From the Library: Musica Ex Machinis

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by Elrik Merlin on Monday, 8 February, 2010

Today Elrik Merlin presents a varied programme of music from (and sometimes by) machines. And we mean musical machines in the broadest sense, from glass harmonicas, Victorian musical boxes and the mighty Symphonion, to steam organs, pianolas and barrel pianos (and the modern Cybraphon) on the one hand, but touching the capabilities of early computers and synthesisers on the other.

However, despite the inclusion of some music from electronic instruments, this is not really a programme of classic electronica — although there is some — and a fair amount of the material is in a fairly traditional vein, including recordings of mechanical instruments of the Victorian era that might have been heard in the parlour, public house or at the fairground. There are, however, good examples of classic(al) synth performances from Isao Tomita and Wendy Carlos, including some narrative descriptions of the latter’s early experiments with the medium and the more recent Switched-On Bach 2000.

On a (much) lighter note there are electronic pieces in a Victorian style from Magnatune artist Professor Armchair, and fairly recent electronic whimsy from Jean-Jacques Perrey, long-time collaborator with Gershon Kingsley on some of the earliest synthesiser albums 40 years ago (yes, it’s really that long).

There is also some of the first “computer music” ever recorded, created by programming an IBM 7090 and including a rendition of Daisy, Daisy that was the inspiration for the piece appearing in Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001.

Pictured: the Telharmonium, shown in Telharmonium Hall in 1897: possibly the world’s first electronic instrument. No recordings exist. Image from Wikipedia.

From the Library is produced by Radio Riel in conjunction with the Alexandrian Free Library Consortium of Second Life. You can listen to the programme now at — or click here to link straight to your player if your browser is set up to do so. Today’s programme is presented by Elrik Merlin.

For more information on the Alexandrian Free Library, current exhibits and the work of Consortium members in general, please visit the Alexandrian Free Library website, or one of their branches in-world.


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