Mechanical Instruments & Wonders

I have a general rule where I don’t watch movies that were filmed after Man walked on the Moon, therefore, I seldom watch new-release movies in the theatre. I’m so fortunate to have the Alamo Draft House and Paramount theatres here in Austin that play old favorites of mine, that if I do seek out the theatre experience, it’s to see old classics on the big screen.

I was lured to a performance of Inception last week at the IMAX, and my mind was totally blown. I found it to be a riveting film, and I felt a mixture of stress/excitement when I thought back on it for days after seeing it (I did love the styling of the men! Very polished!). To cleanse my CGI palette this week, I’ve been doing heavy research into automatonic machines and other mechanical curios. I find that no matter how splendid the CGI in a contemporary movie, my heart is still aflutter after visiting places like Musee Mecanique or watching the player piano at Museum of Natural and Artifical Ephemerata here in Austin.

Here I am last March in front of my favorite arcade game at the Musee Mecanique in San Francisco. It’s called “French Execution” and a little bishop waves a crucifix while a curtain opens and the mini guillotineĀ chops off the prisoner’s head.

Mommy Fortuna tells my fortune, while little dancers in the Theatre Automatique spin and twirl.

Video (not mine!) of various arcade games from Musee Mecanique in San Francisco. Be sure to watch at 6:40 when the mechanical horse goes on!

Video of American-made Orchestrion playing “Maple Leaf Rag.” This is a recently refurbished/rebuilt instrument, so the playing is very tight and on the robotic side. Still, it’s so neat to see the little hammers and mallets tick and hit in time.

Video of Orchestrion of “J’ai Deux Amours (Mon Pays et Paris).” I love how jagged and aged this instrument feels. It’s a bit cattywampus in the beginning but when the melody enters the music feels more focused.

Hand cranked Organette:

This generation best knows the Porter Music Box from the Bjork album Vespertine, where it was used on several of the tracks, including “Pagen Poetry.” Here she is on Letterman, hand cranking her Porter.

Porter Music Box playing “Fur Elise,” and the owner describes how it works.

The Cail-o-Scope or Mutoscope is a large flip reel (like a flip book) which tells a story. It’s a very early form of motion pictures.

Here’s another Mutoscope starring Charlie Chaplin. I was surprised at the amount of “tame” ones I found on youtube, the mutoscopes I’ve seen in person always promise to be naughty!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little rudimentary taste of mechanical machines! Any suggestions for me to check out?

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2 Responses to Mechanical Instruments & Wonders

  1. Miss Sunalee says:

    There was an exhibition two years ago about these kind of mechanichal orchestras in Brussels, Belgium. A bit far for you but really interesting. If you want to see some photos, you can go here: http://popupmonster.wordpress.com/2009/05/21/continental-superstar/
    (sorry, the article is in french)

  2. Catherine says:

    Thanks for posting this! And lovely dress.

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