A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Hooptedoodle #81 - The Orchestrion

Good grief. I am gobsmacked. My gob has seldom, if ever, been so soundly smacked.

I am a really big fan of Pat Metheny, guitar player, composer and good all-round working genius. You may not care for his music, you may not even be aware of him – he’s not everyone’s cup of Darjeeling, to be sure, and much of his work falls between categories in a way which some people find uncomfortable. That’s all OK – I would like to direct your attention to The Orchestrion.

I was aware of his Orchestrion Project, which he has been working on for a while. In addition to his work with his own (and other) groups, he has done a number of solo albums in recent years – including film soundtracks, which involved a lot of multirecording. I don’t know enough about it to attempt to explain exactly why the Orchestrion concept came up, but he appears to have become seriously interested in (obsessed with?) the idea of building a monster music-playing machine – a big robot thingy which plays lots of real instruments. I guess it is computer controlled, but the instruments are real things made of wood and brass and stuff. It now exists – he even does concerts with it.


What a brilliant thing to do – look at it! What a fantastic, mind-blowing, overgrown kid’s fantasy. Imagine just being in the room with it – wow. Metheny must be up there as a serious nomination for Loony of the Century So Far, certainly in the sub-category Musical Loony. I am mightily impressed – but it’s more than the technical ingenuity or the quality of the kit, it’s the in-your-face, over-the-top scale of the thing. In the heart of every small boy worth his salt, there must always have been the seeds of this kind of crazy dream. It’s a wild extrapolation of all those wonderful old fairground organs and polyphons that have always fascinated me. God bless anyone who has the ability and the resources to make such a thing manifest, and the more pointless – and expensive – the better.

Of course I would like to have a shot on it, and of course it would take me about five minutes to realise that programming it must be a colossal chore – I imagine Pat has a crew who help him with it. But just look at it – and see if it puts a stupid grin on your face, as it does on mine. 


  1. Bonkers! :o) I can't deny its gonzo qualities but you'd think it might be easier (and smaller) to do it with musical effects on a computer!

    1. Yes, I guess it would. Apart from the shudder this idea produces in the unofficial anti-digital music movement, it's also a bit like deciding to do away with all these stupid little painted soldiers and just buy Total War for the PC. Maybe that would be the smart thing to do as well, mind you, but it doesn't bear thinking about.

      I just love enthusiasts. If it wasn't for enthusiasts, we would just do sensible stuff, and where's the fun in that?

    2. You are ABSOLUTLEY right, my friend - long may we welcome such eccentrics amongst us....