This portrait features the likeness of Pittsburgher Charles B. Brown III–multimillionaire, founder and CEO of Gas-Lite Manufacturing, collector of automatic musical instruments, and the first posthumous contributor of audio content to Locally Toned.
Brown died in 1999, and it was his wish “that his instruments be restored and his house opened to the public as a museum.” Brown’s legacy, the Bayernhof Museum, is straight up the hill from Sharpsburg–it overlooks the Highland Park lock and dam on the Allegheny River. The museum is one of Pittsburgh’s hidden gems.
Thanks to Brown, we’ve got a wonderful series of antique musical machine tones in the project. Today I’ll begin the series with two grand tones–the Aeolian Orchestrelle Tone and the Wurlitzer Military Band Organ Tone.
Tony Marsico, the musuem’s sociable curator and restorer, described the Orchestrelle as “an accordion on steroids.” For this tone, I selected an interesting pattern from the audio track I recorded, and then repeated that musical phrase to make a very attention-getting ringtone. It’s the kind of tone you’ll want to set for very important people.
The horns coming out of the face of the The Wurlitzer Military Band Organ remind me of something designed by Dr. Seuss (all artists have their references, eh?). What I love about this tone is that it ends with a whimper rather than a bang–you hear the band organ run out of steam at the end, the most perfect denouement imaginable.
ABOUT THE MUSEUM
A visit to the Bayernhof Museum is likely to impress most visitors, even hard-to-please out-of-town guests. With its rare collection of antique musical machines and its peculiar quirkiness as a museum [think Twentieth Century home of well-to-do Pittsburgh businessman + the Hollywood Magic Castle + The Museum of Jurassic Technology], it’s worth putting high up on the “what’s fun to do in Pittsburgh” list. My informal visit with the museum’s curator (to snap photos, record audio and jot down notes for Locally Toned) was an active and enjoyable 2.5 hours, with lots of looking, listening, walking, talking and laughing.
Because much of the experience is about listening to the musical machines and to the curator tell droll stories about the convivial Charles B. Brown III, it would make an excellent tour for blind visitors. Marsico restores the machines, and speaks informatively about the instruments as he plays them. Guests get to hear what hotel lobbies, skating rinks and silent movie theaters of yore must have sounded like, since those are the places, Marsico explained, that would’ve purchased and employed the use of such instruments.
Touring Brown’s home feels like stepping into a 3-dimensional portrait of the man, for visitors are invited to form their own sense of who he was, by seeing how he lived and decorated. Tour-goers are escorted through secret doors and passageways, to rooms with painted Bavarian scenes, gorgeous views overlooking the river, a basement level cave, a rooftop observatory, and three kitchens. And we encounter the man by seeing what he owned–Brown collected many, many other things in addition to the mechanical instruments–dwarf statues, beer steins, big and small statues of the Nipper RCA Dog, giant Hummels, stained glass, Nixon portraits, cheap bottles of wine, and a few “collectibles” that would be appropriately housed at this museum.
I’m grateful to one of Locally Toned’s hardest working project advisers, the artist Hyla Willis, for telling me about the Bayernhof Museum. “They have amazing-sounding automatic instruments,” she said, “you should see if they’d allow you to get ringtones, cause they’d be really special.” Hyla was right! I recorded 17 audio tracks the day I visited the museum, and I’ve produced eight new ringtones for the project (which I’ll introduce over a number of days).
Thanks, Mr. Charles B. Brown III and the Bayernhof Museum, and special thanks to the institution’s curator, Tony Marsico.