Sometimes you just want to see if something is possible to make. I’ve been thinking about how fun it would be to incorporate melodies in my automata. There’s pleasure in trying to solve a problem just to see if you can do it. I didn’t want to buy a ready made music box mechanism because it seemed to me that whatever the music box part was, it had to be of similar scale and primitiveness as the automata. And like all of my sculptures, it had to be made of reclaimed materials. So of course, that meant that I had to make it myself
Google searches of “hand made music boxes” and “hand made music box mechanism” showed countless hand made boxes with bought mechanisms installed inside of them. Many of these were lovely, but that’s not what I was after.
One afternoon, a few weeks ago, the weather was too nice to be stuck indoors. I was in the mood for noodling about, so I opened all the doors to the garage and began to rummage through my scrap piles for materials.
Immediately, I was presented with the biggest problem, what to make the tines out of. I was thinking about kalimbas, and I knew that rake tines are sometimes used. but I wanted a direct way of attaching the tines to a bridge. The easiest way I thought, would be to use screws; rake tines are too narrow for screw holes. That’s when I came up with the idea of hacksaw blades.
I sized the tines by bending the blades in a vise until they cracked. They were worn out ones that Dave had held onto, because he has a hard time throwing things out, in this case, it was a win for me! I just made 5 of varying lengths. Luckily, they didn’t sound too bad as a group.
The next thing was making the roll with the pins. I used 4 circles cut from a hole saw in the drill press.
I want to show how this works. It has two blades that spin around and cut through the wood. You have to be sure you tighten them before you turn the drill press on, though, otherwise you get projectiles flying off the arm of the cutter (yes I have done this).
I glued the discs together and put a dowel through the holes the cutter had made in the drill press.
Next came the melody. Since my notes were randomly generated, I worked with what I had.
I made a chart, measuring the circumference and width of my roll and plotted on it where the pins would go. I wrapped the chart around the roll and used an awl to poke holes in the roll where I’d made the marks. Then, I hammered small nails into the holes and clipped the heads off. I didn’t worry too much about the length of the pins.
I built the frame next, using tobacco sticks. Wooden tobacco sticks were used during harvest, to tie the leaves onto. The sticks were hung in the kiln where the tobacco was cured. I had a bundle given to me from a neighbour, when he stopped growing tobacco.
After building the frame, I mounted the roll onto it and placed the bridge just far enough away so that all the pins struck the tines. I screwed down the bridge and began to adjust the length of the pins. Because I rough measured, things were a bit loosey-goosey; I had to adjust the nails individually, so they hit the tines with just their tips.
Once I tried it, I wasn’t totally thrilled with my melody, so I pulled nails, hammered them in and re-nailed until I had something I liked better. Composing music with a hammer and nails isn’t an exacting process.
This is the final product:
And here’s a video:
Since making this, I’ve used my prototype to make an automata with it’s own music box mechanism. It was great, having the prototype to work from. One thing that holds me up, when building, is after having invested so much time working on something, it becomes scary to do certain steps because you don’t want to mess up and have to start all over again. The prototype gave me the plan I needed to get the project done.