Mechanical Music Press, for all your large mechanical music machine information needs
August 26, 2012 8:13 AM   Subscribe

Mechanical Music Press is a resource for those interested in large mechanical music machines, and they're not just player pianos. The really interesting machines are generically called orchestrions, contraptions that are automated to play multiple instruments from some format of audio script, disc, pinned-barrel or music rolls. The three primary makers of multi-instrument playing machines as profiled on MMP are Hupfeld, Welte, and Wurlitzer / Philipps. Where MMP has detailed histories of the makers and the models, there are numerous videos of mechanical music machines in action on YouTube: Hupfeld Phonoliszt-Violina Model B | Welte style 4 orchestrion at Disneyland | Wurlitzer Pianorchestra 33-A | Ramey Banjo Orchestra, a new orchestrion styled after the original Banjorchestra. Bonus YT link: "Ghost Parade" performed by Joe Rinaudo at the American Photoplayer (prev.)
posted by filthy light thief (11 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
MMP is a maze of information, as the website is pseudo-dynamic, with the side bar changing according to the main article. For example, next to the main articles on the various makers, you'll see links to pages on specific models. And you'll find a LOT more information from the registry project, in which MMP is trying to track down existing large mechanical musical machines and provide some history about them, or at least their makers.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:17 AM on August 26, 2012

Two parting links: Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World Part 1 (Google books preview) has more individual articles on various instruments, starting with the barrel piano (Wikipedia).
posted by filthy light thief at 8:19 AM on August 26, 2012

There's some more downloadable orchestrion music at the Avant-garde Project.
posted by misteraitch at 8:25 AM on August 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

The original midi player.
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:40 AM on August 26, 2012

James Taylor's drum machine
posted by crunchland at 8:47 AM on August 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

James Taylor's drum machine

See also: Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny's Orchestrion (previously), which he took on tour.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:01 AM on August 26, 2012

These things are great fun to watch. They're marvels of obsolete engineering from an era when machines were entirely "human-readable" - you could grok how things worked by watching them. I think that's part of their fascination, the grokking process.

If you're in San Francisco, the Musée Méchanique has a bunch of orchestrions (I haven't been there since they moved to the pier but I think the collection is pretty good, unlike their website). And if you're very lucky you might get a special treat if you go on a SF City Guides tour called The Landmark Victorians of Alamo Square. (Free but donations are requested at the end.) Sometimes a gentleman who lives in one of the Victorian houses on the route invites a tour inside to see his mind-blowing restoration, which ends in the basement ballroom with his delightful collection of orchestrions. One of the neatest things I've ever done in San Francisco, and it was on my birthday too!
posted by Quietgal at 10:46 AM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

The House on the Rock in the Wisconsin Dells has a number of these machines (as well as a metric tonne of other interesting crap).
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:01 PM on August 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Hupfeld alone is astounding. But then I was one of those carillon-kids more interesting in the music-machine than in the horsey ups-and-downs.

Looking at these things always amazes with the tenacity required by the builders. The thousand-and-one details, and parts, the hundreds of failures and re-thinkings. All lost on the non-technical audience in those halcyon days of yore.
posted by Twang at 3:44 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Boy, was there a good museum of these mechanized wonders by the old Busch Stadium in St. Louis! I had plenty of time, waiting for World Series tickets in the late 60's, to spend there. From a simple glass-cased string quartet (the bows were replaced by rotating resin-coated felt, I think), to something like the combination piano/organ/percussion/bells & whistles kind of thing YouTubed at the end of this FPP: they had a couple of dozen of these labors of love of music. They didn't have jukeboxes a century ago, of course, although if a bar had something like this, it would thrill the shit out of most of us today.

Right now, we have ANY MUSIC WE WANT instantly piped into our auditory apparatus at the touch of a button, which is pretty fucking amazing, you gotta admit.
posted by kozad at 5:39 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

See also George Antheil Ballet Mecanique for excess machinery.
posted by BWA at 9:21 AM on August 27, 2012

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