On Thursday I visited the London Science Museum Archive near Kensington Olympia (not far from Shepherds Bush, West central London, quite far from Tottenham). You cannot get access to this huge archive without special permission. This was a cultural visit which may or may not lead to something tangible and if it does, I will tell you about it. Anyway, the archive is the place where they put stuff which isn’t on show and it’s in this building, Blythe House:-
(if you squint you might see a relativist checking his phone near the gate…) .
This building used to be the post office savings bank – for those who remember, when you left your passbook at the post office, it would go here to be processed before coming back to you.
Anyway, this place is brilliant, and I didn’t know what they wanted to show us. They took us to a room where there was loads of audio equipment.
Some of the oldest recording equipment in the world is here, including a crying doll, wax and tin-foil recording disks and the horns were apparently to help focus your voice down to the stylus cutting into the wax/tin, which had to vibrate only through the power of your voice… Then through the range of electromagnetic recording devices, which culminated in cassette tapes.
They showed us crazy stuff like the Cello-phone duotrac:-
which used photographic film to record sound! Before this there were only 78 rpm records so this was in fact the first way to record an LP’s worth of music or sound in general, but it came out just before the war and didn’t survive the subsequent nonsense. The Betamax of its time :(.
Then I spotted this:-
which I realised was a fairlight sampler (and if you don’t know what that is, here is Quincy Jones explaining to Herbie Hancock what that is… ) and I started to get a little bit more excited than I had been before.
Then they took us into the next room…
and we found loads of old synthesizers (and several mellotrons which strictly speaking are not synthesizers). Priceless old synthesizers. The last two (moog modular and ARP 2500) would cost many many tens of thousands of pounds each now. If getting into the place had not been so comically difficult with locked turnstiles, CCTV, alarmed walkways etc etc I would DEFINITELY have stolen some stuff – these things need to be played and that’s it.
So by this point, me and one of the cultural people I was with were in a pretty weird kind of euphoria. Then things started getting really trippy. This:-
Is a Pyro-phone. Which means it plays music with fire. Obviously. And this:-
Is a sequencer which makes up its own songs.
BUT THEN SUDDENLY WE RAN OUT OF TIME. So the other group went into the room and we got left in another room.
Which was really boring.
Because it was full of telescopes.
(I mean, come on, I was expecting Salma Hayek to walk in at any moment wearing a Talking Heads t-shirt carrying a massive bag of pistachio nuts and some New Zealand Pinot Noir.)
Oh yes and by the way, this next wooden telescope just happens to be ‘on original Herschel‘ (their words not mine)
And this was just a small part of a whole room full of goodies!
and then in the evening I got to say goodbye to my old student who is emigrating to Chile, as well as seeing our old friend Ruben from Stockholm.
So, yes, that was a good day.