J.B. Schalkenbach’s electric music


In the 1860s Johann Baptist Schalkenbach developed a music hall act in which he performed on an amalgamation of instruments, built around a reed harmonium, which he called the Piano-Orchestre Électro-Moteur.

While playing, Schalkenbach would simultaneously create musical, noise, and optical effects via the electromagnetic triggering of circuits connected to objects placed around the hall.  Over the decades, the apparatus gradually became more and more spectacular as new features were added.

An early review states that Schalkenbach’s act received much applause, but “we fancy it would have gained still greater favour but for [his] singular resemblance to the Great German Chancellor Prince Bismarck, which did not quite please some of the audience.”

This according to “‘Electric music’ on the Victorian stage: The forgotten work of J.B. Schalkenbach” by Daniel Wilson (Leonardo music journal XXIII [2013] pp. 79–85). We are indebted to the author’s blog post for information and images.

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One Response to J.B. Schalkenbach’s electric music

  1. Reblogged this on Cultural Organology and commented:
    There are certainly some interesting creations here!!