It all began in the summer of 2008. I was in England with my family (my Mom had been singing with the Berkshire Choral Festival in Canterbury) and for a day and a night we visited the small town of Northleach, in the Cotswolds. Why? Because my Mom had found out about Keith Harding's World of Mechanical Music.

We were given a guided tour of the whole place by a woman who knew everything about the instruments and gadgets in there and how to play them. Needless to say, for me it was a life-changing experience.

Not only are you hearing these things the same as they sounded 100+ years ago, but you're seeing the way music has been translated and constructed on to these mechanisms, these surfaces, each with its own transportive atmosphere. I have such love for sound like this, moods of another era... It expands the improvising mind in so many ways, especially when hearing it so intimately.
In the gift shop, there was a little station where they had regular little music boxes for sale, each with their own assigned song. They had 17 of them out to try, and it's not often one has the chance to play with melodies in such a way...

Near the register they also had a couple boxes of piano rolls for about a dollar each, and of course I bought a few...

Keith Harding, the owner of the place, saw my excitement then and gave me this:

Anyhow, a couple weeks after returning to New York, I receive from my Mom in the mail a DIY Music Box Kit made by the Kikkerland company. Little did I know what sort of ideas and inspiration this would spawn! A great way to explore how shapes, patterns and distances (rhythm) can make music. The impressions the creative experience leaves on the mind too is quite interesting, and when you leave the experience to do something else, or play an actual instrument, you can't help but feel the distance from one thing to the next like a hole punched across and vertically through a surface of time...
The Kikkerland model covers two octaves in the key of A-flat, and there's just no way to go wrong. I wasn't thinking 'notes', but just progressions of shapes... But even then you don't really know how it's going to come out in the end, and the surprise playing it back when you're done is beautiful. The toy comes with laminated paper strips and a special puncher to make the holes/notes. You can buy extra strips because they go fast, and when you make a long piece you need to tape them together. Also, if you want to do away with a note you punched you can just put tape over it. After considerable use though, the music box's plastic gears and crank start to squeak and don't take the paper as well, so you have to use your finger to assist, or just purchase another.

Here is the audio and video of the Kikkerland music box music. When I first started making these pieces I only had low quality video with a digital point-and-shoot camera, but soon thereafter the HD cameras became available. I'm including the low-quality videos anyway.

1. Study No. 2 :59

2. Study No. 3 1:33

3. Study No. 4 2:13

And in fact a Polish artist by the name of Ola Buczkowska came across these music box pieces on the internet and used them in her work here...

Then came the Teanola music box which I discovered and simply HAD to order... They sold the mechanism alone for about $60. It's just a larger version of the Kikkerland model, and it spans three octaves.

1. Study No. 5 1:42