Tag Archives: Music hall

Le Pétomane and physiological symbolism

When he was about ten years old, Joseph Pujol discovered that he had the rare ability to draw air into his anus and expel it at will.

Not content to have a simple party trick, he trained his sonic instrument just as others would train their vocal chords, and by young adulthood he could produce a startling range of sounds, nuanced with tonal, timbral, and dynamic variation, and animated by his natural sense of humor. By the 1890s he was performing as Le Pétomane to packed audiences at the Moulin Rouge.

Pujol’s idiosyncratic career has rarely been considered as an historical object—and when it has, the gaze has been light-hearted and filled with puns, much like those that surrounded him in his lifetime. But if the temptation to giggle is resisted for a moment, Le Pétomane can teach us much about symbolic physiological meanings in late nineteenth-century Paris.

This according to “The spectacular anus of Joseph Pujol: Recovering the Pétomane’s unique historic context” by Alison Moore (French cultural studies XXIV/1 [2013] pp. 27–43).

Today is Pujol’s 160th birthday! Below, Le Pétomane in action (silent).

BONUS: A recording from 1904.

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Filed under Dramatic arts, Humor, Performers

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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