Symphonion

Video Transcript

The beautiful object behind me is called a symphoion. It’s a mechanical music player, built in Germany in the 19th century. The symphonion actually produces music by rotating a disc driven by a clockwork motor. The disc contains projections which pluck the teeth of a comb.

The machine is operated by dropping a coin in the slot. This is actually where the expression “the penny drops” comes from.

The thing that attracts me most about the symphonion and other musical instruments built at that time is the incredible workmanship and engineering that was involved. These things were built with care and love and attention, and were the result of a long tradition of clockmaking stretching back many centuries in Europe, especially in Germany and Switzerland.

The quality of the sound produced by this machine is something to note, too. You might think it’s just a piece of furniture, but in actual fact it was specially designed to produce a particular kind of note. The whole box, so to speak, acts like the soundbox on a guitar.

And now I’m going to take the disc out of the machine and put it in its storgae cupboard, and it’s quite a difficult task, and delicate, so I’m going to wear my glasses so I don’t make any mistakes.

So, I’m going to open the storage cupboard, and now I’m opening the musical cabinet, and this rod holds the disc in place so I remove that, holding the disc carefully, then I hold it in the regulation manner, lifting it up slightly, pulling it out… You can see the projections on the back of the disc that twang the comb, and I put the disc very carefully into its slot… Now here’s the central part of the whole mechanism, this metal combs, and in the centre here are a series of projections which, when plucked by the projections on the disc, actually pluck, in turn, the teeth on the comb. And you can see there’s the long teeth and the short teeth giving high and low notes. And down below is the mechanism that drives it, which is the clockwork motor.

About this Video

David Demant talks about a favourite object in the Melbourne Story exhibition, Symphonion
Length: 3:06