The Album Tracks Part 1: Orchestrion

This is a combination of atmospheres and sounds from the 1870s and the 1970s. The Orchestion of the title is an Imhof & Mukle Orchestrion Music Machine. It uses a wooden barrel with pins on it to open valves in over 100 pipes that are built like woodwind instruments such as clarinets and flutes. Basically, a large version of the barrel you would see in a music box. To run it, you wind a weight up to the top of the machine, and as it runs down it drives the barrel and pumps the air through the pipes. This one was located in Dunkathel House, where I worked in the recording studio. Here’s a picture of the actual machine in the house, courtesy of the RTÉ archive.

Orchestrion featured on Treasure Ireland (1993)

Orchestrion featured on Treasure Ireland (1993)

Back in 1998 me and my sound engineering colleague Rupert MacCarthy-Morogh set up a couple of stereo arrays of nice microphones, and made recordings of each barrel. We used quite advanced technology at the time- a 20 bit ADAT digital tape deck and a Yamaha 02R digital mixing desk. One of the barrels seems to have been made by someone who lived in the house. It starts out well, a kind of typical music hall tune of the era, and then seems to de-generate as the composer tired of the laborious process of working out where to nail the pins into the barrel!


After we recorded each barrel, we decided to record every pipe as well. The pad sound in the piece is a result of a happy accident. The pins to open the valve were never designed for fingers, so it was awkward to play just one note. So sometimes we got interesting chords, and this is one of them. To create the lead sound I placed each note on the sampling keyboard so it could be played like a normal instrument. The rattling of the weight mechanism was incorporated into the sound, and with the ambience of the hall of a grand country house captured by those nice stereo microphones, creates a great atmosphere I think!

The 1970s sounds are a MiniMoog synthesizer for the bassline, and a drum loop made up of bits of lots of other drum loops from old seventies funk records. A classic tape echo gelled all the sounds together nicely.

So when you put all those sounds together, you can’t help doing something kind of funky, right? 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *