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Check Out The Crazy Contraption That Made the Music for Silent Movies

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This morning, our friends at HiddenLA pointed out a great Huell Howser video of an old contraption called a "fotoplayer" that was used to soundtrack silent movies, and we couldn't help but share it. You'll recognize the sound from carousels, old cartoons and other zany soundtracks.

There are only 12 of these left in playable shape, according to Joe Rinaudo, who's the guy playing it in the video above. Rinaudo's website says:

The fotoplayer (“foto” from photoplay and “player” from player piano) is a wonderful contraption that was built to provide music and sound effects for silent movies. These machines appeared around 1912 and were used in medium sized theaters. Fotoplayers were inexpensive to operate because you didn’t have to be a musician to play them as they were also playable by way of player piano rolls. The fotoplayer used a fascinating combination of piano, organ pipes, drums, and various sound effects designed to narrate the action of any silent film.

Pedals, levers, switches, buttons, and pull cords were all used to turn on the xylophone, beat a drum, ring a bell, create the sound of thunder, or chirp like a bird.

When sound films came into being in the late 1920’s, the fotoplayer became passé.

Of the thousands of American fotoplayers made during their heyday, sadly less than 50 survive, and of those only 12 are known to be in playing condition.


So awesome. Someone please make an animated gif for us.