Before soundtracks … live sound effects at the movies!

03 Aug

Before soundtracks ... live sound effects!

New Thrills in the Movies,” a 1919 article in Popular Science tells us that before synchronized soundtracks were available you could purchase Frank Illo’s sound effects machine to accompany all of your silent films. And, only one person was needed at the “operator’s key-board” to operate this complex system of “shafts, belts, and pulley, diaphragms covered with buckskin, revolving cylinders partly filled with water or with lead shot or steel balls, wooden beams and slats, flexible sheets of tin or other metal, air-valves, whistles, bells, etc..” Reportedly, movie theater owners didn’t rush to acquire Illo’s invention as they preferred to employ orchestras and pianists/organists to a room full of clamorous contraptions.

Sadly, when the late 20’s arrived, synchronized sound was ushered in and over 20,000 theater-employed musicians, along with Illo’s machine, were ushered out! 


Posted by on August 3, 2013 in Movie, Photos


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3 responses to “Before soundtracks … live sound effects at the movies!

  1. sanclementejedi

    August 6, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    wow that is a lot of stuff to fit in a theater. I saw an episode of this show California’s Gold (PBS show) where they talked about this sound effects machine that they had at theaters (it was more like a crazy organ)

    • avmckee

      August 6, 2013 at 12:46 pm

      Yes, it would have been amazing to hear and see in a theater. Can’t imagine it. Thanks!


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