The Mechanical Music Gallery features a selection of musical instruments that, by definition, “play themselves.” Considered by some as the predecessors of digital computers, mechanical instruments store music in different formats, with programs ingeniously devised in the form of barrels, cylinders, discs, rolls, and other technologies that allow for “playback.”
Some mechanical instruments are partially automated, requiring user input, like the mechanical zither (the player strums the bass strings) and the player piano (the operator adjusts the tempo, volume, and expression levers). Others, such as the cylinder music box and reproducing piano, are fully automated. The period between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, known as the Golden Age of Mechanical Music, saw the creation of a remarkable range of self-playing instruments in Europe and the Americas. MIM’s Mechanical Music Gallery highlights a range of mechanical instrument types and technologies from this era, including artistic examples that feature animated components such as human and animal figures.