The steam-powered drum machine
May 20, 2003 6:34 AM   Subscribe

The steam-powered drum machine - an astonishing extract from the journal of Charles Franklin, the founder of the London Museum of Techno. Written in 1894, Franklin describes a steam-powered drum machine and what may have been the world's first rave. "Driven by the thunderous rhythms of Hoovenaars tremendous "drum machine" the crowd - academics and dockers, architects and cobblers - were whipped into a frenzy, dancing and screaming like savages until sunrise, when the Machine finally ground to a halt with a suffering hiss."
posted by adrianhon (33 comments total)
[this is good!]
posted by quonsar at 6:44 AM on May 20, 2003

A powerful machine, indeed.

Charles Lamb had been dead 60 years when he attended The Sunrise All-nighter...
posted by monkey closet at 6:55 AM on May 20, 2003

the maid entered with a pot of tea and my early morning laudanum

perhaps the author's recall was enfeebled a bit. "early morning" laudanum implies "mid morning", "brunch", and other laudanum.
posted by quonsar at 7:05 AM on May 20, 2003

Freakin' cool, I say, *COOL*

Lots of interesting stuff... I wonder what it sounded like? Apparently, I'm not alone
posted by psychotic_venom at 7:09 AM on May 20, 2003

I call hoax.

I can't find any mention of this (including the supposed builder of the machine) anywhere else, and while the prose is suitably Victorian-seeming, there are telltale touches such as the modern homonymic misspelling of "lead" for "led," and even more so, "disorientating." I know these aren't definitive, and I'd love to believe this, so if anyone can point me toward further documentation (e.g. that reference in "today's [5/15] Guardian Nespaper" that Google News seems to be unaware of), I'll be glad to see it.
posted by soyjoy at 7:18 AM on May 20, 2003

Bolstering the hoax theory.
posted by crunchburger at 7:26 AM on May 20, 2003

Guardian link (about halfway down the page). The section it's in, Webwatch, is published in the Guardian's Online (paper) supplement on Thursdays.
posted by adrianhon at 7:26 AM on May 20, 2003

Oh, alright then, it's a joke :) But it's a fun read anyway!
posted by adrianhon at 7:27 AM on May 20, 2003

I call hoax.

From a source reliable enough to give you this? Surely not?
posted by monkey closet at 7:28 AM on May 20, 2003

Damn. Not quick enough.
posted by monkey closet at 7:29 AM on May 20, 2003

"Mate! You have GOT to listen this kick!! It's fucking BRUTAL, man - like, PROPER the 28-gun German Bad Bwoyyyyyyyy!!!!"

I can hardly wait for an opportunity to use this sentence in conversation or correspondence.
posted by yhbc at 7:30 AM on May 20, 2003

Google doesn't even like the name "Aafke van Hoovernaars". I call hoax too. Shame, because it would have been a nice idea.

I'd also say that back in those days (*sigh*) no-one would have viewed mere drum beats as music. Hell even now just drum beats don't. I can't think of anything which is just drum beats. African music has singing, and stuff like Safri Duo uses other backing music. Dance music doesn't use drum beats but a regular pulse of sound (if you see the difference).

[on preview : ah sod it...]
posted by twine42 at 7:30 AM on May 20, 2003

where's my mid-morning laudanum?
posted by quonsar at 7:33 AM on May 20, 2003

Maybe "hoax" was a little strong. On further exploring the site, I guess it's all supposed to be somewhat satirical.

For those hoping to hear what this would've sounded like, you might get a rough approximation from Mossolov's 1923 piece "Iron Foundry," which I can vouch for as actually existing.
posted by soyjoy at 7:39 AM on May 20, 2003

African music has singing

Not all of it. There's a lot of complex polyrhythmic stuff from western Africa that's just drums.

There's also a decent list of classical composers who've written drum-only music - Reich, Carter and Varese spring to mind for starters.

But there's still no excuse for drum solos...
posted by monkey closet at 7:40 AM on May 20, 2003

twine42: what about taiko?
Maybe some afro-cuban drumming too...
posted by tss at 7:41 AM on May 20, 2003

soyjoy: I'm told that the site was originally developed by a member of the 313 music list, and is based on a real museum of techno which was opened in Detroit earlier this year. So, satirical is about right.
posted by adrianhon at 7:42 AM on May 20, 2003

Any satire that contains the phrase "I readied myself for an altercation with some inebriated moon-calf" is all right in my book.

Also, a "Hoover" is a type of baseline in techno, so the fact that the inventor's name is so similar gives it away pretty readily.
posted by Spacelegoman at 7:54 AM on May 20, 2003

Here's your museum of techno right here. Songs and patterns can be off-loaded to cassette tape for storage! That bad boy sold for a couple of grand in its day.
posted by crunchburger at 7:56 AM on May 20, 2003

Aw, I wanted to believe this was true - do you all have to be so damned astute?
posted by jamespake at 8:10 AM on May 20, 2003

There's a lot of complex polyrhythmic stuff from western Africa that's just drums.

monkey closet, do you have any recordings, sites etc. that you can point me to? I'm not arguing, I've just been looking for this stuff for a while (ever since I heard the intro to XTC's "It's Nearly Africa," actually) and while I have nothing against singing and chanting, I really want to be able to concentrate on the polyrhythms between unpitched sounds. I love polyrhythm, and I've bought albums that promised to be all drumming and then they're not.

Another candidate to approximate the sound of this Olde-Fashioned drum machine would be John Cage's early prepared piano music, much of which is frenetically machine-like, and doesn't match today's common image of Cage as an airy-fairy, anything-goes postmodern conceptualist.

Since I brought up Cage, It's only fair to mention Indonesian Gamelan (although yes, that's mostly tuned percussion), which comes in two nearly opposite flavors, Javanese and Balinese, of which the latter is significantly more ass-kicking.
posted by soyjoy at 8:39 AM on May 20, 2003

Jamespake: these are real.
posted by carter at 8:40 AM on May 20, 2003

i aint going. fucking is prohibited.
posted by andybw at 8:55 AM on May 20, 2003

Thanks Carter, those are good links - techno needs more bowler hats.
posted by jamespake at 9:31 AM on May 20, 2003

"i aint going. fucking is prohibited"

No, it's only discouraged. Huge difference.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:09 AM on May 20, 2003

soyjoy, try The Djembe Guide for polyrhythm stuff, check the links.
posted by asok at 11:27 AM on May 20, 2003

Fake? Fake.
posted by swift at 11:46 AM on May 20, 2003

There is some good material on polyrhythms here. I can follow the first part, but it then gets kind of hairy.
posted by crunchburger at 1:08 PM on May 20, 2003

"No, it's only discouraged. Huge difference."

"Please don't have sex on the table during thanksgiving dinner." = Discouraged

"Sir, Ma'am. I'm afraid you're in violation of revised statute 744.3e5. 'Boning in the mayor's van without being the mayor.' You have the right to remain silent etc. etc. etc." = Prohibited
posted by fnord_prefect at 1:33 PM on May 20, 2003

Thanks, asok and crunch. Steve Vai's piece was fascinating, especially for a Zappa freak, but out of all the increasingly insane possibilities he catalogued, he missed what I'm looking for, which is simple, comprehensible rhythms of different sizes occurring on top of each other using the same small-scale pulses - the extension of hemiola into other meters - as I believe most West African drumming (as opposed to Indian drumming) tends toward. Anyway, you've both given me some good leads, so thanks!
posted by soyjoy at 1:34 PM on May 20, 2003

I've just received this email from the Museum of Techno which I feel obliged to forward on here:

Dear Mr Hon

I read with great interest the discussion about Hoovernaars' drum machine, which you initiated on the Metafilter website. It is always gratifying when Museum visitors take such an active interest in the Museum and its collections.

I feel that I should point out, though, an inaccuracy in your post: the founder of the Museum was Sir James Soame and not, in fact, Charles Franklin. Unfortunately I was unable to register as a user of the Metafilter site, and so could not participate directly in the discussion, but if you could post a correction or addendum, I would be most grateful.

Kind regards

Dianne Waymire (Mrs)
Administrator, Museum of Techno

posted by adrianhon at 5:49 AM on May 21, 2003

A great example of steampunk fiction...
posted by Foosnark at 8:55 AM on May 21, 2003

apparently andybw wasn't the only one upset about the prohibition:
posted by advil at 11:16 PM on May 22, 2003

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