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Music Box Concerto?

March 24, 2010

When my friend Dylan showed up at my place for dinner last night, he said "I've got a musical instrument in my bag. Guess what it is." After guessing flute, harmonica, Jew's harp, spoons and ukulele to no avail, Dylan pulled a small metal gizmo with a plastic-tipped crank out of his bag and a pile of thin paper strips with holes in them. It was a "make your own music box" kit. Who knew?

He then proceeded to play me a couple of short compositions that he'd created for the instrument. Feeding a pockmarked paper strip through the mechanical contraption, Dylan played his music by turning the crank which he held between forefinger and thumb. The 45-second-long pieces were enchanting. They sounded like a cross between an African finger piano and a Celtic harp. I recorded both compositions. To listen to one of then, click here.

The process of writing a 45 second snippet is a bit time consuming. First, Dylan creates the piece on the piano. He then marks up the music box manuscript paper using a sharpie. Then he uses the hole-punch provided with the kit to make holes in the places where he wants notes to sound in the piece. If he makes a mistake, he covers the hole with tape. Longer compositions are possible, Dylan tells me, by sticking streams of pockmarked music box "manuscript" paper together end-on-end.

One day, I hope he writes a concerto for the instrument.

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