The Remarkable Music Machine

A few weeks ago I received a much-forwarded email:

Subject:: Fw: An Unusual Musical Instrument

University of Iowa Farm Machine Music

Turn your sound on for this. Read this first, then watch.

This is almost unbelievable. See how all of the balls wind up in catcher cones.

This incredible machine was built as a collaborative effort between the Robert M. Trammell Music Conservatory and the Sharon Wick School of Engineering at the University of Iowa. Amazingly, 97% of the machines components came from John Deere Industries and Irrigation Equipment of Bancroft Iowa. Yes farm equipment!

It took the team a combined 13,029 hours of set-up, alignment, Calibration and tuning before filming this video but as you can see it was WELL worth the effort.

It is now on display in the Matthew Gerhard Alumni Hall at the University and is already slated to be donated to the Smithsonian.

An amazing story to say the least. And attached to the email was a most wondrous video. What appeared to be ball bearings of some sort flew out of pipes, bounced off cymbals, drums, odd objects that looked a bit like marimba or xylophone keys causing ringing music, then dropped noiselessly into hollow cones and disappeared. The video was fascinating. It reminded me of both Rube Goldberg and old music cartoons I vaguely remember from my childhood. But it also didn’t look like what the email said it was; the images seemed not quite “real”, a bit too perfect, perhaps simulated.

I played the video a couple of times, then, curious, looked for more information. It didn’t take much effort for me to find this note on Snopes and similar notes on Hoax-Slayer and other web sites dedicated to debunking rumors and chain emails. So, the story isn’t true — the Matthew Gerhard Alumni Hall, the Sharon Wick School of Engineering, the Robert M. Trammell Music Conservatory, and the “machine” itself are all fictions, and the Smithsonian Institution doesn’t accept donations of things that don’t exist. But the video is still entertaining, and the creators (Animusic, of Austin, Texas) clearly deserve credit. And I should probably thank the perpetrators of the hoax email for introducing me to this video, even if the story they told is fiction.

The copy of the video that came with my email had no description and no credits, no evidence of who might have been responsible for this work. If anyone is interested in the real video, here it is on YouTube, with full credits and copyright statement intact:

If you were entertained by this video, check out Animusic’s web site for more of their work.

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