Interesting If True - Episode 24: We Make Beautiful Music!
Welcome to Interesting If True, the podcast that brings all the synthesis to the yard! That’s right, our waveform is better than yours.
Something… something… charge… something… https://www.patreon.com/iit ;)
I’m your host this week, Aaron, and this week I learned about MES or Musical Ear Syndrome. This rare and delightfully named symptom of hearing loss causes auditory hallucinations in the form of high-pitched elevator jungles. It’s like getting the soundtrack to going deaf literally stuck in your head—it is not ideal.
And as ever, with me this week is the See No Evil to My Hear No Evil, Shea!
Hey Everyone, I’m Shea, and this week I learned that a stormtroopers favorite store is the one next to Target.
As for Speak No Evil, we promise she’ll be back soon!
The next few shows are going to be pre-recorded because weddings don’t leave a lot of editing time. When we’re back at the end of the month we’ll thank patrons, give updates, and maybe tell a story or two. In the meantime, here’s this…
Listeners may not be aware of this but Shea is a person who enjoys the musics. He’s a fan of, if I understand the terminology correctly, the hips and the hops and, maybe, the Ricks and the rolls. (that ‘typo’ is for you, single show note reading hero)
He’s also an accomplished music maker, having sung for the actual Pope, and braver still, on YouTube! As for me, I know so much about music. The most really. The bigliest beats.
That’s not true…
Actually, I know basically nothing about music. Luckily Ashley made the wedding playlist and Pandora handles the rest for me.
That’s not true either. I don’t think I even have Pandora installed anymore. I really only listen to Podcasts. And it’s with that high regard for the incredible, varied, and profound art of music I give you: the story of this weird music thing I found on Google!
(This is probably where Shea will tell me how well known about this is and how I’m late to another music thing… it’s what foxes say all over again…)
Most of the music searching I do is for free-to-use music for podcasts like this one. Thanks Waine! Otherwise, I’m hopeless. So hopeless, in fact, that recently while intending to search for how to add her playlists to the wedding live-stream (also, go home 2020, you’re drunk) Google thought I was doing research for the show and gave me historical results for music streaming services. And with that odd soiree into my media and cultural blindspot, I give you, the Dynamophone Telharmonium!
Our story begins in June of 1867—which in addition to this story saw the end of the Tokugawa shogunate, Dr. Lister’s papers on antiseptics in The Lancet, Alfred Nobel patented dynamite, and oh yeah, Canada became a country eh! (Oh yeah, they signed them-thar Articles of Confederation on July 1st dontcha know. Told those British hosers to take a hike eh. Aw but not really though, they’re ok, even if their beer is warm.)—anyway, back to 1867 and the birth of Thaddeus Cahill.
Little Thaddeus would grow to study Physics of Music at Oberlin Conservatory in Oberlin, Ohio while working as a Congressional clerk. Graduating with a law degree he became obsessed with the idea that electricity and machines could make and transmit music!
Basically, he was the Shawn Fanning of his day.
“Shawn Fanning”? He’s the guy who made Napster… yeah… there’s no reason you should know his name. At all.
Eventually Thaddeus would make the Telharmonium!
Considered one of, if not the, first electrical instruments – the organ was also called the Dynamophone. Thaddeus built his fantabulous contraption in 1896 and in 1897 submitted his patent “The Art of and Apparatus for Generating and Distributing Music Electrically”.
His machine was pretty cool. I likened it to Napster earlier because I’m getting older now and so are my jokes, but the idea was more or less the same. The machine was built to electro-magnetically synthesize music and distribute it over the telephone networks of the era. The first patent attempt was initially rejected but Thaddeus, being a trained lawyer, eventually won out and was free to spend… basically… the rest of his life, building a machine that he hoped would be able to produce, as 120years.net puts it “a universal ‘perfect instrument’; an instrument that could produce absolutely perfect tones, mechanically controlled with scientific certainty.”
120Years.net is a very cool website by the way, we’ll definitely come back to it for future stories but you should go check it out, it’s cool! And that’s me saying that. ~A
His goal was to make simple the production and pattern of the sounds of any and all instruments, individually or en masse, thereby rendering them obsolete!
A man after my own heart really… I mean, why not let a robot do that for ya? I learned how to play the trumpet. It was… spitty, and certainly no more fun than TypeDrummer.com, the website Google randomly sent me to when I searched for “free music keyboard app”, but who am I to suggest spending years learning to hit things with sticks and precision isn’t “worth it” or “a super cool skill that I’m totally not jealous of” or… whatever.
How, Thaddeus had a bit of a challenge on his hands. Making stuff “clank good” wasn’t especially difficult but sending signals over the Victorian phone lines was… awkward. It had been done, to degrees, before. Notably the “Musical Telegraph” created by Elisha Gray, one of the inventors of the telephone, in 1874. Of Gray’s machine, and to differentiate his own to the patent office, Thaddeus said:
“practically useless. No person of taste or culture could be supposed to derive any enjoyment from music rendered in poor, harsh tones, with uneven power, and absolutely without expression or variation.”
Basically, he wasn’t a fan.
No, Thaddeus’s grand machine needed to be… grand..er! So be build a maschine of such tremendous might no obo or chello or… I dunno, one of the tuffer instruments… could hope to defeat. It was $200,000 yee-oldie dollars of metal, tubing, and droppable base! The Mark I weight 7 freaking tons. The Mark II, 210 tons and it took up 60 feet of New York’s “Telharmonic Hall”, which was 39th and Broadway apparently.
They gave like… one… concert there before everyone realized what a massive pain in the ass it was to load the 30 railroad carriages required to move the damn thing.
The Dynamos that turned in the Telharmonium where the size of small yee-oldie children… as see in this picture of one that’s the size of that kid next to it.
Basically this thing weighed a bajillion tons and was never going to replace a violin or the sometime-sexy-Russian-spy-lady who plays it!
The device was large, consumed massive amounts of energy, and a small army of child-labor to change parts, but it sounded goooooood… Also, there aren’t any surviving recordings of the music itself. This is, as best as I could find, a youtube-faithful-level recreation…
Audio Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TunkjJvbrHs
Well, ok good by yee-oldie birds-go-on-your-feet standards. He wasn’t exactly set up for 192kbps, lossless, wav files…
Of the Telharmonium Mark Twain would say, from Mark Twain: A Biography, Albert Bigelow Paine, 1912:
“I recall two pleasant social events of that winter: one a little party given at the Clemenses’ home on New-Year’s Eve, with charades and storytelling and music. It was the music feature of this party that was distinctive; it was supplied by wire through an invention known as the telharmonium which, it was believed, would revolutionise musical entertainment in such places as hotels, and to some extent in private houses.
Apparently he was real proud of his typewriter, phone, and so on, so naturally, super-cool musical thing!
Unfortunately for the Telharmonium, and Thaddeus’s company, in addition to being a pain in the ass to store, power, and maintain, it was also super difficult to play.
Well, you’d only have a slightly more difficult time learning to play an Electro Who-Cardio Floox…
The actual instrument was an organ, with a keyboard glued to it, also with extra pedals, and like 900 rows of levers, switches, and stops. Basically, it was more horror-noir set design than instrument.
There was also a problem with cross-talk. Cross-talk is, basically, the idea that the signal from one source bleeds into or overtakes the signal from the desired source. In the case of podcasts with hosts who recorded in the same pre-pandemic room, you may faintly hear host A in the background while host B talks because host B’s microphone picked up the echo of host A not shutting up and that stuff is really hard to remove, even with the Spectral Healing tool and smart-noise removal… umm… about that Audition CC thing… Thaddeus was direct-to-tapping his tracks on the equivalent of Optimus-Potato. It was big, powerful, and stupid.
The reality of the thing is that the signal from the Telharmonium would overtake the signals of… random people talking to their families or coworkers and suddenly those crucial instructions for shutting down the reactor became a tin-y robo-rendition of Auld Lang Syne.
So that wasn’t great.
Apparently it was bad enough that it affected the stock exchange sufficiently to cause AT&T to stop working with Thaddeus.
Also, there was… you know… the radio.
By 1914 wireless radio was the thing and it didn’t take a 200 ton, rolling back-out causing, behemoth to produce.
Sadly the Telharmonium never took off and the company folded. But the next time you stream… umm.. WAP… that’s one… that’s a song… or umm… Hey Kirby… remember the yee-oldie strong men whose shoulders that subscription service was built on. The science, the labor, the mustaches…
Also, yeah WAP is totally in there for SEO reasons and not because it’s the only recently viral music I can name. But if you didn’t get the Kirby bit, watch this awesome muppet music video about a cat! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7T_KKiQiolk
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Since we all know our favorite host of the show is a bit deaf I thought it would be fun to make him listen to some awesome instruments and answer questions. Get Ready to Lose!
Our first instrument is a weird ons as there is no record of it being built or played, first described in the mid 1600’s by Athanasius Kircher, a German scholar and inventor. It was first called the Katzenklavier and had it been built, what would make the sound of the music? Here is a clip of a modern digital version of the instrument being played…
Audio Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxEHi6Mlzmk
-Cats, Katzenklavier also means cat organ. This is a hypothetical musical instrument which consists of a line of cats fixed in place with their tails stretched out underneath a keyboard so that they cry out when a key is pressed. The clip I played was a cruelty free recording by sound sculptor Henry Dagg who created a 21st century Cat organ using squeaky toys.
Dutch artist Walter Willems has recently reimagined the standard drum kit by replacing all the drums with an interesting alternative. This material was said to give you nightmares if taken before bed but now instead it will impede your ability to sleep. Listen to this clip and tell me what the drums are made of…
Audio Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JL9BrZ-zUpQ
-Cheese, I don’t know why entirely, but yeah… cheese. A full drum kit where all the drums are cheese but the cymbals are still cymbally.
This woodwind instrument is incredibly rare and the largest and lowest pitched in its family with tubing reaching over 49 ft in length. Its lowest note being C0, one octave below the lowest C on a standard piano. At 16 hertz, this is below what is generally considered the range of human hearing. This instrument is call the the hyperbass _______ . What family of woodwinds is it from?
Audio Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=849IAjXnQjo
-Flute, the hyperbass flute This aptly named flautist foghorn is a relatively new instrument and, according to early reports, the tone is still under refinement as it’s a bit growly. We don’t care. It’s massive and weird, like me.
The most known of the instruments on my list was invented in the 20’s as technology swept across the country. It consists of a box with radio tubes producing oscillations at two sound-wave frequencies. Pitch is controlled by moving the hand toward or away from an antenna at the right rear of the box. This movement alters one of the inaudible frequencies. The instrument was used in recordings by the Beach Boys and in the soundtracks of several science fiction films. What is it called?
Audio Link: https://www.youtube .com/watch?v=K6KbEnGnymk
-The Theremin, I gave you a picture of the Badgermin which is just a regular theremin that someone shoved up a badger. And also a pic of a regular guy playing the instrument so you can get an idea of how weird it looks.
Not so much a single instrument but an orchestra from Vienna the Das erste Wiener Gemüseorchester is a group of musicians who all craft their own instruments before every concert. Founded in 1998 it consists of ten musicians, one cook, and one sound technician. What are the instruments crafted from?
Audio Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZQqu8M-EGs
-Veggies!! The instruments are constructed with carrots, celery, peppers, squash, zucchini and other raw vegetables prior to the performances. Their sound is amplified with the use of special microphones.Following the performances, the leftover vegetables and off-cuts are cooked into a soup for the audience. As of March 2019, more than 150 types of instruments had been invented since the band’s inception and include carrot xylophones, radish bass flute, pumpkin drums, leek violins, onion maracas, and many others.
The earliest known example of this instrument is a Chinese drawing from the 3rd Century BC. Often seen as a lower class instrument it consists of a flexible metal or bamboo tongue or reed attached to a frame. Used world wide in many cultures you can even hear it being played by my favorite band The Who in Join together. The frame is held firmly against the performer’s parted teeth or lips, using the jaw and mouth as a resonator. The note or tone produced is constant in pitch, though by changing the shape of the mouth it can resonate differently. What is this instrument?
Audio Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXzLQon_XuQ
-The Jew’s harp, also known as the jaw harp, mouth harp, gewgaw, guimbard, khomus, trump, Ozark harp, Galician harp, or murchunga.
In 1999, archaeologists excavating a temple discovered the skeleton of a 20-year-old sacrificial victim who was clutching two skull-shaped figurines. Historians initially thought the clay sculptures were mere toys and they were catalogued and stored in a museum warehouse. It was not until years later that someone decided to blow into the clay device. These clay whistles were exclusively used in several zones of ancient Mexico and belong to a very unusual family of Mexican resonators that are not well known and which can produce special sounds imitating animal calls. The Aztec death whistle is Mexico’s most terrifying instrument found yet, because it makes the call of what creature?
Audio Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9QuO09z-SI
-A human scream. They recreate a human scream in both pitch and decibel level that has to be heard to believe.Other theories propose that the whistles were used in war to strike fear in the hearts of their enemies.
A one of a kind magical instrument located in Luray Caverns, Virginia, was created in 1956 by Leland W. Sprinkle who worked at the Pentagon as a mathematician and electronics scientist. This organ produces eerie haunting tones over its 3.5 acre range and is still played regularly to visitors. The organs keyboard is attached to rubber mallets that strike what, to make this organ play?
Audio Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsKUUn29tSs
-Stalactites, they are spread over a 3.5 acre area throughout the cave and each one was individually tuned by Leland with his set of tuning forks.
I’m Aaron, and I’d like to thank all our listeners, supporters, and my co-hosts.
Find out more about the show, social links, and contact information at InterestingIfTrue.com.
Music for this episode was created by Wayne Jones and was used with permission.
The opinions, views, and nonsense expressed in this show are those of the hosts only and do not represent any other people, organizations, or lifeforms.
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