Thursday, January 2, 2014

Speelklok Museum, Utrecht

Last week Dan and I spent a day in Utrecht.  We've been there before, namely to see the Dom tower, but this time we decided to go to the Speelklok Museum.

The upper floor.  The museum is in an old church.

What is a Speelklok you might ask??

Well, 'Speel' means 'play' in Dutch, and 'klok' is similar enough to the English word that you may have already recognized it - clock (and I just tried to spell that starting with a 'k').

But the museum focuses on more than just clocks.  Their website says they're dedicated to collecting 'self-playing mechanical musical instruments', and honestly most of the objects on display didn't tell the time, but they did play A LOT of music.

This museum was by far the loudest I've ever been in, including children't science museums, and I found it to be a powerful experience.  You know when music is so beautiful and at the same time really loud that it gets your heart to beating really fast and your stomach is in your throat and your soul is tingling?  It was like that.

Not all the street organs* were going at once though, thank goodness.  The first part of our visit was a tour of several very large organs that were popular in dance halls in the 1920's.  The one below played some quintessentially 20's music, and I didn't entirely suppress my desire to do the Charleston.  We were invited by the tour guide to dance though, so that was okay.


The other part of the museum was more interactive, and very well done.  You got to experiment with different ways the mechanical instruments can produce sound, and there were a couple of interesting videos (with English subtitles, very important) about the evolution of mechanical instruments.  I also found out the interesting fact that composers (people you've heard of like Bach and Handel) loved composing music for mechanical organs and pianos, because they weren't limited by human ability.  A machine doesn't have the restriction of only two hands.

And I'll leave you with an image from their temporary exhibit on cafe music in the 1920's.  Apparently creating a mechanical violin was much harder than an organ, and they solved at least one of the problems by creating that horizontal bar you see across the upright violins to act as a bow.  This circular bow constantly rotates (thus the blurry vertical lines) and the violin is pushed up against it when the sound needs to be made. It brings violin to bow instead of bow to violin.


*Street Organs are incredibly common in the Netherlands, and they may be specific to here, as Wikipedia refers to them as 'Dutch Street Organs'.  Every weekend downtown Haarlem has at least one playing in some main walkway or another, always with a man or two holding a cup for donations, shaking it in step with the music.  And if you're wondering what they look like, Google image search has a ton of examples.

1 comment:

  1. Very cool! Maybe we can visit this when we come again.

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