Mechanical Music Machines

It’s said there’s a first time for everything. Well, last year I listened to a wind up phonograph player for the first time. Not while watching a television program, not while listening to a radio program and not on the world wide web.

I attended a meeting hosted by a group of people collecting and preserving these wing up phonographs and related listening mediums including accessories. I expected a grainy, scratchy, static pops, hard to comprehend vocals. Let me say, if this is your preconceived notion of this 100 plus year old recording system you should give it a listen. Experiencing the playback using a top quality machine from an almost pristine 78 rpm record “live” as the expression goes, I was surprised at how nice it sounded. To an audience of approximately 40 people it’s sounds was clear and easy to understand, even from the back of the room where I was seated.

Follow this link and give it a listen.

Another surprise I’ve come to learn is just how many old spring driven machines are still available. They were manufactured all over the world by thousands of companies putting out new and different models as the technology of the day improved.

Then add in all the 78 rpm records that were produced. I’m amazed there’s much left after as kids we used 78’s as frisbees. (sorry collectors) Countless millions of 78 rpm records were made world wide between 1900-1960. That’s 60 years. The following other recording formats were created during the next 60 years. Pause and think about that, crazy right?

78 RPM. 1900-1960. 60 years

33 RPM. 1960-1990. 30 years

8 track tape. 1965-1975. 10 years

Cassette tapes. 1970-2000. 30 years

Compact disc. 1982-2015. 35 years

There are other recording formats like this Edison cylinder and players I’ve not included, however the list above is probably the more dominant physical formats.

More recently I visited a collection of amazing wind up gramophones and mechanical dance machines. An impressive musical machine I saw, and a real treat to my eyes and ears. A Mortier dance organ. All of us just has to move to the sound from this beast. It just encourages you to at least tap and sway along. This company from Antwerp, Belgium (1855 to 1944) produced the best of the best. And now there’s one here, I’m told the only one of this size in Canada. Its one of those you need to be there to appreciate experiences.

Mechanical organs were created to be used in dance halls in France, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Here’s another one I found on YouTube. The video creator includes some of the behind the scenes mechanisms in action. If you’ve got a good sound system, turn it up!

And then there are these smaller scale Dutch street organs made to be transported to events for entertainment. This one is air driven and uses book music as the recorded medium. Book music is made from thick cardboard sheets containing perforated holes representing the musical notes.

In the earliest days of recorded music many methods to reproduce sound were invented for playback and as I could see here today, most of them are long forgotten and rarely seen or heard by many people.

  1. Polyphon Music box
  2. Gramophone, Victrola
  3. Cylinder phonograph
  4. Phonautograph
  5. Paleophone
  6. Case music box
  7. Mechanical violin and piano

A great thank you to the restorers and collectors of these machines. It’s been an absolute delight and privilege to have had the opportunity to see your collection.

One more thing before you go. Give this a look and listen. Again, like all the other music machines, no computers to help in the 1920’s.

3 thoughts on “Mechanical Music Machines

  1. I’ve heard that records are the best way to experience audio, and it’s cool that you mention how clear it is. I’ve never seen such a machine in person before, so thanks for capturing the experience for me!


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