Mechanical Music - Music for the masses

The invention in the 18th century of mechanical musical boxes in Leipzig revolutionised the idea of popular music, making popular tunes accessible to people with no personal musical skill. By the 1840s, cylinder music boxes could play between one and a dozen or so musical pieces, powered by clockwork motors and operated by tiny pins set into a brass cylinder which plucked steel forks arranged as a comb as it rotated. At the end of each piece, the cylinder would shift across slightly to select the next tune. Large instruments sometimes had several interchangeable cylinders giving endless possibilities for the number of tunes available. The 1880s saw the intention of the phonograph. Originally intended as an office accessory to facilitate dictation, the phonograph instead became immensely successful for playing music recorded onto wax cylinders. The cylinder phonograph became the mainstay of the recorded popular music industry until the early 1920s, when the disc recording, introduced just before the Great War, overtook it, being capable of longer playing and slightly less vulnerable to damage through rough handling.

A remarkable collection of mechanical musical instruments spanning two centuries features in the Wheatfield Gallery exhibition opening 14th April 2018 and running for the month in conjunction with the Canberra Region Heritage Festival. There are all manner of music boxes, phonographs and a great selection of vintage wireless sets and funky 1920s and 1930s radio speaker - able to be wired to your iPod as extension speakers should you wish to out-tech your most tech-savvy friends! Prices from $50 to $5,000 or so.

Open Saturdays and Sundays 10.00am to 4.00pm 14th April to 29th April and by appointment (telephone 0438 126 987)

Recent Posts