipes with a play­er piano).

How­ev­er, despite the inclu­sion of some music from elec­tron­ic instru­ments, this is not a pro­gramme of clas­sic elec­tron­i­ca — although there is some — and a fair amount of the mate­r­i­al is in a fair­ly tra­di­tion­al vein, includ­ing record­ings of mechan­i­cal instru­ments of the Vic­to­ri­an era that might have been heard in the par­lour, pub­lic house or at the fair­ground. There are, how­ev­er, good exam­ples of classic(al) synth per­for­mances from Isao Tomi­ta and Wendy Car­los, includ­ing some nar­ra­tive descrip­tions of the lat­ter’s ear­ly exper­i­ments with the medium.

On a (much) lighter note there are elec­tron­ic pieces in a Vic­to­ri­an style from Mag­natune artist Pro­fes­sor Arm­chair, and elec­tron­ic whim­sy from Jean-Jacques Per­rey, long-time col­lab­o­ra­tor with Ger­shon Kings­ley on some of the ear­li­est syn­the­sis­er albums over half a cen­tu­ry ago (yes, it’s real­ly that long).

There is also some of the first “com­put­er music” ever record­ed, cre­at­ed by pro­gram­ming an IBM 7090 and includ­ing a ren­di­tion of Daisy, Daisy that was the inspi­ra­tion for the piece appear­ing in Stan­ley Kubrick­’s film 2001.

Pic­tured: Main: Play­er at the Tel­har­mo­ni­um’s keyboard(s). Above right: The cov­er of Sci­en­tif­ic American’s March 9, 1907 issue, which includ­ed a piece on the tel­har­mo­ni­um. (Image:; Read about the Tel­har­mo­ni­um in Wikipedia. The Tel­har­mo­ni­um was pos­si­bly the world’s first elec­tron­ic instru­ment. No record­ings exist.