This is a story about a piece I created in 2001 while listening to the music of Colon Nancarrow. The story is fake, but the music is “fake but accurate”.
I recently found a large music box at an antique store in the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle. Fremont is a district that welcomes visitors with the sign, “Welcome to Fremont, Center of the Universe. Throw your watch away”. The only two industries are beer and antique stores. The music box is about the size of an old washing machine, made of wood. The only markings on the box are a small label on the bottom: “F. Nicole 014751”. It has a crank on the right side, which connects to a spring-loaded drive for the cylinder. Inside is a long row of about 100 metal teeth, from about 1/4 inch at the top to almost 8 inches long at the bottom. The big ones make the whole case vibrate when they play. Inside is a large metal cylinder, with tiny pins that pluck the metal teeth. It appears to be removable, but there weren’t any more cylinders at the store. It runs for about 6 1/2 minutes on a full crank, and has a delightful gradual deceleration as the spring runs down. I’m not sure where to start the song, as it doesn’t appear to have a beginning or an end mark. For this recording I start and end at around the same place. The tuning of the keys is what attracted me to it in the first place. I have no way of knowing if it has drifted from its original tuning, but it is a charming sound, nonetheless. It appears to shift from a utonality-type sad minor key into a harsh super-major, and sounds a bit like some of the changes in a Philip Glass composition. (I know because I have been listening to a lot of Glass lately.) There is a cryptic notation on the drum: “#38 Cuernavaca 1975 CN”. This must be the title of the piece I guess, but it doesn’t sound very Mexican to me. Perhaps there are some more cylinders somewhere that I could try out. Sounds kind of like circus calliope music, for a Javanese circus troupe. Boogie-woogie on Saturn. If anyone has any idea about the music box, let me know.
The source code for the music box is below. How can you have source code for a physical instrument? The actual samples are taken from my finger piano, an amplified kalimba-like instrument I made in 1978. The samples were cleaned up with CoolEdit and programmed using Csound to simulate a music box. Then convolved with Teatro Alcorcon to simulate reverb. Tricky.
Not the instrument, but what it might be like, if it existed.
or download here:
#39 Cuernavaca 1975 CN
Source: #39 Cuernavaca 1975 NC