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per
April 25th, 2014, 08:51 AM
I've for some time had a Symphonion disc music box. The mechanism was way out of calibration when I got it (none of the tunes played correctly), so I decided to attempt digitalizing the discs after seeing what the guy at HensTooth Discs does.

These music boxes were in their heyday more than 100 years ago. Between 1886 and 1910 it was one of the main forms of mainstream music players. One of the reasons for their success was the idea of interchangable tunes, which could be mass-produced easily (as opposed to the cylinder music boxes). Around 1910, however, the music box market in general lost grounds to the gramophone and it didn't take long before the mainstream music boxes were obsolete.

Here is a brief summary on how the disc music boxes works. You have tunes stored in the form of needles punched out of steel discs. The needles are arranged in circular tracks around the senter of the disc, and the disc rotates above a stationary array of star-wheels during playback. When a pin hit a star-wheel; the wheel rotates, damps a tooth and then plucks the tooth to produce a "pling" sound. Some models have two teeth per star-wheel for a richer tone.

The problem is; steel is not as "indestructible" as the adverts back when these boxes were new claimed. It is prone to mainly rust, bending, and fatigure/broken pins, especially when the discs are more than 100 years old. There is as such a lot that can happen which makes a disc play incorrectly.

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So how is it possible to reproduce the music in its full glory? Well; By reading off the perforations! The needles are punched out of the discs, and it's therefore a hole just besides every position where a needle is or should have been.

The best way to do this is by scanning the top of the disc and analyzing the scan with image analysis software. When the holes are found, you can reproduce the music by looking at the radi and angle of each hole (with reference to the center of the disc). The last year or so I've been working on such a poject, and it has turned out to work really well. I have since recalibrated the actual physical music box I have, but it's always nice to have the tunes digitally as well.

Attached to is the tune of a disc for the 24cm Symphonion. That is the exact music box I have, but the program can do any disc format that has perforated needles and a center hole. I have this far also tested it with 27cm and 21cm Symphonion discs, and a disc compatible with the 30-track Thorens disc music box.

Is there anyone here who has any interest in disc music boxes or other forms of mechanical music?

Chuck(G)
April 25th, 2014, 09:05 AM
I'm familiar with these things and always thought it a shame that it had no way to indicate the duration of a note. Complex figures get blurred as the vibrations die out, so the music is sort of limited in nature. Great for Christmas carols, but no so much for Tin Pan Alley works.

Still, your work in this is remarkable and allows for preservation of the medium. My hat's off to you!

Al Kossow
April 25th, 2014, 09:21 AM
Attached to is the tune of a disc for the 24cm Symphonion.

I thought it was interesting that the chorus is quite different from what I'm familiar with

per
April 25th, 2014, 02:10 PM
I'm familiar with these things and always thought it a shame that it had no way to indicate the duration of a note. Complex figures get blurred as the vibrations die out, so the music is sort of limited in nature. Great for Christmas carols, but no so much for Tin Pan Alley works.

Still, your work in this is remarkable and allows for preservation of the medium. My hat's off to you!
Thanks :)

I like to compare music boxes to melodic percussion. The only way to controll the sustain is by repeatingly striking the tone to extend it (which is commonly done on tunes for the big cabinet boxes). Also, the blurring effect does cover up some of the limitations of mass production; accuracy is not always perfect. Sometimes a needle is punched a millimeter off, which is quite a lot on the innermost tracks.

My biggest gripe with the music boxes is the time limitation. Some discs are supposed to be played at slower speed, but those are far between (note what I said about accuracy). The standard 21-27cm Symphonion boxes are at around 35 seconds per revolution at full speed, which is just about enough for a verse or two of most traditional songs.

But still, they did what they could do, and some of the tunes are absolutely worth a listening despite the limitations.

MikeS
April 25th, 2014, 02:22 PM
I thought it was interesting that the chorus is quite different from what I'm familiar withWas Disney around in those days?

Certainly different, but lovely... how about a picture?

Looks like they even had multi-disc players; any automatic ones?

https://www.google.ca/search?q=symphonium&es_sm=93&biw=1152&bih=773&tbm=isch&imgil=9V_xtwnIVYVZpM%253A%253Bhttps%253A%252F%252F encrypted-tbn1.gstatic.com%252Fimages%253Fq%253Dtbn%253AANd9 GcS9_OKTmjZw-bwidIFqzz8GXFXi1tll5WB72TyJVZNpLGfFHlCO%253B650%25 3B843%253B7sv-2SnQ5Cnc6M%253Bhttp%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.liveau ctioneers.com%25252Fitem%25252F15353042_symphonium-disc-music-box&source=iu&usg=__k3bH6UxW5_wN6Yfvt-KIatxBR3c%3D&sa=X&ei=g-BaU8vjHqW22AXnzYHYCg&ved=0CDMQ9QEwBA#facrc=_&imgdii=_&imgrc=9V_xtwnIVYVZpM%253A%3B7sv-2SnQ5Cnc6M%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fp2.la-img.com%252F983%252F36694%252F15353042_1_l.jpg%3Bh ttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.liveauctioneers.com%252Fitem %252F15353042_symphonium-disc-music-box%3B650%3B843

per
April 25th, 2014, 03:35 PM
Here's some pictures. All the white wood is parts I've had to remake as they were missing. Behind is the collection of 53 discs I got with the box.

As of different models, there are plenty. As I mentioned, it was one of the main mainstream music playback devices before the gramophone caught on. Symphonion was first out with the 21, 24 and 27cm models, but other companies were soon to follow. There were everything from small toy-models to big coin-operated cabinets. Symphonion and Polyphon were the biggest in Europe, while Regina was main importer (at first) and eventually maker in the American market.

There is a book with an assortenent of info about the different companies and boxes. It's called "The Disk Music Box" and its written by Kevin McElhone for the 50th year aniversery of the The Musical Box Society of Great Britain some years ago.

MikeS
April 25th, 2014, 03:39 PM
Verrry nice! So they did have changers/jukeboxes? That'd be neat to see; must have had pretty big mainsprings ;-)

A friend of mine has a player piano and boxes of rolls in her barn that I've been trying to talk her into digging out and restoring; a lot easier to digitize those than your disks.

per
April 25th, 2014, 03:44 PM
Verrry nice! So they did have changers/jukeboxes? That'd be neat to see; must have had pretty big mainsprings ;-)

A friend of mine has a player piano and boxes of rolls in her barn that I've been trying to talk her into digging out and restoring; a lot easier to digitize those than your disks.Yes! In fact: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9CdR4Mxtcw

Chuck(G)
April 25th, 2014, 03:53 PM
Thanks :)

I like to compare music boxes to melodic percussion. The only way to controll the sustain is by repeatingly striking the tone to extend it (which is commonly done on tunes for the big cabinet boxes). Also, the blurring effect does cover up some of the limitations of mass production; accuracy is not always perfect. Sometimes a needle is punched a millimeter off, which is quite a lot on the innermost tracks.

My biggest gripe with the music boxes is the time limitation. Some discs are supposed to be played at slower speed, but those are far between (note what I said about accuracy). The standard 21-27cm Symphonion boxes are at around 35 seconds per revolution at full speed, which is just about enough for a verse or two of most traditional songs.

But still, they did what they could do, and some of the tunes are absolutely worth a listening despite the limitations.

Just wondering--are the innermost "tracks" the high notes or the low notes? Are the notes spaced out in strictly ascending or descending order or are they interleaved in some fashion?

MikeS
April 25th, 2014, 04:00 PM
Yes! In fact: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9CdR4MxtcwToo cool!!!

Beautiful!

per
April 25th, 2014, 04:18 PM
Just wondering--are the innermost "tracks" the high notes or the low notes? Are the notes spaced out in strictly ascending or descending order or are they interleaved in some fashion?There is a lot of variation among different models, but the standard symphonion ones I have concentrated on have a interlaced system. It starts at high at the innermost tracks on the side with the lock, descending toward the lock, and continuing on the far other side untill ending on the lowest notes closest to the center of that side.

It's not entirely chromatic. You often find serveral teeth with the same tones, and often you'll find that there is no tooth for certain semitones. Prioritized tones are often signifficant tones in commonly used chords (for example C, F and G), and skipped semitones are very often the least used ones (like #C and #F).

Chuck(G)
April 25th, 2014, 05:23 PM
That's counter-intuitive in way. I would have guessed that the outer tracks would be associated with the higher notes, owing to the better resolution of the higher linear velocity, where the less-critical and slower bass notes would be associated with the inner tracks where a stronger "pluck" would be possible, because of the effectively shorter lever arm.

There's a lot more to this than I expected.

MikeS
April 25th, 2014, 06:32 PM
That's counter-intuitive in way. I would have guessed that the outer tracks would be associated with the higher notes, owing to the better resolution of the higher linear velocity, where the less-critical and slower bass notes would be associated with the inner tracks where a stronger "pluck" would be possible, because of the effectively shorter lever arm.

There's a lot more to this than I expected.I'm probably foolish to argue with per, but the disks I looked at sure seemed to have the highest notes toward the outside, more or less linearly; was there more than one standard or am I seeing things? I'll have to have a closer look.

per
April 25th, 2014, 06:44 PM
I mentioned as well that it differs a lot between the different models and makers.

The interlaced system described with the high and low tones closest to the center is at least used on the 27, 24 and 21cm Symphonion. The later 30cm Symphonion has it as suggested, with the high tones on the outer track for both combs.

And yea, it's a bit backwards having the high and low notes on the inner tracks. This thing was a real pain to calibrate. Half a millimeter miss, and everything sounds way off.

MikeS
April 25th, 2014, 06:56 PM
I mentioned as well that it differs a lot between the different models and makers.

The interlaced system described with the high and low tones closest to the center is at least used on the 27, 24 and 21cm Symphonion. The later 30cm Symphonion has it as suggested, with the high tones on the outer track for both combs.

And yea, it's a bit backwards having the high and low notes on the inner tracks. This thing was a real pain to calibrate. Half a millimeter miss, and everything sounds way off.I can imagine...

Yeah, I was watching some of the larger disks; wow, talk about lack of compatibility...