Performing from an embedded stage tent with art-deco facades and propelled by the beating heart of hand-made leather bellows, Muscia Machina’s robotic vintage instrumentation presents as a dark vaudevillian absurdity.
Before the jukebox’s arrival in the early 20th century, another strange beast allowed for coin operated music on demand without the complexity of having humans play the music: the Orchestrion. These strange contraptions were often built by kooky makers and inventors, and re-imagined instruments into deconstructed, but visually interesting oddities. For the price of a single coin, you could bring a large band to life in dance halls across the world in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Well loved, and difficult to maintain, these beasts quickly disappeared with the arrival of the record and jukebox, which was smaller, had less moving parts, and allowed the songwriters’ voices themselves to be heard. The downside of this was the loss of interpretation that Orchestrion paper rolls allowed. Most of the orchestrions disappeared and became firewood. The successor to the orchestrion was the player piano, which lived on in homes, but again the paper rolls that made these machines work stopped being made mid century, and in turn, the music that player pianos and orchestrions that survive today can play is limited, and mostly unfamiliar to those alive now.
Following in this tradition, Musica Machina is a love letter to the amazing songwriters and music makers of the last 100 years, placing them all on a level playing field to appreciate. Music plays through antique instruments (including a 90 year old reed organ), modified with pieces of robotics and mechanisms, so that audiences can enjoy eclectic interpretations of Billie Eilish, followed by David Bowie, some 60s swing, and then 90s techno.
Fully automatic and cheerily playing out its music in a vintage cabaret lilt, this truly feels like an old-world-wonder.
Musica Machina was initially supported by City of Melbourne COVID-19 Quick Response Arts Grant for the build of the mechanical organ control .