There are many things that stand as an example to humankind’s ingenuity, but few come close to the different ways we have devised to blow, beat, or pluck for music’s sake. Part of my recent trip to Belgium was spent in the Musée des instruments de musique (the Musical Instrument Museum or MIM), a memorial not only to the evolution of musical sound, but a testament to the human capacity for invention. Comics may be clever and geeky, but the Belgians have also paid their respects to the ultimate evolution of the geekmind with this museum.
We all know that the best complex and life-altering inventions have been created for pure indulgence (<cough> Internet <cough>) and musical instruments are no exception. Yeah yeah, it’s all arty and high-falutin’, but the instruments here still have geek appeal. Musical instruments employ nearly every aspect of physics and do so in a completely refined manner. Long before people ever knew about thermodynamics and acoustics, such things were at work in some of the craftiest and cleverest examples of engineering imaginable.
The MIM hands you a set of radio earphones that kick in when you stand in front of the exhibits and play the music of that particular instrument. Stunning examples of man’s insanity are also on display in addition to exquisite craftsmanship. Many of the more interesting pieces look like they could be replicas of something from Dr. Seuss, if they didn’t predate him by several hundred years, or may as well be some sort of cruel joke or tool of torture.
Being a traditional instrument geek myself, I naturally lingered among the woodwinds as well as examples of bagpipes—many of which resembled animal carcasses hung in a market stand. But Geekdad that I am, I was riveted by the automata on display: Player pianos and organs, giant music boxes powered by spoked cylinders and fluted metal wheels. All those shiny switches and levers! Some masterful woodworking and engineering to see. Geekkids of all ages would have a great time.