From the Library — Mechanical Music

Today’s pro­gramme in our From the Library series focus­es on 19th cen­tu­ry mechan­i­cal instru­ments, from fair­ground and street organs to musi­cal box­es and oth­er devices com­mon­ly found in the Vic­to­ri­an par­lour or cof­fee house.

In the street, a com­mon sight in Vic­to­ri­an times, and famil­iar today from peri­od dra­mas, was the bar­rel piano, where a rotat­ing (and gen­er­al­ly change­able) bar­rel with a pat­tern of pins actu­at­ed the notes of a piano-like instru­ment.

In the par­lour or pub, com­mon mechan­i­cal instru­ments used rotat­ing discs with slots or pins. The mighty three-disc Sym­pho­nion looked like a grand­fa­ther clock, but in the case were three ver­ti­cal­ly-mount­ed discs. You could load the instru­ment with three dif­fer­ent discs, each con­tain­ing part of the arrange­ment of the same song or med­ley. Or you could load three of the same discs and get a more basic — but rather loud­er — arrange­ment of the same mate­r­i­al. (A sim­pler, sin­gle-disc mod­el is shown above left.)

You will hear all of these instru­ments today.

• From the Library is pro­duced by Radio Riel in con­junc­tion with the Cale­don Library in Sec­ond Life. Today’s pro­gramme was pro­duced by Elrik Mer­lin.

For more infor­ma­tion on the Cale­don Library, cur­rent exhibits and the work of Sec­ond Life ref­er­ence libraries in gen­er­al, please vis­it the Cale­don Library Web site, or one of their loca­tions in-world.

You can lis­ten now at — the ide­al URL for you to use in your home par­cel media address in-world — or sim­ply vis­it any Cale­don Library branch in-world and press Play on your embed­ded music play­er. (If you want to lis­ten off-world, eg in Winamp or iTunes, and the above address does­n’t work for you, click here.)

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