This giant 100-year-old music box plays three violins at once and it’s technically incredible

8 August 2017, 17:21

The Phonoliszt Violina Orchestrion (1914)

Martin Molin shows us the remarkable self-playing instrument in action.


By Maddy Shaw Roberts

The Phonoliszt Violina Orchestrion plays four instruments at the same time – a piano and three self-playing violins. It is outrageously complex.

The Phonoliszt Violina is an orchestrion – which is basically a self-playing music box. It’s powered by an electric engine and looks straight out of a steampunk fantasy.

It has three violins in its upper box, plus a circular bow fitted with 1300 horse hairs, which rotates to play the violin strings. Then, it gets really clever. The strings are pressed with mechanical fingers, which have small pieces of cork underneath them to imitate the sound created by human fingers.

This particular orchestrion was built in 1914 by Ludwig Hupfeld and the Hupfeld company. According to Antique HQ, the company “sold this type of instrument for 20 years without any competitors”. And it’s easy to see why; we’ve never seen anything like it.

Although the orchestrion fell in popularity in the early 20th century, the instrument could be about to make a comeback: Martin Molin, a Swedish vibraphonist, is making the Marble Machine X, a new-age mechanical instrument which will imitate the orchestrion.

Watch Martin’s first Marble Machine in action here:

Find more of Martin’s videos on YouTube!

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