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Percy Grainger's Free Music Machines

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Percy Grainger's Free Music Machines

Postby Sam Inglis » Wed May 15, 2019 9:21 am

I recently read John Bird's fascinating biography of the composer Percy Grainger. Towards the end of his life Grainger became increasingly obsessed with creating what he called 'free music', and spent most of his time working on machines that would generate it. In doing so he seems to have invented some ideas that were way ahead of his time. For instance the 'Electric Eye Tone Tool' seems very similar in concept to Daphne Oram's Oramics system. Grainger died in 1962 so this must have been developed in the Fifties.

A few of the machines have been recreated at the Grainger Museum:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07l5YUohgPM
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Re: Percy Grainger's Free Music Machines

Postby Eddy Deegan » Wed May 15, 2019 9:28 am

Although the sounds emitted don't quite do it for me, that's wonderful creativity and it's great to see people take the time, effort and expense to recreate such machines :thumbup:
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Re: Percy Grainger's Free Music Machines

Postby ConcertinaChap » Wed May 15, 2019 11:11 am

Absolutely fascinating. Many thanks for that.

I've always had a soft spot for Percy Grainger because he was about the first folk song collector to take a recording device with him, quite an undertaking in those technologically challenged days. It also set him slightly against his fellow collectors (Cecil Sharp and the like) who believed in notating a song by hand while the singer sang which missed many of the subtleties of interpretation that the singer put into the song. Grainger's cylinders can still be heard today, in digitised and cleaned up form, and still reward study.

It occurs to me that this is of a piece with the video in that Grainger was clearly a man not afraid of technology if he thought it would achieve what he wanted. One of the Good Guys.

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Re: Percy Grainger's Free Music Machines

Postby Sam Inglis » Wed May 15, 2019 11:22 am

Yes, Grainger's folk-song transcriptions are very hard to sing, but his ideas about collecting have stood the test of time much better than those of other collectors. Some of his folk-song arrangements are incredible, too, especially Shallow Brown.

He led an, erm, interesting life, too!
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Re: Percy Grainger's Free Music Machines

Postby Zukan » Wed May 15, 2019 11:30 am

I love shit like this.
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Re: Percy Grainger's Free Music Machines

Postby Martin Walker » Wed May 15, 2019 1:37 pm

Great link Sam!

Beautifully engineered, although I can't help agreeing with Eddy about the sounds ;)


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Re: Percy Grainger's Free Music Machines

Postby Dashanna » Fri May 17, 2019 9:54 pm

I seem to remember reading that Grainger was hearing his 'free music' in his head, like the wind in telegraph wires, already - and was desperate to realise it out.

I've heard several different attempts to play the 'wavy lines' he wrote out before he and Cross invented their machines - including computer versions.

An example from 1936, played on theremins, is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3WLm_3bvrw

Absolutely fascinating character - clearly way ahead of his time.

PS - Lost Lady Found is a thrilling folk setting, with maybe a bit of free music:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IH14L7o21Ho
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