Museum of Imaginary Musical Instruments


Wendy Carlos’s Multiphonic Generalized Keyboard

The Museum of Imaginary Musical Instruments is what it sounds like: a collection of musical instruments (including sound transmission and storage devices) that have been imagined but, for one reason or another, could not be brought into reality. There is a long history of such musical instruments. The museum’s collection spans from Antiquity (Lucian’s Bull of Phalaris) to the present (Antares’s Direct Mind Access). Some of its items (like Bacon’s Sound-Houses) seem prescient; others (such as Grandville’s Steam Concert) seem bizarre. Some (Nadar’s Dagguerreotype of Sound, for instance) appear as prods to technological development; others (like King’s Symphony in 1995) as warnings about going too far. All attest to the intricate process through which our worlds shape our musical and technological imaginations – and vice versa. As Thomas Patteson and I write in our curators’ introduction to the museum:

Ranging from the physically impossible to the simply impractical, from the “never” to the “not yet,” imaginary instruments rattle suggestively at the windowpane separating our comfortable sense of reality from that nebulous space beyond. In the words of Ernst Cassirer, such instruments are “concerned in the final analysis not with what is, but with what could be.”

As of today, the museum is open for visitors. Please wander about, check out some exhibits – we hope you find as much joy and wonder exploring its imaginary musical instruments as we have.

Museum of Imaginary Musical Instruments

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