2006 it has become commonplace for people to take music with
them wherever they go. Whether it be broadcast over radio
waves or the internet or stored on CDs, in a portable MP3
player, on a computer, or some other device. It is difficult
for many of us to even conceive of a world where we don’t
have a selection of our favorite music within reach. In the
past it was far more difficult to have music without trained
musicians to provide musical entertainment. The 19th
century equivalent of the iPod was the barrel organ. Each
barrel - similar to the cylinder on a music box, but interchangeable
like a player-piano - would contain several songs and could
be swapped to give a new playlist.
navigator-explorer Sir William Edward Parry (1790-1855) was
a man who would have appreciated the portable CD player. As
such a device was not yet invented, he went with the best
thing available. He purchased a top-of-the-line John Longman
barrel organ to provide accompaniment during the crew’s daily
calisthenics. The resulting piece of equipment was able to
play tunes with the bellows-operated seven-stop pipe organ,
a snare drum, bells and a triangle.
CD is a recording of five barrels played on the barrel organ
that accompanied Sir William on his voyages in search of the
(1819–1820, 1821–1823, and 1824–1825). This historic instrument
played for the sailors and several encountered Eskimos between
1819 and 1827. The sound is a bit raucous and the hand-cranking
doesn’t produce the steadiest of tempos, but the instrument
itself is shown to be in good working order. Each of the tracks
plays several songs including selections of hymns, songs of
national pride and traditional dance pieces.
timbre of the instrument is a bit like that of a carnival
organ. Its reed organ tones and bells sound much like something
one might encounter on a vintage merry-go-round. Many of the
pitches tend to dip in strange ways during some of the songs.
The snare drum doesn’t always align quite accurately with
the rest of the music. The overall effect though is of a delightful
cacophony. It certainly must have taken a very talented engineer
to create such a strange and wonderful device. Music like
this is seldom encountered any more. This probably is a good
thing, for if this was something one heard often it would
probably wear the listener down quickly. The delight is in
the rarity. As a rarity though, this is definitely fun fare.
primary audience for this disc must be the historian. This
is an album that few people would play for simple enjoyment
more than a few times. The novelty soon wears off, and without
the actual device’s presence to remind the listener of the
clockwork wizardry the album can quickly become wearisome.
At 38 minutes long, one can make it through the entire album
about once before the listener needs a rest and something
else needs to be put in the CD changer. However it is an interesting
disc, a monument to the engineering feat of John Longman,
and the surest proof that everyone living in a modern age
should be glad for the invention of the portable music player.