Sunday, December 8, 2013
Here it is, the musicianless musical instrument: an auto-eroticon, if you will, self-stroking or pounding. These all seem to have clever, if fusty-sounding names like maestoso and orchestrion and hark back to a time when people wanted to hear something musical without bothering to hire one of those sloppy, usually inebriated boors who knew how to play.
And so, an art form was born, melding the technology of automata (first built in the medieval era, with a very few, very freaky surviving examples) with things like organ pipes and drums. The mechanics of these things, sometimes visible like sewing machine workings, are truly incredible. Somebody must have worked it out. Restoring them was a process in itself, kind of like working on a '61 T-bird on the weekends.Where they would get the parts, I don't know.
The videos I've posted today are things I found years ago, then lost (couldn't find the name of the place anywhere, then when I randomly hit on it, 71 videos jumped out at me). They're taken at a place called the Siegfried Mechanical Musical Cabinet Museum in Rudesheim, which is in either Germany or Switzerland depending on your bias. The contraptions have a mildly Bavarian flavor to them, most of them, and some of their heartily Germanic ha-ha-ha anthems are so hearty they are personally disturbing.
I can see these things loaded on circus wagons or in the village square to celebrate an execution or something (because people really did - my parents told me once that it was considered festive in their day to go see a hanging). They were a way to bring people together to hear some truly hideous music, without having to pay anybody to play it. Does it get any better than that?
This is the sound of an orchestrion, one of those cleverly-named self-playing musical instruments at the Siegfried Museum. When I first heard it, I just thought it was weird, then realized it was a meld of at least four sounds: the orchestrion, a mechanical bird chirping insanely, someone ringing an obnoxious bell, and a guy yelling loudly in German. (Did anyone ever yell softly in German?) I was a little disappointed the orchestrion didn't have a "guy yelling loudly in German" setting. But it could have. Who knows.
(Post-blog observations. Watching this thing a little more closely, I notice something going on that reminds me of the Beer Hall Putsch. The place is stuffed with Germans, most of them having some sort of Oktoberfest celebration with beer and bratwurst. If you look carefully on the left, there is a man wearing a military beret. Something odd going on here. And why on earth does this Orgasmatron or whatever-it-is have a big mirror on the front of it? You could take selfies that way, of course, in the good old-fashioned way.)
This is an old, old computer run by a sewing machine engine. It plays some sort of tune, a mystery, maybe like HAL in 2001 singing "Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do".
(We won't talk about the guy pedalling this thing. He's out of sight. You don't want to see it.)
Post-blog observation: why are there venetian blinds on this thing? The possibilities are just too bizarre.
This is just so vulgar and terrifying, I had to share it with you today. It seems to grin at us like some twisted corpse, rattling and banging as it tries to decide what the tune is. There isn't one, and we have to listen for two whole minutes to find that out.