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Want to listen to music at the touch of a button? Or combine the sounds of instruments with weird noises? Music automata and electronic instruments like those in our collection paved the way for these types of developments.

Music Automata and Electronic Musical Instruments

Music automata have made an age-old dream of mankind come true: to produce music without the need for musicians. In the 19th century, large numbers of mass-produced automata and recording devices brought mechanically generated music into private households and public spaces for the first time.

The use of electricity to produce sound marked the dawn of a new era at the beginning of the 20th century. Inventions such as the theremin and the Trautonium offered sounds that had never been heard before, and astonished audiences with their novel appearance and unusual operation. This development has continued with the synthesiser since the 1960s. Institutions such as the Siemens studio for electronic music and Oskar Sala’s studio, which can be seen in the exhibition, also experimented with modern ways of generating sound.

3,250The number of music rolls in the Deutsches Museum collection that can be researched online.

70 The length of shelving in metres in the Museum Archives that store Oskar Sala's estate.

1The length of the pins in millimetres that store music on the cylinder in the Swiss music box.

Exhibition Themes

  • Music Automata
    The music automata in the collection include barrel organs, a polyphon – the forerunner of a jukebox, and self-playing pianos. They all play music with the help of programme storage mediums, including pin barrels, pin discs and perforated plates, as well as punched tape rolls on which the music is stored. The historical instruments are complemented by a Yamaha Disklavier piano.
  • Electronic Musical Instruments
    This historically young group of electrophones includes instruments from the 1930s such as the oldest-surviving Trautonium, a theremin, a Neo-Bechstein grand piano and an electrochord. The exhibition also features the spectacular Moog Synthesizer IIIp, which belongs to the musician and composer Eberhard Schoener, the successful Minimoog synthesizer and the Yamaha DX 7. The oldest Italian synthesiser and the “ThoWiephon” developed by Peter Thomas complete the collection.
  • Music Studios
    Visitors can admire parts of two important music studios in the exhibition: the Siemens studio for electronic music, where many well-known composers worked in the 1960s, and Oskar Sala’s studio, where the famous bird cries used in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller “The Birds” were created.
“If you want a Trautonium, you have to build one yourself.”
Oskar Sala
Visualisation of the new music exhibition.

Brief Tour of the Music Automata Exhibition

Today we have a real treat for your ears: music curator Silke Berdux shows Emanuel Pavel a selection of music automata from our exhibition.

Replica of the Kempelen Speaking Machine

Artificial speech is an age-old dream – and not without its peculiarities. The Deutsches Museum has a speaking machine that is considered to be the oldest of its kind. It resembles the famous machine that Wolfgang von Kempelen described in his book “Mechanismus der menschlichen Sprache” (The Mechanism of Human Speech) from 1791. Previously, nobody knew what the device was capable of, or how it worked. The workshops of the Deutsches Museum have now made an exact replica to learn more about this machine. Alexander Steinbeißer, who built the replica with colleagues, presents it here.

“It would take you all your life to learn the variations on it.”
John Lennon's take on the Moog IIIp Synthesizer

Facts

  • 260 sqm exhibition area
  • Around 100 exhibits
  • 5 interactive activity stations
  • The exhibition is on Level 2

Any Questions?

Team Musical Instruments

  • Dr. Christian Breternitz

    Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter
    Abteilung Musikinstrumente

  • Dr. Dipl.-Tonmeister Rüdiger Josef Herrmann

    Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter
    Abteilung Musikinstrumente

  • Dr. Judith Kemp

    Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin
    Abteilung Musikinstrumente