The Tower Orchestra

Deirdre Loughridge and Thomas Patteson curate the Museum of Imaginary Musical Instruments, where you can read about fictional music makers, concept instruments, and fanciful sound technology, from ancient times to today. One of the exhibits is the Tower Orchestra, conceived by Adolphe Sax, who also invented the saxophone.  

With the tower orchestra, Sax aimed to combine a full range of tone colors with unprecedented loudness. The same aim animated the concerts of massive orchestral and vocal forces that featured in concert life of the period (see Berlioz’s “Euphonia”). But Sax noted that multiplying the number of instrumentalists did not proportionately increase the volume of sound: with such enormous ensembles, players far away from the audience were heard with less intensity than those closer. Sax’s envisioned solution was to build resonators of enormous size, activated by superhuman forces, and mounted high above the city so that their tones would spread far and wide in all directions. Involving towers linked by suspension bridges, steam engines and metal ropes set resounding by compressed air, it was a solution that applied industrial developments to musical purposes.  To Sax’s contemporaries, the plan was equal parts genius and insanity – an idea ahead of its time. As Sax’s friend Savart reportedly told him, “nothing is simpler, but keep your thoughts to yourself; for if you share them before another fifty years of progress, they’ll take you for a madman.”

Other exhibits range from the mystical to the prescient, like the Ocular Harpsichord, which was a thought experiment about converting colors into musical tones. It was never built, but it foreshadows the modern idea of converting non-audio data into music. Read more about the Tower Orchestra and other instruments at the Museum of Imaginary Musical Instruments. -via the Presurfer


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