The Surprisingly Awesome Sound of 156 Office Machines From the '60s

By Alexis C. Madrigal

A 156-second symphony honoring the sounds of the mid-century workplace.

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The modern machine aims to be silent. The MacBook Air, eschewing the noisy optical and hard drives of yore, is a perfect example: It whispers through nearly all work. The quiet indicates the quality of the computer; it doesn't *need* some big noisy fan. 

But go back to the office of the 1960s and you'd hear a symphony of mechanical noises: metal hitting metal at various rhythms and speeds. Playing with the cacophony of the age, Swiss composer Rolf Liebermann composed a short song for 156 machines in honor of his country's National Exposition in 1964. 

According to UbuWeb, which hosts the original, the machines include: "16 typewriters, 18 calculator machines, 8 accounting machines, 12 office perforators, 10 caisses enregistreuses, 8 humidificateurs-colleurs, 8 tele-scripteurs, 2 metronomes, 4 bells of signalisation, 2 entrance door gongs, 10 claxons, 16 telephones, 40 experimental signal receptors,1 fork lift, a duplicator and a monte-charge."

I'll be honest: I'm not even sure what several of those machines are, but dang, do they sound good together. This is a fantastic little piece of music made from the sonic detritus of a pre-digital workplace. 

And here, we can see what it takes to reproduce a similar sound with real live people playing the role of the machines.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/11/the-surprisingly-awesome-sound-of-156-office-machines-from-the-60s/265603/