Is a typewriter a musical instrument? Depends on how you play it
April 14, 2018 7:31 AM   Subscribe

Old typewriters are noisy machines, but “one person’s noise is another person’s music,” as they say, and there have been people in the past who have taken the sounds of typewriters and made them part of musical compositions, including: Leroy Anderson, who wrote The Typewriter in 1950 (featuring a single typewriter, or many), which Liberace played on his TV show a time or two; Krzysztof Penderecki (previously) also composed pieces for the typewriter, as heard in his chaotic piece, Fluorescences; you can hear some typewriter percussion in The Lovin’ Spoonful's 1968 single “Money”; Dolly Parton was inspired by the sound her nails that sounded like a typewriter and used that in the theme to the movie 9 to 5; and then there's the Boston Typewriter Orchestra who really go all out.
posted by filthy light thief (24 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
China My China by Brian Eno has a worthy typewriter solo.
posted by parki at 8:28 AM on April 14 [7 favorites]


No love for Bollywood here? I was sure that Typewriter Tip Tip Tip was going to be on that list.
posted by seasparrow at 8:31 AM on April 14 [3 favorites]




I'll just leave Jerry Lewisright here...
posted by Quasimike at 8:41 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


One of my favorite memories from my time as a music major in college was the performance of "The Typewriter" at the weekly student recital series, featuring the secretary from the music department office. That was one very supportive, appreciative audience.
posted by fedward at 8:50 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Came here to mention both Eno and “Typrewriter Tip Tip tip,” v gratified to see my efforts thoroughly preëmpted.
posted by adamgreenfield at 9:02 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


I took three semesters of typing in Junior High, two on manual typewriters and one on electric. The sound of all those machines being worked at the same time at different rates never felt like noise to me. I knew about a couple of these musical pieces, but the others are new. Thanks for posting! (and commenting!)
posted by hippybear at 9:32 AM on April 14


If you're going to talk about using typewriters as musical instruments, I gotta shout out Marian Call.

Note: There are other songs [and better filmed videos] where she uses the typewriter more, I picked this one because she performed at CERN.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 10:09 AM on April 14 [5 favorites]


Surely we have not forgotten Tom Tom Club's Wordy Rappinghood?
posted by Naberius at 10:14 AM on April 14 [3 favorites]


The ballet "Parade" produced by the Ballet Russes (in Paris) in 1916 used a typewriter in the music by Eric Satie. Costumes by Picasso and Cocteau, it remains (in the rare contemporary production) really quite avant-guarde!
posted by sammyo at 11:02 AM on April 14


I took three semesters of typing in Junior High, two on manual typewriters and one on electric. The sound of all those machines being worked at the same time at different rates never felt like noise to me. I knew about a couple of these musical pieces, but the others are new. Thanks for posting! (and commenting!)

I did a semester both of touch typing and alphabetic shorthand. The typing has been more useful.

Those selectrics were engineering marvels. Of course IBM had been doing this for a long time ( 1963 )

Typewriter Rag on a 1403

How the IBM 1403 Printer Hammered Out 1,100 Lines Per Minute


Oh, and I found this old looking web-site http://ibm-1401.info/Movies-n-Sounds.html#Misc with links to all sorts of other things.
posted by mikelieman at 11:32 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


The typing has been more useful.

Oh good lord, yes. When I'm truly warmed up and "in the zone" I'm up around 150 wpm and typing is nearly like thinking for me.
posted by hippybear at 11:37 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


It's pretty good, but I prefer A Simple Text File
posted by lumpenprole at 12:16 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


A very listenable Lesson.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 12:17 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


Max Richter's Blue Notebooks incorporates some typewriter sounds, but he doesn't do much with them beyond accompaniment to Tilda Swinton's reading, iirc.

Related: Yoko Kanno's "FAX me" includes FAX machine and (computer) keyboard sounds in its composition, to great effect.
posted by Fish Sauce at 12:30 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


[The User]: Symphony #1 for Dot Matrix Printers is both enjoyable and impressive. Symphony #2 on YouTube.
posted by bouvin at 12:36 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Nobody ever made a typewriter as funky as Ron "Typewriter" Mingo.
posted by jonp72 at 1:03 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Stopped by to mention Down all the Days, by The Pogues.
"I type with me toes,
Suck stout through me nose,
And where it's gonna end,
God only knows."
posted by JonathanB at 1:12 PM on April 14


Stereo Total's Dactylo Rock aka Sekretarrinen Rock was always a typewriter / punctuation favorite.
posted by bartleby at 2:22 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


The percussion on Buddy Holly's "Everyday" (arguably the greatest song ever written) is Jerry Allison hitting a typewriter key.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:06 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


Everyday audio, for completeness - and thanks to everyone for these additions!
posted by filthy light thief at 7:18 PM on April 14


Oh good lord, yes. When I'm truly warmed up and "in the zone" I'm up around 150 wpm and typing is nearly like thinking for me.

Old people problems, but with my arthritis, I'm still able to mostly go at the speed of thought, however I do think in Perl.
posted by mikelieman at 8:03 PM on April 14


however I do think in Perl.

Oh dear god. Is there any foundation or charity to help you?
posted by hippybear at 8:11 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


Since this seems to the official compendium, Ramblin Jug Stompers' tapping out My Eggs Don't Taste the Same Without You.
posted by chocolatepeanutbuttercup at 6:17 AM on April 18


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