Japanese Music Sirens
January 25, 2023 3:22 PM   Subscribe

A lengthy post at airRaidSirens.net details the mechanical Yamaha Music Sirens of Japan. These can be played with a keyboard, but sadness: "some were being removed or are going to run until they die and will not be repaired." And if they're replaced, it will naturally be with something electronic. They play familiar old tunes which signal the start of a factory's working day, etc. There's a link to a playlist embedded in the article.

If you're like me (and of course you're not) you first learned about building mechanical sirens in
Oliver Sounds Off. More recently, among the many plans available online, the Science Buddies at Scientific American posted Building a Disk Siren powered by an electric drill, and describes how to make it wail.
posted by Rash (22 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
I stumbled-across airraidsirens.net ages-upon-ages ago, and love that it’s still going well. That kind of thing was what made the early web so fun.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:38 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]

Wow, the music in the YouTube playlist is really affecting, especially knowing that some are the final performances of some of the sirens. The sound as the sirens spin up before and spin down after the performance is also really haunting.
posted by zsazsa at 4:33 PM on January 25

These are pretty cool, but I've also seen videos of them playing at times that seem to be fairly late at night, and I'm sure I'd hate to live anywhere near them.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:40 PM on January 25

Yeah me too, interesting the first time and maybe the second, but every day? STFU!
posted by Rash at 6:26 PM on January 25 [1 favorite]

In Okayama Prefecture, residents actually asked for the siren to be brought back when it was first shut down:

Due to the aging of the first generation (talked about above this section), it was updated to the 2nd generation music siren in 1991, but it was discontinued in March 1999 due to the lack of need for time reporting. However, because they did not provide a wide notice in advance, the surrounding residents contacted the prefecture, and the prefecture conducted a questionnaire to the residents. As a result, about 70% wanted it to be revived, so it resumed in July of the same year.

It kept playing for another 16 years until finally it gave out due to a lack of available maintenance parts and service.

Listening to the first three videos in the playlist, I can see why people missed it.
posted by chrominance at 6:34 PM on January 25

(though to be fair, maybe the 30% against were all the people who lived next door to the siren)
posted by chrominance at 6:35 PM on January 25

This is a glorious intersection of a handful of things I love- single purpose websites, carillons, ballpark organs, music boxes, analog automation, air raid sirens, ambient noise, infrastructure, and urban decay. Thank you, friend.
posted by zamboni at 6:35 PM on January 25 [4 favorites]

Sitting here in Scotland and clicking on a video of a Japanese air raid siren, I was not expecting something so tuneful, and least of all was I expecting its final performance to be a rather poignant sunset rendition of Auld Lang Syne.

What remarkable machines.
posted by automatronic at 7:08 PM on January 25 [5 favorites]

Anyone else flashback to Isao Tomita's album Snowflakes Are Falling while listening to that playlist?
posted by jabah at 7:58 PM on January 25

I love this deep-dive. I hope someone can preserve at least some of those sirens for posterity.

And I am glad I've never lived near anything that loud, even if it was that beautiful sounding.
posted by not_on_display at 7:58 PM on January 25

This is the most Music Tapes shit ever, and I bet Julian Koster has already been touring Japan recording a whole album on these
posted by scruss at 8:21 PM on January 25

Whoa, these are very cool. Nowadays, Japanese PA systems tend to be a lot less analog, and a lot of cities will play some sort of song at noon or whatever, based on a legal requirement to do regular testing (although for whatever reason, here in northeastern Kyoto, they only test the sirens at 9:00 in the morning on the first of each month). As a result, the noon chimes/songs/whatever (or sometimes at other times of day too, like maybe also at 5:00 p.m. or something) have become a really iconic part of the rural Japanese environment in particular. In fact, Pikmin contains a nod to this, with the sounds that indicate certain hours of the day.

What a unique and remarkable sound these make.
posted by DoctorFedora at 10:26 PM on January 25

The contrast between the barely audible chromatic mash as the beasts spin up and down and the sweetly gigantic harmonica tones they make as they play is really striking.
posted by flabdablet at 4:20 AM on January 26

I have a feeling that, like trains, roosters, and church bells, you just get used to them and stop noticing them, except for a jolt of emptiness when they’re gone
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:47 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]

That timbre is haunting and beautiful at the same time.

And, if you missed it last year, this video of multiple tornado sirens harmonizing is beautiful as well.
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:34 AM on January 26 [5 favorites]

The harmonising tornado sirens just make me expect the Edge to come in with the guitar riff.
posted by automatronic at 2:01 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]

"Four Tornado Sirens Harmonizing (Official Music Video)": six-minute intro of shaky docu-cam behind-the-scenes shots of the tornado sirens getting ready to go off on neighborhood roof tops
posted by tigrrrlily at 7:46 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]

"Four Tornado Sirens Harmonizing (Live)": the tornado sirens go off for three minutes straight whilst sillhouetted against a red background. In later years, technology enables the background to change.
posted by automatronic at 6:41 PM on January 27

Anyone else flashback to Isao Tomita's album Snowflakes Are Falling while listening to that playlist?

As a matter of fact, yes, jabah -‌- the second recording is Debussey's "Girl With The Flaxon Hair" which is on that record.
posted by Rash at 11:17 AM on January 28

So you're saying it's a flaxon klaxon?
posted by flabdablet at 4:01 PM on January 28

This is so cool!
posted by mathiu at 3:18 AM on January 30

I made a downloadable MP3 compilation (link goes to a ZIP-file) of the Youtube playlist (linked above) - for your listening pleasure.

I had that on repeat for the day now and It's an extremely calming background menagerie of sounds for work.
posted by mathiu at 5:10 AM on January 30 [3 favorites]

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