The author at his desk at The Henry Ford. / Photo by Jeanine Head Miller
I grew up on Detroit’s far west side, just north of Dearborn, during the 1950s and 1960s. History was always my favorite subject, and I fondly remember school field trips to what was then called Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. I can trace my interest in American history to those visits and remember thinking how great it would be to work there someday.
I graduated from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1975 with a bachelor's degree in history. My original intention was to become a history teacher, but with teaching positions few and far between in those days, I ended up accepting a position in the mortgage department of Comerica Bank and stayed there for nearly 30 years.
I retired in 2008 and became a volunteer at The Henry Ford. After three years of doing computer data entry in the marketing department and helping at special events like Maker Faire, Old Car Festival, and Motor Muster, I met Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford. Jeanie was looking for a volunteer curatorial research assistant to work with her in the Historical Resources department. She was willing to take a chance on me, even though my professional life had been spent in banking, not historical research. The learning curve was steep, but with Jeanie’s knowledge and patience, I learned the ropes.
My primary focus as a volunteer has been to research the lives of some of the people who owned, made, or used the objects in The Henry Ford’s collection. Most of them were ordinary people, using these objects as part of their everyday activities.
Uncovering People’s Stories
I first look for clues in the object’s accession file—a file that contains whatever information we know about the object. Sometimes I find letters from the donor, often a descendent of the original owner, providing some family history and information about the maker or owner of the object, or how it may have been used. More often, though, there may be only a few clues—a name or a place. From these clues, I start my search to learn more about the background of the individual or family and the context of the object.
The advent of the Internet and genealogy websites like Ancestry.com—with access to census records, city directories, birth and death records, and other information—make researching the life of someone born more than a hundred years ago much easier. The census records are a particularly valuable tool in my research. They provide information about a person’s occupation, age, place of birth, marital status, immigration status, place of residence, home ownership, and more. The census also lists all the people living in the same home and their relationship to the head of the household.
Sites like Newspapers.com, with its access to many newspapers nationwide, can provide a wealth of information. I often find marriage and birth announcements, obituaries, and other information. Local historical societies are also a great research resource. I encounter other dedicated volunteers willing to search local records for information on people I am searching for—information not available online.
Conrad Hoffman’s Violin
Violin used by Conrad Ambrose Hoffman, 1793. / THF180694
A few years ago, The Henry Ford acquired a violin used by Conrad Ambrose Hoffman (1839–1916), a musician and teacher from Pontiac, Michigan. The violin had been made in 1793 by Czech violin maker Johann Michael Willer (1753–1826). The family not only donated Hoffman’s violin and bow, but also related archival materials, including concert programs, sheet music and librettos, calling cards, and stationery.
These materials helped provide some information about Hoffman. But further research in sources like Ancestry.com, Newspapers.com, and the Palmer Family Papers: 1853–1940 at University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library helped me enrich Hoffman’s story.
The United States census records for Conrad Hoffman revealed that he was born in New York in 1839, but moved to Oakland County, Michigan, with his family by 1840. His father, Ambrose D. Hoffman (1806–1881), made his living as a farmer and cooper. The 1870 census revealed that 31-year-old Hoffman was employed as a music teacher and was living at the family home in Pontiac, Michigan, with his parents and two sisters.
Most of the information I discovered about Hoffman’s life as a musician and teacher came from a biography that I found on Google Books, Biographical Sketches of Leading Citizens of Oakland County, Michigan, published in 1903. The account recalled Hoffman’s early interest in music, the musical abilities of his mother and sisters, and his study of the violin as a young boy—including his traveling to Dresden, Germany, to study music at the Dresden Conservatorium.
Hoffman and his orchestra performed at Clinton Hall in Pontiac, Michigan, on May 27, 1868. / THF279100
Hoffman’s biography also revealed that he served in the Union Army during the Civil War as a musician with the 15th Michigan Volunteer Infantry. In the years following the war, Hoffman organized an orchestra in the Pontiac area.
Conrad Hoffman performed at this concert at the Music Hall in Holly, Michigan, on May 24, 1866. / THF279106
Concert programs from the 1860s and 1870s document Hoffman’s performances in places like Birmingham, Holly, and Pontiac, Michigan. He performed as a solo violinist, as well as aconductor.
I discovered through a marriage announcement, published in the Detroit Free Press on September 25, 1900, that Conrad Hoffman married for the first time at the age of 60. His bride was childhood friend and pianist Philomela Cowles Palmer (1851–1930). Philomela was thedaughter of Charles Henry Palmer (1814–1887) of Pontiac, an entrepreneur who was instrumental in helping develop Michigan’s copper industry.
Conrad Hoffman died in 1916. His obituary, found on Newspapers.com, was published in the Detroit Free Press on December 9, 1916. The obituary described Mr. Hoffman as a well-known violinist, the owner of a collection of old violins, and the instructor of several of the best-known Michigan violinists and violin teachers.
Audrey Wilder’s Dress
Audrey Wilder’s blue 1920s dress is second from the right.
In the fall of 2019, Jeanie Miller asked me to find out what I could about the life of Audrey Kenyon Wilder (1896–1979) of Albion, Michigan. Jeanie planned to use Wilder’s 1920s dress for an exhibit called What We Wore: A Matter of Emphasis in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. My task was to find out as much as I could about Wilder to help tell the story of the dress and the woman who wore it.
The donor correspondence in the accession file for Wilder’s dress provided just a few clues—her name and place of residence. I guessed Audrey Wilder’s birth date would be about 1900, based on the age of the dress. I was able to find four-year-old Wilder in the 1900 U.S. Census, living with her parents at the home of her paternal grandparents in Albion, Michigan. Her father was the owner of a lumber yard in Albion.
Yearbooks from high schools and colleges, which I found on Ancestry.com, provided information about Wilder’s education and career. I learned that she graduated from Albion High School in 1914, Albion College in 1918, and earned a master's degree from Columbia University in 1921. Wilder began teaching English at Albion College that same year.
In 1928, Audrey Wilder left Albion College to serve as Dean of Women at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio. I was able to find an article written about her on Google Books, which shed some light on Audrey’s life and activities during this period of her life. The November 1935 issue of her college sorority newsletter, Anchora of Delta Gamma,publisheda story about Audrey’s life and career, entitled “Audrey Kenyon Wilder, Ohio Northern’s Dynamic Dean.” She is described as a woman “of exquisite grooming” and as having established the first social hall for women on the Ohio Northern campus, providing a setting for the female students on campus to hold teas, receptions, and co-ed dinners.
Dress owned by Audrey Wilder, 1927–1929 / THF177877
Tying an object to the story of its owner is the goal of my research. It is not hard to imagine Audrey Kenyon Wilder, the dynamic dean of exquisite grooming, attending a campus social function wearing the dress which is now part of the collection at The Henry Ford.
“Shopping” for the Collection
At times, I have assisted the curatorial staff in locating items for the museum’s collection. The curators identify a desired object and I then search eBay and other Internet sites to try to locate one in good condition. I then show the possibilities to the curator or curators, who select and acquire the object. These Internet sites make the search easier, but it often requires patient searching—sometimes for months.
Amelia Earhart brand overnight case made by the Orenstein Trunk Company, 1943–1950. / THF169109
One example is an Amelia Earhart brand suitcase. Earhart endorsed various products, including a line of luggage, in order to finance her aviation activities. I searched for six months and found one in like-new condition with the original price tag and keys! Though this example dates from the decade following Earhart’s disappearance, it attests to the staying power of the Earhart brand—this luggage line sold well for decades. This suitcase is on display in the museum’s Heroes of the Sky exhibit, in the section dedicated to Amelia Earhart.
I could not have asked for a more rewarding and interesting way to spend some of my time during my retirement years. I was finally able to find that “job” that I thoroughly enjoy and never get tired of. With millions of artifacts in the collection at The Henry Ford, there is always another life to explore and, for me, another adventure.
Gil Gallagher is Curatorial Research Volunteer at The Henry Ford.
Jacket, Worn by Robert H. Hendershot, circa 1890. THF 155871
In the 1880s and 1890s, Civil War veteran Robert Hendershot wore this elaborate jacket when he played his drum at Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) events and at other community gatherings. The accompanying “souvenir” card is actually an advertisement, letting interested parties know Hendershot was available for hire.
Trade Card from Major Robert H. Hendershot, "The Original Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock," circa 1895. THF 115938
Since the 1860s, Hendershot had billed himself as “The Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock.” But was he? In December 1862, during the fighting at Fredericksburg, Virginia, reports had come of a brave young drummer boy who had crossed the Rappahannock River with the 7th Michigan Infantry under a hail of Confederate bullets. The 12-year-old Hendershot was indeed with a Michigan regiment at Fredericksburg at this time. But so were several other young drummer boys.
The controversy over who really was “The Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock” raged for decades among Civil War veterans—reports from members of Michigan units engaged at Fredericksburg offered conflicting stories. But Hendershot used his savvy promotion skills to keep his name before the public, receiving recognition from some G.A.R. members and even from prominent men like newspaper editor Horace Greeley.
Hendershot may or may not have been “The Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock.” But throughout his life, he certainly used his celebrity to his advantage.
Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.
Talented African American jazz pianists played this piano at Detroit’s Club Harlem during the mid-1930s. How did the piano acquire its ivory finish? A few years after Club Harlem closed, the Warblers moved to Allen Park. The piano went with them. Perhaps the ivory lacquer was added by Maurine Warbler—a more appropriate look, perhaps, for a piano that now resided in a suburban home THF166445 (From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Allene Warbler in Remembrance of Her Parents Allen and Rene Warbler.)
The quiet ivory exterior of this unassuming little piano belies its jazz-infused past. Hidden beneath the ivory lacquer are glimpses of silver that offer a clue to its former life. Not only did this piano have a “front row seat” at one of the many jazz clubs that dotted Detroit’s Paradise Valley district during the 1930s and 1940s—it was part of the show.
In March 1934, this piano left the Wurlitzer company’s DeKalb, Illinois factory for its new destination—Detroit. It was delivered to a jazz club called Club Harlem, housed in the basement of the Lawn Apartment building on Vernor at Brush. To give the piano an appropriately “jazzy” look, the club’s managers painted over the piano’s rather reserved mahogany factory finish with aluminum paint. The back of the piano—the side visible to the audience—was covered with black velvet, decorated with large glittery musical notes. The piano’s small size—only 61-keys instead of the standard 88—was likely an asset to upstart Club Harlem in what may have been tight quarters filled with patrons in this basement nightclub. Too, its small size made it more affordable than a standard upright piano. Detroit’s economy was only beginning its slow and uneven recovery from the depths of the Depression.
More Alcohol, More Jazz The timing of this new club’s opening in early 1934 was no accident. Prohibition had ended the previous December—it was again legal to manufacture, sell and transport intoxicating beverages in the United States. During the 13 years that prohibition had been in force, “underground” establishments had continued to discreetly serve patrons liquor, as well as often offering food and live shows. Now they could do it openly.
During the 1920s, jazz, a musical form rooted in the African American experience, had taken America—and the world—by storm. The fresh, lively sound of jazz was different than anything that had come before. It was the perfect “accompaniment”—in fact, helped define—this more modern era. A 1919 song, Take Me to the Land of Jazz, captured things perfectly with these lyrics, “How in every cabaret, it’s the only thing they play.”
Detroit's Paradise Valley During the 1930s, a commercial center emerged in an area of Detroit (bounded by Gratiot, Vernor, Brush and Hastings streets) that became known as Paradise Valley. Racial discrimination had sequestered the city’s African American population into a tight-knit and vibrant community on Detroit’s near east side. Here, black-owned businesses dotted the streets and Detroit’s African American community could shop, eat, and enjoy their leisure time. Paradise Valley--with its clubs, theaters and dance halls—would become the major entertainment spot in Detroit, as a growing number of nightspots offered places where jazz could be enjoyed. Talented African American musicians and singers, including Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong, lit up the nights. Paradise Valley experienced its most rapid growth after Prohibition ended in 1933, with many jazz clubs--including Club Harlem--added during the following decade.
During the day, Paradise Valley was predominantly Black. At night and into the wee hours of the morning, Paradise Valley became more racially balanced, as many white Detroiters sought the entertainment opportunities found there. A major factor was the development of the black-and-tan nightclub, which catered to both African American and white audiences. Club Harlem, located at the northern boundary of Paradise Valley, was one of these black-and-tan jazz clubs. Many of the black-and-tan clubs in the district were owned by African American businessmen. A few, like Club Harlem, were owned by whites.
Club Harlem Club Harlem’s owner was Morris Wasserman. Wasserman ran a loan business and owned a pawn shop. (It was said that Wasserman also had ties to Detroit’s notorious Purple Gang, criminals involved in the illegal liquor trade during Prohibition.) Wasserman hired Allen Warbler to manage the club. Warbler had previously worked for Jean Goldkette, a prominent band organizer and booking agent, at Goldkette’s popular Detroit ballroom, the Graystone, during its heyday of the 1920s. Warbler's wife, Maurine, who had worked for a theatrical booking agent, designed many of the costumes worn by the chorus performers at Club Harlem.
Among the performers who played Club Harlem was 19-year-old Milt Buckner. Orphaned at the age of 9 and adopted by members of Earl Walton’s band, Milt and his brother Ted were prominent jazz musicians in 1930s Detroit. A few years later, Milt Buckner would join Lionel Hampton’s band as pianist and key music arranger. Bands headed by Monk Culp and Ernest Cooper also played Club Harlem. Other musicians who entertained Club Harlem’s audiences were 23-year-old saxophone player Charles “Tubby” Bowen, who would later lead a band under the name Tubby Bowen and His Tubs, and 25-year-old Sammy Price, a Texas pianist who became the house pianist for Decca Records in New York City in 1938, recording with many of New York’s jazz and blues greats.
Club Harlem had a short run--it operated from just 1934 to 1935. Club Harlem’s piano, once played by musicians like Milt Buckner and Sammy Price, ended its jazz career. Allen Warbler, Club Harlem’s manager, went into the real restate business. Club Harlem’s owner, Morris Wasserman, would open the Flame Show Bar on John R in Detroit in 1949. The Flame Show Bar would become one of the city’s major jazz clubs during the 1950s.
Pianist Sammy Price in a publicity shot from the mid-1930s THF249299. (From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Allene Warbler in Remembrance of Her Parents Allen and Rene Warbler.)
These young women were likely dancers in Club Harlem’s “Shim Sham Shimmy” chorus THF249293 (From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Allene Warbler in Remembrance of Her Parents Allen and Rene Warbler.)
Farewell to Paradise Valley From the 1930s into the early 1950s, Paradise Valley bustled. But, in the 1950s and 1960s, urban renewal projects designed to “modernize” the city while eradicating “blight,” along with freeway construction for I-75, erased this vibrant African American community—scattering its inhabitants. Little remained of Paradise Valley and neighboring Black Bottom (named by French explorers for its rich soil), where the majority of Detroit’s African American community resided in rundown clapboard houses built to house the flood of German immigrants who arrived in the 1850s. No efforts were made by the city to support the relocation of the African Americans who had resided there. Detroit’s urban renewal projects—and their devastating effect on this community—helped fuel the growing resentment against racial discrimination that would culminate in the 1967 Detroit civil unrest.
A little of Paradise Valley hung on for a few decades, though. The 606 Horse Shoe Lounge was the last remaining nightclub from the glory days of Detroit’s Paradise Valley. The club was located at 606 E. Adams from the 1930s to the 1950s. It had featured a floor show, an orchestra, and its owner John R. “Buffalo” James as emcee. Construction of the I-75 freeway forced the club to relocate to 1907 N. St. Antoine by the early 1960s. This last vestige of Paradise Valley’s legendary jazz clubs was demolished in 2002, the building razed as part of the Ford Field construction.
The 606 Horse Shoe Lounge was the last remaining nightclub from Detroit’s legendary Paradise Valley THF166450 (From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Arthur A. Jadach.)
Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.
Strange sounds will soon float through the air at The Henry Ford. Ghostly, warbling, hypnotic sounds. Reverberations that might be described as pure science fiction—as seeming “out-of-this-world.” These provocative sounds will rise out of an instrument called the theremin, developed in 1920 by Russian and Soviet inventor Léon Theremin. Famously, it is one of the only instruments that is played without physically touching it, and is considered to be the world’s first practical, mass-produced, and portable electronic instrument. These instruments offer a deep range of sonic possibility; learning to play one is a stirring experience.
At Maker Faire Detroit, July 30-31, 2016, Dorit Chrysler will provide several theremin workshops with KidCoolThereminSchool, a workshop program “dedicated to inspire and nurture creative learning and expression through innovative music education, art and science.” On Saturday, youth workshops (ages 4-13) will be held on a first come-first served basis at 11am and 1pm, followed by an adult workshop (ages 14 and above) at 4pm. On Sunday, youth workshops will be held at 1pm, followed by an adult workshop at 4pm. Maker Faire attendees are encouraged to arrive early to guarantee a place in the workshop, as each session is limited to ten participants. Additional guests are welcome to observe the workshop and test a theremin afterwards. Workshops typically run 45mins to 1hour, and will be held in the upper mezzanine area in the Heroes of the Sky exhibit.
Dorit Chrysler is rarity in the realm of musical performance: she is one of the few theremin players in the world who is considered to be a virtuoso of the instrument. She has accompanied an impressive list of bands including The Strokes, and Blonde Redhead, Swans, Cluster, ADULT., Dinosaur Jr., and Mercury Rev. Additionally, as part of her visit to Maker Faire, Dorit will give a performance each day at 3:15pm in The Henry Ford’s Drive-In Theatre, followed by a short Q&A session.
Kristen Gallerneaux, our Curator of Communications and Information Technology, had the opportunity to speak with Dorit Chysler about theremins, her music career, and the importance of collaboration.
Can you explain, using a few key words or phrases—as fanciful as you want them to be—how the theremin sounds? The granddaughter of the Lev Termen, the theremin's inventor once told me, you have to play the theremin with your soul - to me the sound at its best translates your slightest physical motions into a haunting & delicate soundscape, like weaving winds, tickled butterflies or howls to the moon, and yes, a theremin can sound exquisitely lyrical, but—at its worst, it can also sound like stepping on a cats tail.
How did your introduction to and love of the theremin as an instrument begin? What was your creative background before committing to the theremin? Having studied musicology in Vienna, I had been an active composer and also played guitar and sang in a rock band - when encountering the theremin at a friend’s house, I was instantly touched by its unusual interface, dynamic potential, the quixotic efforts necessary in controlling its pitch -why had the theremin not been more popular? It clearly deserved more attention.
How can the presence of a theremin influence the structure of a song? A theremin is surprisingly versatile - it can be applied in solo voicing (just like violin or guitar) or looping monophonic voices atop of each other, which creates a very unique weaving effect or dynamically in swoops and other gestural movements generated through its unique interface of motion translating into sound.
Are there any “quirks” to playing this instrument live? Playing a theremin live can be a challenge, as circuitry, wind (outdoors) or Hearing Aid ‘Loop’ T-coil Technology in concert halls, just to name a few, can interfere with the instrument. In addition, if you don't hear yourself well onstage, it is impossible to play in tune—so if playing with other instruments, such as an orchestra or a band with drummers, it is a challenge that can only be mastered with your own mixer and an in ear mic. Needless to say, all of this does not contribute in making the theremin a more popular instrument, the technical challenge playing live is real but can be mastered.
While commercial theremins are available via Moog Music, Inc., the theremin you sometimes play in your live shows doesn’t look like a commercial model. Is there a story behind who built it? Any special skills that creator may have had to work hard to learn in order to make the instrument a reality? I own several different theremin models and sometimes play a Hobbs Theremin, created by Charlie Hobbs. This prototypes has hand-wound coils and a very responsive volume antenna which permits very dynamic playing.
What is the strangest setting in which you have played the theremin? Many diverse settings seem to offer themselves to a thereminist. Some of my favorite ones have been: playing in front of Nikola Tesla's ashes, resting inside a gold ball sitting on a red velvet pillow at the Tesla Museum in Belgrade, or inside an ancient stone castle ruin, atop a mountain in Sweden, or on a wobbly boat off Venice during sunset and with creaming ducks, at the Carnival in Brazil on a busy street filled with dancing people, and finally, a market place in a small town in Serbia, when an orthodox priest held his cross against the theremin to protect his people from "the work of the devil."
Could you talk a little about the importance of collaboration, and perhaps talk about a project that you are especially fond of where collaboration had a key role? I strongly believe in collaboration—its challenges and the new and unforeseen places it may take you. My biggest challenge this year has been playing with the San Francisco Symphony orchestra, to be surrounded by a sea of acoustic instruments sounded incredible and was a great sonic inspiration. We all had to trust each other and some of the traditional classical musicians of the ensemble eyed the electric theremin with great suspicion! Also I enjoyed playing with Cluster, stone cold improvising together onstage, or with a loud rock ensemble, filling the main stage at Roskilde festival with Trentemoeller, looking at a sea of thousands of people. This Fall I am committed to projects in collaboration with a project in Detroit with the band ADULT., a French band called Infecticide (they remind me of a political French version of Devo), a children’s theremin orchestra, and a theremin musical production for Broadway. Stylistically a theremin can fit in nowhere or anywhere, which opens many doors of collaboration
Can you tell us a little bit about how KidCoolTheremin school began? What other sorts of venues have you travelled this program to? KidCoolThereminSchool began very organically, when children and adults were so eager to try the theremin themselves after concerts. I developed a curriculum and started classes at Pioneerworks, a center for art and science in Red Hook, NY. We were supported by Moog Music in Asheville, NC, where I had been teaching students over the course of six months. KidCoolThereminSchool has been going global ever since, we have had sold out classes in Sweden, Switzerland, Detroit's MOCAD, Houston, NYC, Moogfest, Vienna, and Copenhagen. This fall, KidCoolThereminSchool will go to Paris and Berlin as well as free classes in Manhattan as part of the "Dame Electric" festival in NY, Sept. 13-18th.
Why is it important for young people and new adult audiences to have the chance to try a theremin? Ever since its inception, the theremin as a musical instrument has been underestimated—it merely hasn’t found its true sound as of yet. In this age of technology, a theremin's unique interface of motion to sound, seems contemporary and accessible. Amidst a sea of information, the very physical and innovative approach to different playing techniques can allow each player to find their own voice of expression, learning to listen and experiment, to train motorics and musical skills in a playful and creative way.
What can people expect to learn at the KidCool workshops at Maker Faire? Due to time restrictions, we will offer introductory classes on the theremin. We will go through the basics of sound generation—and ensemble playing is sometimes all it takes for someone to get inspired in wanting to dive further into the sonic world of the theremin.
Is there anything you are particularly excited to see at the museum? Yes, the collection apparently holds two RCA theremins. They are currently not on display but we (the NY Theremin Society, which I cofounded) would very much like to help examine and determine what it would take to operate these instruments one day, and to even play them in concert at the museum in the future. For a long time now I wanted to see the permanent collection of The Henry Ford!
From May 18-22, Moogfest 2016—a festival dedicated to “the synthesis of music, art, and technology”—took place in Durham, North Carolina. While you may not have heard of Moogfest itself, you have almost certainly heard the sound of the synthesizer that is the namesake of the festival. If you’ve ever driven on the freeway nodding along to the Beatles “Here Comes the Sun,” or Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn,” you’ve heard the Moog. If you’ve rocked out to Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Lucky Man,” or danced to Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” or (keeping it local to Detroit) Parliament’s “Flash Light”—you know what the Moog sounds like. And if you grew up as a child of the 1980s, watching John Carpenter’s classic horror films—that soundtrack that punctuated the dread of Halloween? It was played on a Moog by Carpenter himself. My point is, the Moog has permeated our culture—its influence is everywhere, in plain earshot.
The Henry Ford is the repository for the original Moog prototype, pictured here. THF 156695 One of the reasons Moogfest is so important is because it raises awareness of the instrument’s impact. Not only is the Moog an essential innovation within the timeline of electronic instruments, it has also continued to influence the soundscapes of modern music. Another unique aspect of the festival is that its organizers give as much weight to organizing a carefully curated roster of lectures, workshops, and sound installations as they do in selecting the bands that play. From gatherings in small rooms where musicians lay their creative processes bare—to future-forward lectures about diverse topics like Afrofuturism, technoshamanism and radical radio—Moogfest’s speaker programming gives those interested in music, art, and technology the chance to be absorb new ideas about the history of technology.
This occasionally leads to interesting collisions and exchanges of ideas. Festival-goers might see a demonstration of IBM’s Watson project (a cognitive computing system), and later that day, hear Gary Numan play his groundbreaking 1979 Replicas album in its entirety. They might attend a workshop about “the internet of things,” and then take in a slice of a four-hour-long “durational performance” by analog synthesizer composer, Suzanne Ciani. Or for the truly committed—one might even participate in a “sleep concert” by Robert Rich, where the musician lulls participants to sleep with sound and influences their dreams from midnight until 8am the following morning.
Dave Tompkins, AUDINT, and Kristen Gallerneaux presenting their sonic research. The “mission patches” shown at center were discussed by AUDINT and represent cases in military history where sound was essential to the success of the mission: The Ghost Army, Operation Wandering Soul, and The Phantom Hailer. While I have previously attended this festival as a spectator, this year I was honored to take part in Moogfest as an invited “Future Thought” speaker, where I helped to organize an event called Spatial Sound & Subhistories. The event opened with a presentation about some of The Henry Ford’s own sound and communications history artifacts—including the prototype Moog synthesizer. Writer Dave Tompkins gave a riveting talk about his book-in-progress, about the effect of the natural landscape on Miami Bass and hip-hop music. The event was capped off by a tour through “can’t believe this is real” sound history by the UK-based collective AUDINT, who began their discussion with the WWII-era “Ghost Army.”
Dorit Chrysler demonstrates the theremin in an adult workshop.
I also managed to take in a few events at the festival. On Thursday, I hit the ground running by participating in a theremin workshop led by world-renowned thereminist, Dorit Chrysler. Her resume is impressive, having played with the bands Blonde Redhead, Cluster, ADULT., Dinosaur Jr., and many others. Chrysler also founded KidCool Theremin School, which provides educational workshops to increase awareness of the instrument. After spending an enjoyable hour hearing stories about the theremin’s history and dipping my toes in the water of learning to play (but not too well), I’m very happy to say that KidCool Theremin School will be joining us at The Henry Ford for Maker Faire Detroit to offer a series of workshops and performances. Stay tuned for more details!
Sam Aaron makes electronic music using live Sonic-Pi coding.
The overlap between sound, art, and the technology used to make it has become indistinguishable in some cases. In this image, Sam Aaron is using Sonic Pi—a software program he created—to create live-coded synth music. As computer code swept quickly upwards on the projections behind the musician and the music changed with each command, it became obvious that Aaron was exposing the audience to the process he was using to manipulate sound. While my initial reaction was that this mode of music-making must be amazingly difficult, Sonic Pi was in fact developed as an entry point to teach basic coding in the classroom.
Ryan Germick talks about developing the Pegman icon for Google’s Street View.
At the “Arts & Smarts” event, Google Doodle team leader Ryan Germick played host to something that fell somewhere between a stand-up comedy and technology talk show—complete with a “robot” named “Jon Bot” (actually Germick’s brother in a silver space-age suit). Through a stream of constant self-effacement and hilarious jokes, Germick talked about the origins of the icons he created during his career at Google. As the artist behind the Google Maps “Pegman” icon in Street View, Germick now leads the team responsible for over 4000 Google Doodles—including an accurate version of a Moog synthesizer in celebration of inventor Bob Moog’s birthday.
Susan Kare talks about her career designing digital icons.
Keeping with the talk show format, Germick also interviewed a few other guests. Susan Kare, an artist and graphic designer responsible for “creating every icon you’ve ever loved” gave a retrospective tour through her career as a pioneer of pixel art and digital icons. While working at Apple, she created the “Chicago” and “Geneva” typefaces, as well as the “sad” and “happy” Mac graphics—and the Command key on Apple keyboards.
Virtual Reality designer Manuel Clément has worked on many projects at Google, including the self-driving car project.
Next, Manuel Clément, Senior Virtual Reality Designer at Google, spoke about his early life in computing and his work on platforms like Flash in the 1990s, Google Chrome, Doodles, a Self-Driving car program, and Cardboard. Clément showed the outcome of a new prototyping team called Google Daydream, who are testing issues of social interaction, motion, and scale in virtual reality. He reminded the audience that VR is about “experiencing the impossible,” yet he is aware of its current limitations. In reference to an intense bout of app experiments, Clément asked: “What is VR good for? Maybe it’s good for nothing. But how about we build 60 things over 30 weeks and figure it out?”
An exhibit celebrating the legacy of another early synthesizer pioneer, Don Buchla.
A collection of Don Buchla instruments and memorabilia was also on view at Moogfest. Buchla, who is located in Berkeley, California, began creating analog and touch-sensitive synthesizers at about the same time as Bob Moog was creating his synthesizer prototype on the East Coast. The exhibit was created from the collection of Richard Smith—an important instrument technician in his own right, and one-time apprentice of Buchla. Smith provided a glimpse into one of the most complete collections of Buchla material ever assembled—this small portion of his archive certainly left me wanting to see the rest!
A “Minimoog Model D” synthesizer under construction at the Moog Music Pop-Up Factory.
Moog Music, whose headquarters and factory are located in Asheville, NC, built a “pop-up factory” for the Durham’s Moogfest. Even on the last day of the festival, the enthusiasm in the building was positively electric. Every demonstration synthesizer available was being played by a visitor, and displays related to Moog’s history were being used as photo opportunities: fans posed for photos next to a larger-than-life image of composer Wendy Carlos and by the circuit boards that once powered the synths of Kraftwerk, Dr. Dre, and Bernie Worrell (who to the delight of fans, dropped in for an impromptu session at the Factory).
A view of Yuri Suzuki’s interactive Global Synthesizer Project. In the spirit of encouraging a Maker Culture, the three finalists of Moog’s 5th Annual Circuit Bending Challenge were on display—a contest that asks contestants to create a unique electronic instrument for $70 or less. One wall was taken up by a collection of analog synthesizers in the shape of a world map. Designed by sound-art designer Yuri Suzuki, the Global Synthesizer Project asked people to contribute audio recordings of their regions. When the project debuted at Moogfest, visitors were allowed to interact by creating wire “patches” to play the gigantic archive of international sound.
The Minimoog Model D, exploded and assembled. Moog Music also used the buzz around the festival to announce the revival of one of their most iconic synthesizers—the Minimoog Model D. Using a remarkable amount of research, craftsmanship, and detail-oriented production, the company is staying true to the original 1970 version, down to the last circuit. Visitors could see an “exploded” Minimoog, and step over to the factory stations, where the various stages of their assembly was explained.
Darion Bradley of Make Noise shows off a modular synthesizer system. Moogfest, out of necessity and the modern spirit of music-making, isn’t all Moog all the time. In fact, there is a general spirit of comradery and democracy that permeates the event. In the Modular Marketplace, modern-day instrument makers show off their capabilities. In particular, small companies who create Eurorack modules—a sort of synthesizer that you can build piece-by-piece, by chaining together components—have a strong presence at Moogfest. Companies like Synthrotek, Mutable Instruments, Bleep Labs (along with dozens of others) demonstrated their gear and allowed people to try it out. The philosophies of innovation behind the Asheville-based Make Noise company seemed particularly relevant—not only with regard to their own instruments—but also to the general values found among creative technologists at this particular moment in time: “We see our instruments as a collaboration with musicians who create once in a lifetime performances that push boundaries and play the notes between the notes to discover the unfound sounds. We want our instruments to be an experience, one that will require us to change our trajectories and thereby impact the way we understand and imagine sound.”
Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communications and Information Technology at The Henry Ford.
Confederate Bass Drum, Captured at Missionary Ridge, 1860-1863.Gift of the Jewell Family.THF159778
A Battlefield Souvenir Preserved by G.A.R. Members of Fulton County, Ohio
This drum was likely left behind by fleeing Confederates as Union soldiers drove them from the hill during the battle of Missionary Ridge, part of the Chattanooga Campaign in Tennessee, on November 25, 1863. The astonished Confederates panicked, broke rank, and fled pell-mell. A Union victory. In less than a year and half, the Civil War would end and the Union would be preserved.
The abandoned drum was probably picked up from the battlefield by a member of the 38th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a Union unit that participated in the Missionary Ridge assault.
This battlefield souvenir was then taken to Fulton County, Ohio, where it was preserved by members of the local Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), an organization of Union veterans. By the 1880s, Fulton County had about 11 G.A.R. posts. To these Union veterans, this drum symbolized victory over Confederate forces. The drum was likely displayed in the G.A.R. hall at Wauseon in Fulton County.
A few days before the Missionary Ridge battle, Abraham Lincoln gave his eloquent Gettysburg Address in Pennsylvania. For us today, this drum symbolizes the end of the Civil War and the “new birth of freedom” spoken of so memorably by Abraham Lincoln on that day.
Visitors to The Henry Ford often marvel at the number and variety of historical objects found here. Often, so does the staff. As a presenter in Greenfield Village, I have been surrounded by these rich collections--many of the objects having been gathered during the 1920s and 1930s, when Henry Ford was avidly collecting for his museum. An internship opportunity over the winter has given me a chance to further explore how a number of these objects—musical instruments—came to be part of The Henry Ford’s collections. As a violinist, the topic of music was a perfect match for me.
Christina Linsenmeyer, a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of The Arts, Helsinki, is editing a book entitled Themes and Trends of the Musical Instrument Collecting Boom, 1860-1940. As an avid collector of musical instruments during the early decades of the 20th century, Henry Ford is a perfect fit. Jeanine Head Miller, The Henry Ford’s curator of domestic life, and Robert E. Eliason, curator of musical instruments at The Henry Ford during the 1970s and 1980s, will be co-authoring a chapter of the book discussing Henry Ford’s musical instrument collecting.
Henry Ford grew up dancing to the lively music of country fiddlers—and even learned to play the fiddle a bit himself. Ford’s interest in traditional American music and in musical instruments, then, was personal one. Ford’s efforts built an impressive collection—instruments which tell the story of music made by town bands, fiddlers at country dances, wealthy people in music rooms, and everyday Americans who purchased mass-produced instruments from local stores or mail-order catalogs.
The classical violins in the collections of The Henry Ford get around. In 2011 and 2013, we had them CT scanned at Henry Ford Health System; in February 2013, Sphinx Laureate Gareth Johnson played one at the National Day of Courage; and in October 2014, they were featured on Episode 5 of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation. Now, thanks to a generous grant from the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs, they are moving out of collections storage and into the Henry Ford Museum, in a display that is planned to go live by February 1, 2015. The violins themselves will be accompanied by a digital kiosk, where visitors will be able to explore additional related artifacts from our online collections. One example of these related artifacts that we’ve just added to our digital collections is the “Badger Gavotte” sheet music for Henry Ford’s Early American Dance Orchestra. Visit our collections website to view other objects related to the Orchestra, dance, and the violins themselves, and plan to visit us next year to see the new exhibit.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
For many of us, the music of our youth holds special meaning. It was no different for successful industrialist Henry Ford (1863-1947).
Country fiddlers had provided the lively music for the rural dances of Henry Ford’s youth during the 1870s and 1880s. Ford loved the sound of a violin, even purchasing an inexpensive fiddle as a young man and teaching himself to play a bit.
In the mid-1920s, Ford—then in his early sixties—sought out this beloved instrument that had provided the “sound track” for Ford’s young adulthood in rural Michigan.