melancholy and rust (a composition for punch hole music box)

hans' twinkly music box

My long lost friend Hans Fex generously lent me this twinkly music box.  Use a special hole puncher to punch out individual notes on a strip of paper, then run the paper through the machine to hear the results.  The templates come printed with a grid so you can hit each note dead center.

paper strip with punch code for melancholy and rust

This composition for punch hole music box, Melancholy and Rust, is more than just a lovely tune.  Its melody and accompaniment are designed so that the piece can be run through the machine right side up, upside down, and backward-upside-down.  For you music geeks out there, that’s a shout out to the principles of 12-tone composition, here using prime, inversion, and retrograde inversion techniques.  Only instead of flipping staves upside down and backward, we are flipping a piece of paper.  This particular music box has a diatonic 1 octave+6th range (C to A), so if you use the full range of notes, A minor will invert to C major, and vice versa.

music box workspace

Oh, toss all that theoretical nonsense aside!  Begone academia!  The real delights here are the twinkly tone, the creaking and rattling of the mechanism, the astonishing power of the miniature resonating box.  And what about the delight of (mis)punching holes and surprising yourself with the results?  True, it tries my patience to meticulously scotch tape closed any mistaken punches, but it’s usually best to just integrate them the final product.  Best of all, musicians and non-musicians alike can punch-compose, perhaps using musical knowledge, visual patterns, random bites, blind inspiration, or other aesthetics.

Now, Melancholy and Rust, played in three different orientations.

Oh, twinkly music box. <sigh>


Friday, July 9, 2010. Tags: , , , . music, traditional music, Uncategorized.


  1. N replied:

    I love that box! Great video.

    • christiehubbard replied:

      thanks mom.

  2. Ronald Grey replied:

    Your blog is better than my blog!

    • christiehubbard replied:

      just different, i think. i’m having a great time reading yours too!

  3. Carol replied:

    Where did your friend get that box for the music box? I got one, but it didn’t come with a box. I am still trying to figure out what to write. If you can take it off that board, you could try playing on different surfaces making it echo more or other effects.

    • christiehubbard replied:

      the resonating box shown here came as part of the complete system. It also serves as a storage mechanism for the inverted music box part. I have experimented a little bit with putting the music box on upright and grand pianos for amplification – it gets very loud! Good luck with your composition, and please get in touch again to share what you have created!

  4. feng0020chen-Hsiang Feng replied:

    Dear Christie,

    That was a beautiful music box and a wanderful song!! I am building a website about my music box project I am working on, may I use the photo here (music box workplace, in my website(not online yet)? It will be used as a background image in one of pages. Thank you.

    • christiehubbard replied:

      thanks for your note. yes, you may use the photo on your site! i’d be interested to check it out when you’re done, so if you think of it, message me the link once you’ve published.

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