Heavy metal, and wood

One of the sonic features of Dutch historical centers has always been the Draaiorgel, literally “Turn Organ” (it used to be crank-operated, today they are all electric). It’s a huge, multi-timbric instrument with a reed organ and various types of percussions (sometimes also pitched ones, like Xylophones or Glockenspiels). The instrument is automated: it plays long perforated sheets of solid carboard that look (and act) just like MIDI files. In fact, according to the Dutch Wikipedia, some contemporary models have a computer actually able to read MIDI files.


Draaiorgel, front view (click to enlarge)

The instrument itself is completely acoustic, and it sounds like the gates of hell came down. It’s not just the volume: the combined effect of multiple powerful reeds, hi-pitched snare drums, the reverb of the small Dutch streets, and the operator keeping the tempo shaking a brass box full of coins (the only human touch), creates a frenzy of sonic excitement. Standing close to a Draaiorgel in a small alley is a very intense experience, definitely worth the coin it costs.


Another Draaiorgel, rear view. On the left, the Organ Books (click to enlarge).

Unfortunately, despite the digital innovations, the repertoire is a bit obvious: mostly traditional Dutch popular music, plus a few dance numbers. In the lascivious catholic South there is a dance version of the instrument, named Dansorgel. The possibilities are endless, and frankly I would love to write music for this instrument, certainly a precursor of the ones I normally use. I might look into that: what better way to thank the lovely dutchies for their hospitality?

Comments are closed.