Tag Archives: Hyla Willis

Bayernhof Musuem Tone Series, Part 1

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.


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.


Hyla Willis (photo by Larry Rippel)

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.

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Xenon Pinball Tones


It was fun learning about this machine, Bally’s Xenon, from PAPA Team members Steve Eckert and Dave Baach. Steve, the game tech, hooked me up with the audio and actually played the game so I could get interesting bits, and Dave told me, “the sound for this game was made by a woman–an awesome electronics composer named Suzanne Ciani.”


Then my superbly informed project advisor (and awesome artist) Hyla Willis sent me a link on Facebook saying, “I love the Xenon ringtone. Was suprised to find that it was composed by an early female electronic music pioneer. Good video of the project here (check the fingernails!).”

I watched the video this morning and it is awesome. It’s from a 1981 television series called Omni:  The New Frontier with host (world class actor, now deseased) Peter Ustinov. If you want a good chuckle, make sure you watch it to hear Ustinov’s prediction at the very end of the story.  Gotta love those futuristic predictions! Especially about women’s jewlery…


I made some fab sounding tones from the game’s electro-synth-audio. The Xenon Pinball Melody Tone (so named cause it’s mostly the clunky-sounding melody from this early 1980s game plus the satisfying “aah” sound the game makes when you feed her quarters/tokens) and the Xenon (Pinball) Tone (including sounds from game power up, coin up, start up and play).

Pinball Art Card: Xenon Detail

Pinball Art Card: Xenon Detail

I also made two pinball art cards featuring the Xenon images–they’ll be distributed at the championships this weekend during my *mobile* ringtone performance scheduled (weather permitting) from 4-6pm.

Can you see the little curly lines on this Xenon Pinball Art Card?

Can you see the little curly lines on this Xenon Pinball Art Card?

BTW, the images from the game were challenging to photograph (even with the glass off–the board has such fine line detail on it). When I showed one of the Xenon cards to the game tech (Steve) today, he said that the tiny little curly looking lines in the photographic images were ball marks–“wear and tear” marks from the balls bouncing around and around the machine.  As my friend Justin Hopper would say, “How cool is that?”


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Hylatone: Tone for Liminal Citizenship


Hyla Willis is one of my project advisers.  She is an artist, faculty at Robert Morris and a member of subRosa.  She came out to Encyclopedia Destructica studios on the very rainy ringtone making night and brought her portable (but pretty hefty) record player and an old Folkways record.  The player was a beaut.  Check out this snake-head needle:



Hyla wanted a “locked groove” ringtone from the end of one side of “Folk and Classical Music of Korea,” produced by Harold Courlander in 1951 during the war.  Here’s the subtle yet sophisticated Hylatone (Tone for Liminal Citizenship).  Hyla said she wanted “to share a sound which will some day become extinct and to evoke a sound of in-between-ness.”  I can dig it.  Thanks for lugging your awesome record player out in the rain, Ms. Hyla!

Hyla's Record Was Also Pretty Special

Hyla's Record Was Also Pretty Special (Photo by Larry Rippel)


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Project Inquiry and America Calling

America Calling by Claude S. Fischer

America Calling by Claude S. Fischer

One of my project advisor’s Lareese Hall, recommended a book that I’d also spotted in my preliminary research–America Calling:  A Social History of the Telephone to 1940 by Claude S. Fischer. So what the heck does a scholarly, statistical book like that have to do with ringtones? It is important to me to understand the context for the ringtones–specifically the invention and dissemination of the device that they are nested in–a telephone. Here’s what stayed with me from the book:

1. Sometimes the creators of the new technology are dead wrong about the applied uses of the technology. Telephone companies may have marketed certain uses of the telephone to people, but the users end up designing uses appropriate, interesting and/or necessary to them.

2. Etiquette was an issue. Manufacturers and distributors of new technologies do seek to educate and instruct the public, not just through manuals or help pages, but also through advertising on how the public should use their tools. I quote Claude (from a chapter called Educating the Public): “Many industry people complained of profanity, yelling and abuse on the telephone. Through notices, direct chastisement of customers by employees, and occasional legal action, the companies sought to improve telephone  courtesy.” It might be interesting/run for me to think of potential ringtone/cell phone etiquette projects to promote the project.

3. Telephones were often marketed to people as useful when emergencies arose. Interesting–many first time cell phone users (especially women I know) spoke of how they got their first cell phone “in case of emergencies” and for times when they  might be driving alone in their cars, in case of  break-downs and such. But cell phones also allow us to be mobile (rather than stationery) when reinforcing our personal circles of social interaction. Phone companies, at first, weren’t so keen on selling phones for socializing–they were primarily touted as tools for business and emergencies. But the public adopted phones for social purposes, and telephone marketing departments responded with media campaigns highlighting this usage.  “A 1937 AT&T ad reminded readers that ‘the telephone is vital in emergencies, but that is not the whole of its service…Friendship’s path often follows the trail of the telephone wire.’” Ever heard of Friendster?

4. There is a notion that technologies like telephones and automobiles help to distance personal communities from localities, yet statistical analysis hints that telephone development spurs local activity (whereas autos spur extralocal activity). What will video telephony do for us? Extend and reinforce the network further out? I think so. I tend to use phone calls and text messages largely for purposes of local communication, and a video call via Google Chat to connect with people farther away. Is Google Chat with Video like the automobile?! To a certain extent… Facebook and Twitter certainly reinforce local experiences.

5. Quoting Claude again, “…both the telephone and automobile before WWII were, in their domestic use, “technologies of sociability” (and thus perhaps especially “feminine”). “The net result of their use was to expand the volume of social activity and, in that way, add to the pace of social life” (p. 254). Will scholars continue to think of technologies of sociability as “feminine” now that so many males heartily participate in online localized media and participatory social cultures (texting, MMS-ing, emailing, vide0-chatting, and through online participatory cultures)? Does an attempt to involve the community in the creation of original ringtones and ringtone sharing have a chance to become another social activity as part of telephony?

6. As another friend and project advisor, Hyla Willis pointed out, a phone’s ring is an alert signal. From America Calling, (p. 244), “The telephone, some observers assert, sped up the pace of life, forced people to be alert, and thus created a lasting feeling of tension.  …In his 1976 history of AT&T, John Brooks claimed that the early telephone ‘was creating and expecting immediate results, whether in business, love or other forms of social intercourse.'” When I was growing up, telephones had one ring that sounded the same. I remember when some of my friends got Snoopy (or other character phones) and the alert signals were different. Do people feel less interrupted or disturbed now that voicemail is standard and that “rings” can be selected and programmed by individuals? Will we just feel more empowered to let unidentified calls go into voicemail, and more readily availble to be connected to those we want or need to hear from because we can identify their calls with the sweetest, most personal, audio forms of notificaiton?

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