From the Library — Mechanical Music

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by Elrik Merlin on Thursday, 11 September, 2008

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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