City Guides Soriano nel Cimino

Soriano nel Cimino: Gramophones (in the Castle Orsini)

You never know what is hiding away in an old castle. I expected the castle to be empty, or full of furniture. The castle was a summer home of a pope, and later used as a prison. The promo info that I had seen, promised a museum exhibit about torture. So, gramophones were an unexpected (but enjoyable) surprise.

There were lots of gramophones. It looked like the whole range of development of the technology was on display – from the earliest versions to the latest. Some simple, some fancy. Having never spent much time thinking about gramophones previously, I had a simple mental picture, so seeing them range through the development of the technology was fascinating.

In my lifetime, I’ve seen computers develop and change over 40 years. Developing and improving a specific technology isn’t limited to just the new fangled things of today, yet we think of old technologies as being frozen in the final form. The earliest gramophones were simple cylinders that rotated. Later models used the flat disks that we know of as “old records”.

Some “records” were record by punching holes in metal. The wax with grooves cut into them were a later improvement. That you can scratch a needle in a groove and get pleasant sounds – realistic representation of the instruments and voices that were recorded – still amazes.

Some of the gramophones were still in working order. The exhibit had a caretaker who knew how to work the things. He sized me up in two seconds and had one playing some old music that I loved. He didn’t speak a word of English and I don’t speak Italian (beyond simple stuff like hello, good-bye, please, thanks, etc), but he could read my mind.

I love old mechanical things – we say “analog” now – so I was immediately smitten. Things that can do something without electricity. Human powered. Many had hand cranks. I drooled at a few of them. And I marveled at the quality of sound from them. And I did feel a little thrill at seeing an American invention built by an American company exhibited in a foreign country. Sigh.

The castle did have other exhibits – olive presses and the like. No fancy decorated rooms stuffed with old furniture, though.

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