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Friday, November 6, 2009

Music Player - Old School

Nancy recently redecorated the mantle above the fireplace in the living room. With the changes came the addition of two Reuge music boxes. I first fell in love with these devices in a small shop in Zermatt, Switzerland. Their sound was so realistic, including wide ranges, beautiful melodies, and crisp contrapuntal lines. I desperately wanted to purchase one, but the practicality of transporting it home and the cost of obtaining the device prohibited such a purchase.

Mechanical music devices originated in the 14th century when a Belgian bell ringer invented a cylinder with pins which rang the bells for him. In 1796, Antoine Favre, a clockmaker from Geneva, replaced the bells by combs with pre-tuned metallic notes, which produce more varied and more precise sounds. Thus began the Swiss obsession with mechanical music boxes and singing birds. Charles Reuge began tinkering with music boxes in 1865 and today Reuge holds the worldwide monopoly on the luxury music box. At one time, the music box industry represented 10% of Switzerland's export.

Sitting on wood, these music boxes create such rich sound that does not necessarily rival digital music players today, but has a greater charm and intrigue certainly. The smaller music box is an older model, no longer produced by Reuge. It has the detailed flower inlay in the wood and the musical mechanism features 50 notes and four songs. Here's the decorative label inside showing the four short fragments of pieces you can hear.

The second, and larger, music box is the more common 72 notes, with 5 interchangeable combs each featuring three tunes. For you non-math majors, that's a total of 15 tunes, as indicated on the label below.

I would definitely recommend checking out Reuge's website. They craft not only traditional boxes like the ones I get to listen to here in Chico, but also fashionable and functional music boxes to match some of the more modern trends in Europe today. Regardless, the sound is something you must hear in person. And if you're lucky enough to find a retailer, locate the largest music box you can, usually a device the size of an old record player, and give it a spin, literally. You'll never regret it.

Eric Lovelin Photography

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