May 20, 2010

Musical Museum, Kew

May 12, 2010

Visited this excellent museum last weekend.

The 1850’s equivalent of an iPod: musical box

This is a 185o’s Swiss-made barrel driven music box. Along with the usual ‘comb teeth’ tines, it also has an organ, bells (hammered by little brass wasps) and a little snare drum. The museum’s director freely admitted that the organ drowned out the other instruments and could only play four (non-changeable) tunes.

It would have cost £50,000 in today’s money.

Four tunes!!!

It’s violin stretching time!

It’s a bit difficult to see from this picture, but it’s a coin operated music machine that automatically plays a violin accompanied by a piano. The violin reminded me of nothing so much as the Dalek being tortured in the last series of Dr Who. It’s strings have been lifted away from the body and a complicated system of levers press the strings at the right points to get the desired note, whilst rotating celluloid disks are held against the string to sound it. The little disks have two speeds and the strings are further made unhappy by being stretched back and forth to give two speeds of vibrato.

The overall effect was surprisingly good and has the advantage of being able to play all four strings at once.

Not a Record Player

At the same time as gramophone records were being developed, music boxes with disks instead of barrels were also immensely popular. Their advantage over the £50k  Swiss models was that they had interchangeable disks and could thus play more than 4 songs. Owners of the Swiss box claimed theirs ‘had better sound quality’ and ‘why would anyone need more than four light classical songs played by bells hammered by brass wasps?’. Those people went onto to buy Zunes for similar reasons.

Gramophonic Excitations

Before electricity gramophones were clockwork and the sound had to be reproduced by careful use of a big horn.

They were also recorded by shouting down a big horn to cut the disks. This is roughly as convenient as syncing a Zune to a PC and slightly less absurd than ‘squirting’ an expirable mp3 to another Zune user.

(I don’t know why I’ve suddenly got it in for Zunes. I guess this all reminds me of pointless format wars which are almost obselete the moment they’re won.)

The Wurlitzer

They even have a Wurlitzer rising through the auditorium floor. It’s the 40’s equivalent of a sampler. Every sound under the sun required to accompany silent films – it’s based around a full size pipe organ with meaty 16″ sub-bass pipes and tiny 2″ pipes that I couldn’t flippin’ hear they were that high!!. Not only that, it has xlyophones, marimbas, drums, waterphone, and sound effects like waves on a seashore, sirens, woodblock and a hilariously unconvincing horse trot created with a coconut.

Typically, the idea for the Wurlitzer was invented by an Englishman, but the unimaginative English at the time weren’t interested and he had to go to America to realise his vision.

I highly recommend a trip to the museum – the above is a tiny tiny selection of their player pianos, theremins, music boxes, orchestions, and much more.


First Boris…

May 11, 2010

…and now this.

Well done idiots!

Steampunk (without the punk)

May 9, 2010

Visited Kew Bridge Pumping Station today. Very nice indeed if you like a bit of steam whooshing around, powering huge but finely engineered lumps of iron and brass. Here are a few snaps to give a flavour of the place.

Not an invented Steampunk set of dials, but a real set on a triple stage 1910 steam engine:

Big bad machinary (painted a nice green)

It’s important to have Corinthian columns in your massive steam machinary.

Giant wrenches for when the telly goes on the blink.


Are you sure?

This was a lovely machine. Enormous, but virtually silent except for pleasing whirrings and hummings.


Very Large Beam (Two of these, driven by 90 inch diameter cyclinders pumped drinking water round London in the 19th Century and early 20th)

A fascinating visit & highly recommended. Check the dates to make sure the biggest engines are running when you go for full impact.



I like Brian Eno

May 6, 2010

I hope we all watched the Brian Eno documentaries last night?

This bit particularly struck me:

“Kids now, they seem to have very little of the snobbery about music I had, and the downside of that is that it doesn’t play a kind of ideological part in their lives. It is slightly surprising to realise that something that had enormous meaning for you doesn’t have so much meaning for them. It’s just that the currency is devalued in some way. So what I look out for is: what does that for them now? Because I assume there’s always a currency through which people are communicating with one another. So they do pass music around and they appear to love music, but what they really seem to like is the communal experiences that music can give rise to. So what they really like is going to festivals, what they really like is exchanging music on Facebook, not for the music, but for the fact of exchange, the communication.”

Spot on. It’s obvious when he puts it like that – people don’t care about the art of music, they just love swapping the tokens of culture. Rather brilliantly, they showed crowds of people worshipping Coldplay at a festival as the above quote was spoken, ironic as Eno produced their last album…

Definitives – London’s Best Dance Crew

May 1, 2010

Well, that was exciting. We* backed up London dance crew, Definites, last night in the finals of London’s Best Dance Crew 2010 – and they only gone and won!

London’s Best Dance Crew

(*We – being members of Maracatu Estrela do Norte & Eri Ekon, adding some Brazilian drumming spice to the backing tunes for the first of Definitives’ two sets)

When the videos of the finals are available, I’ll post them up, but suffice to say they were awesome and well deserved the win – though all the groups were pretty damn good.

Here they are in another event – a pity the music isn’t a bit more audible, but you get the idea.

And yes, we also came on to the same level of applause and cheering. Nice!

Backstage: here’s the big cheque they were presented with, alongside the drum I played – and some lovely legs! (not mine)

Impressively, it was presented to them by the only current recipient of the Victoria Cross, Johnson Beharry. Quite an honour.

And here’s Lilly & Sam in front of the splendid artists entrance at the back of Fairfield Halls.

Well done Definitives, you rocked!

[Top Photo:  The Definitives at London’s Best Dance Crew 2010. Bruce Woods of Tactical Innovations Limited, other less brilliant photos: The Author]