Music is just as much of a performance of our bodies as it is of our minds. So easily can the quick, agile hands of a violinist or the back-bend of a mighty trumpet player’s blow entice us.
However, we often take for granted the great deal of mental gymnastics undergone to spark the creation of such an instrument in the first place.
Sure, you can wander into museums with well-curated exhibition rooms narrating the physical evolution of a French harpsichord over the centuries, but what of the imagination that influenced the manifestation of these instrument models in the first place?
Leaping beyond the practical and possible, the folks at the Museum of Imaginary Musical Instruments have taken it upon themselves to create an archive of the mind’s irrepressible impulse to play and experiment with music.
On full display are drawings, clips, and videos of instruments that have been stuck in the imaginary world, yet to break into reality’s realm.
Some installments play on the tensions of humanity and technology, like A Steam Concert by J.J. Grandville (1844). He sketches a steam-powered world of tenor, bass, and soprano instruments–inanimate objects that never have to worry about a sore throat or ill-preparedness to perform for an audience.
The Cat Piano. La Nature, 1883. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Imaginary Musical Instruments.
If sentience is more of your preference in sound, you can listen to the colorful cries of melancholy cats. The Cat Piano, derived from a reported artist in Book VI of the Musurgia Universalis, is constructed to hammer live cats’ tails with corresponding keys, arranging a crescendo of sullen spirited music.
More modern creative vibrations find themselves in film, where made-up instruments find a proxy to reality.
In the movie, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), the Toturetron is a sadistic contraption of caged human prisoners who moan at the prodding of a harpsichord, producing similar harmonies to those of unfortunate felines.
Such hypotheticals are vexing and strange for sure, and perhaps critics may think that it’s superfluous to concern themselves with realms outside the concrete.
Yet these instruments do exist in the museum and inevitably draw a parallel with music in their surreal play on imagination and reality. They form a playground for the circulation of the desired and the feared for what could truly be.
Most importantly, these insights into the landscape of imaginary instruments provide us with infinite possibilities to create outside a world of material limitations.
Feature photo courtesy of Marcin Wichary.