The creative impulse drives musicians and instrument makers to make astounding innovations. The modern grand piano that fills a concert hall with its sound grew step by step from Cristofori’s diminutive fortepiano. Schubert, with his more than six-hundred songs, invented an entire musical genre. In Java, gamelan makers create instruments tuned to their own personal musical scales. And Arthur Ferris confounded all expectation by cross-pollinating harps and violins to make a new hybrid instrument.

Innovation in music continues. Yamaha and artist Toshio Iwai have collaborated on the Tenori-on, a new digital musical instrument for the 21st century. Its LED display allows everyone to play music intuitively, creating a “visible music” interface. Use the Tenori-on to assemble a composition——layer on new sounds for greater depth or keep it simple. You can make new music!

Arthur Ferris – Instrument Maker of the Angels

ferris-instrumentArthur Ferris was a self-taught musical innovator who credited the angels with guiding his work.  Born in Wisconsin in 1872, Ferris moved east with his Bertha, taking work as a carpenter and gardener in Flanders, New Jersey.  He made his first violin in 1913 and in 1924 has his first religious vision. That same year he was committed to the Hudson River State Hospital, a facility for the mentally ill, where he remained for almost 16 months.  From his release up until his death in the 1940s, Ferris produced dozens of instruments which he named “violinettes,” “loot=harps,” and “angel harps.”

Ferris and his wife assembled an orchestra of friends who learned to play the distinctive instruments and appeared with Ferris in concerts in several eastern towns. In 1938, the orchestra was heard from coast to coast on a nation-wide radio program and his instruments even appeared in Ripley’s “Believe It or Not!”

Ferris wrote extensively filling pages of letters, journals and even the interior of his instruments with his prophecies.

Although truly an innovative instrument maker, Ferris was first and foremost a simple man who saw his instruments as a way to communicate his vision of eternity.


Temporary Exhibition – “Music in the Home”

Listening Power

Before the invention of the phonograph, music in the home either came from a music box or live performance.  The parlor organ and the upright piano became emblems of middle-class domesticity and prosperity, but they were limited by the talent of the home-grown players. With the phonograph, the world’s best performers would play on demand.  Opera, novelty, sentimental and patriotic tunes were particular favorites.

For your listening pleasure

Until 1912 when the phonographic disc became the dominant recording medium, and all but Edison’s cylinders were phased out, each could only be played on one machine type. Music lovers wanted more titles and performers to choose from, but they were limited by the type of player that they owned. By 1925 two-sided discs played at 78 Revolutions per Minute (RPMs) was the standard. It remained dominant until after World War II.

Battles between competing technologies continued throughout the 20th century.

A similar scene was played out in the 1970s when cassette tapes replaced 8-track tape.

Thomas Edison & The Phonograph

“Of all my inventions, I liked the phonograph best.”
-Thomas Edison (1837-1931)

Thomas Alva Edison (1837-1931), known as the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” personified the American spirit of innovation. He perfected the incandescent light bulb, the motion picture camera and held more than 1,000 patents for other marvels of the era. By 1912, when his “Opera Cylinder Phonograph” was introduced, he had already been producing sound recordings and players for 35 years.

By 1896 Edison targeted the home market for recorded music. Much like the rapid evolution of today’s music technology, there was fierce competition for the growing market for home phonographs. Edison’s chief competitors were Columbia and the Victor Phonograph Company. All of them were seeking an inexpensive and durable machine, and a true sound.

In addition to introducing more than a dozen new phonograph models, Edison launched nearly as many companies, many of which went bankrupt, while battling an endless stream of infringement lawsuits.

Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division.


Gamelan Music

Gamelan music is one of the great musical traditions of the world, beginning nearly 1,000 years ago. The tradition is strongest in Bali and Java–its name is from the Javanese word for hammer, gamel. It is played quite differently from Western music, with a 50-piece orchestra of mostly percussion instruments that are built and tuned as one unit.

Whereas western orchestras are a collection of individual players who excel in one particular instrument, in the gamelan orchestra good performers are often proficient in most of the instruments. The instruments of a gamelan are tuned to each other and not to a standard pitch.

Musicians play simultaneous variations of a melodic line, creating a shimmering, pulsating sound.  The musical forms in gamelan involve the repetition of melodies and rhythms. The feeling of the ensemble is cooperative, and no one instrument dominates.


Many pieces, one heart

The instruments of the gamelan are divided into three classes according to their musical function: the structural instruments, the melody instruments and the elaborating instruments.

The structure and rhythm is articulated by gongs of various sizes. The fast-playing instruments, kempyang and kethuk, keep a regular beat. The larger gongs, kempul and kenong, are used to mark recurring points in each musical cycle. The largest gong, the gong ageng, represents the largest time cycle and generally indicates that that section will be repeated, or the piece will move on to a new section, or will end.

The main, or skeletal, melody, called balungan, is generally played by instruments made up of tuned metal bars. These are the saron family and the slenthem.

The panerusan,or elaborating instruments, play variations on the balungan, or melody. Panerusan instruments include the gendér, suling, rebab, bonang, and gambang. The female singer is also often included, as she sings in a similar fashion to the instrumental techniques. As these include the only wind, string, and wooden percussion instruments, their timbre sound stands out from most of the gamelan.