The Victorian Synthesizer (2004-)

The Victorian Synthesizer (2004-)

The Victorian Synthesizer (2004-)

The Victorian Synthesizer

Study One For Victorian Synthesizer by J. M. Bowers

The Victorian Synthesizer is an ongoing project to build a musical instrument boasting the kinds of parts and capabilities traditional synthesizers have (oscillators, filters, amplitude envelopes, modulation) but using techniques known to the Victorians. It is this collision of contemporary concepts with outmoded means that creates the Victorian synthesizer as an imagined historical reject. Generally, the Victorian Synthesizer needs to be electro-mechanical rather than electronic, manual rather than voltage control is typically required, and some synthesis units will present especial challenges. Oscillators constructed through feeding back the output from amplifiers are, for example, post-Victorian inventions (c.1920 by Barkhausen and Kurz). Accordingly, I make the most of electro-magnetism (an 18th century discovery much celebrated by the Victorians) and the minimum of circuitry.

As Oliver Lodge (1898, Victorian) had patented moving coil methods usable for sound transmission in our epoch of interest, hacking loudspeakers seems an appropriate strategy for The Victorian Synthesizer. First, connect a battery (no more than 9v) direct to its terminals and enjoy the pops and thunks as the diaphragm moves in and out. The photograph above shows my current ‘concert’ set-up (known as VS-1). Two loudspeakers (for stereo of course) are wired in series with a battery and a conductive plate. I choose loudspeakers of contrasting histories and physical capabilities (I played a lot of prog-rock out of the one on the right, perhaps you can tell). A probe of the sort used in test gear is attached to the battery and when drawn across the plate causes the loudspeakers to jump. Grooves and other markings on the plate give a sonic texture to the probe gestures. Another (parallel) circuit involving a battery and a vibration or tilt switch is connected across the two loudspeakers. If the switch is rested on top of one of the speakers and the cone tapped, the switch will make and unmake its circuit yielding a kind of mechanical-electrical oscillation as it bounces around. The plate and the tilt switch circuits can be manipulated at the same time leading to a variety of modulations. The presence of washers and screws in the left hand speaker makes for percussive rattling. A final addition is a lead connecting the plate with the exposed metal band on the right hand speaker. If the probe touches this band a circuit is completed through the band leading to a squealing feedback sound.

Study One For Victorian Synthesizer features on the CD which accompanies Nicolas Collins’ Handmade Electronic Music first published in 2006 and expanded in 2009. Nic’s book also devotes a chapter to the technique.

New to the Victorian Adventure Enthusiast library~

New to the Victorian Adventure Enthusiast library~

Added several new specimens for the Roleplaying Game collection:


Abney Park’s Airship Pirates: Underneath the Lamplight~

Age of Empire: A Role-Playing Game of Mad Victorian Fantasy~

Gaslight: A Victorian Fantasy Role-Playing Game~

Leagues of Adventure~

Noggle Stones: Fantastic Adventure at the Crossroads of America~

Steamscapes: North America~

Fingersmith~ United Kingdom (2005) Aisling Walsh

Fingersmith~ United Kingdom (2005) Aisling Walsh

from the Wikipedia:

“The lives of two young women collide in Victorian England when a trio of ‘fingersmiths’ (pick-pockets) concoct an elaborate scam to defraud a young heiress of her inheritance. The story alternates between the twisting back alleyways of Dickensian London and the cloistered gloom of a Gothic mansion in 1862.”

Based on the novel by Sarah Walters, I don’t know if this is a perfect production. There were times when it felt as if the story was hampered by the limitations of being filmed for television.

What I did like is how the story starts as a classic set up for Victorian literature: orphans, madness, the rookeries of London, a rich eccentric, unexpected inheritances, secret upon secret, and true love. Walters’ story then takes all of that and then carefully subverts it. We are sucked into the story and then suckered by our expectations of the genre.

Most notably no authority figure gets off easy here: they are either corrupt, criminal, or inept. And no-one is truly an innocent.


William Palmer: Movie and Murder Ballad

Watched tonight:

The Life and Crimes of William Palmer ~ Alan Dossor (1998), England

Exactly what it says on the tin: a drama about the Victorian ear murderer nicknamed “The Prince of Poisoners”…

From the wikipedia:

“William Palmer (6 August 1824 – 14 June 1856), also known as the Rugeley Poisoner or the Prince of Poisoners, was an English doctor found guilty of murder in one of the most notorious cases of the 19th century.

Palmer was convicted for the 1855 murder of his friend John Cook, and was executed in public by hanging the following year. He had poisoned Cook with strychnine, and was suspected of poisoning several other people including his brother and his mother-in-law, as well as four of his children who died of “convulsions” before their first birthdays. Palmer made large sums of money from the deaths of his wife and brother after collecting on life insurance, and by defrauding his wealthy mother out of thousands of pounds, all of which he lost through gambling on horses.”

As was the popular culture custom of the time, there were of course songs about the notorious killer:

From PlanetSlade:

The Ballad:
Listen unto William Palmer,
Anguish makes me sore bewail,
Guilty they at last have found me,
Sent me back to Stafford jail,
Everyone appears against me,
Every person shows me hate,
What excitement is impending,
At poor William Palmer’s fate.

My trial causes great excitement,
In town and country everywhere,
Now guilty found is William Palmer,
Of Rugeley town in Staffordshire.

Many years I was a sportsman,
Many wondrous deeds I’ve done,
Many races I’ve attended,
Many thousands lost and won,
They say I killed my wife’s mother,
Took away her precious life,
Slew poor Cook and my own brother,
Poisoned my own lawful wife.

Everything looks black against me,
That I freely do confess,
Each new thought that comes now to me,
Causes me pain and distress,
Quick the jury did convict me,
Proved I did commit the deed,
Sentence passed on William Palmer,
Sent me back to jail with speed.

Back at home I was respected,
A gentleman, I lived at ease,
Noblemen with me connected,
Sporting men of all degrees,
As a doctor no-one knew me,
To do anything amiss,
Now they all strive to undo me,
Never thought I’d come to this.

My poor mother back in Rugeley,
Her son’s end must now bewail,
Knows her boy must die with scorn,
A felon’s death in Stafford jail,
Every charge alleged against me,
I have strongly it denied,
Twelve long days my trial lasted,
Now I am condemned to die.

Dreadful is my situation,
Here before the trap I stand,
Might have filled a noble station,
Might have been a happy man,
Children yet unborn will mention,
When to manhood they appear,
The name of Dr William Palmer,
Of Rugeley Town in Staffordshire.

No-one cares a jot for Palmer,
Though each charge I strong denied,
No-one doubts that I am guilty,
By a jury I’ve been tried,
My fate now must make me tremble,
Borne down with much grief and care,
Here’s the end of William Palmer,
Of Rugeley Town in Staffordshire.

“The British Library has two Palmer broadsides telling his story in verse, and David Lewis’ book The Rugeley Poisoner finds five more.”

check one out here:

Gaslight Victorian Fantasy RPG 2nd Edition released~

Gaslight Victorian Fantasy RPG 2nd Edition released~

“Battlefield Press, Inc presents Gaslight. A Victorian Fantasy where technology meets sorcery, where fantasy meets history. A world where Humans co-exist with Vampires, where fantasy meets history. Beast Men, Werewolves and Wildlings. A land of secret organizations and hidden agendas. Welcome to a Victorian world of magic, non humans and technology all trying to take their rightful place in society. Meet Vampire Detectives, Beast Men Sheriffs, and Wildling Rogues. Non humans in society exist from their counterparts in Victorian literature.”

Available in OGL or Savage Worlds:


Savage Worlds:

Victorian music halls~

Victorian music halls~

The Economist has a nice article on Victorian Music Halls, published back in 2001:


Victorian music halls

Beer and opera

Victorian music halls outraged 19th-century moralists, but are exciting modern artists and impresarios

DESPITE all the drunkenness, obscenity and prostitution, the Victorian music hall realised the dream of today’s cultural gurus. It achieved that elusive combination of mass appeal with a cutting edge, admitting no distinction between high and low culture. That partly explains why the few music halls that have survived are now attracting the attention of performers and conservationists.

At their zenith, there were hundreds of music halls across Britain, thronged with the working poor of London and the newly industrialised cities of the north. They evolved when entrepreneurial landlords, exploiting the popularity of impromptu sing-alongs, started hiring professionals to perform in back rooms. In the 1840s, the landlords began to build extensions (sometimes very grand), to accommodate the crowds. The income came largely from drink sales, and many music-hall songs mocked the abstinence and prudery of the Victorian middle classes. Popular themes included drink (a salvation), marriage (a disaster), work (a curse) and (even then) the caprices of public transport. But the halls also offered opera, drama and a variety of other distractions.

By the 1890s, though, they had become victims of their own success. They aroused the righteous indignation of members of the temperance movement, who set up less degenerate “coffee music halls” (which didn’t last). Theatres lobbied against their rivals, which were beset by new licensing regulations. The entrepreneurs started cleaning up their acts to attract higher-class patrons. Most of the grand music halls have since been demolished, bombed, or converted beyond recognition.

A few, though, survived. The splendid City Varieties, in Leeds, has been in constant artistic use. Built above a pub in 1865, it could once pack in 1,500 revellers; now it accommodates 531 in greater comfort. The patrons of Hoxton Hall, in London, were once lubricated by a basement bar, and entertained by trapeze artists and performing dogs. In 1879, it was bought by temperance campaigners. It now hosts arts-education programmes, as well as some music-hall revivals and experimental theatre.

Alongside these two, several defunct music halls are being reclaimed as places of entertainment. The Malt Cross in Nottingham, which first opened in 1877, was restored in 1998. The Britannia in Glasgow, opened in 1860, was once the heart of a four-storey Victorian theme park, boasting a basement zoo and a freak show. It functioned until 1938, when it was cut in half by a false ceiling, with the lower part used for storage and the top half left to rot. Conservationists have recovered steel rivets that were hurled at unsatisfactory performers, and a curious quantity of men’s fly buttons, justifying the Britannia’s 19th-century reputation as a hotbed of vice. The aim is to reclaim it for exhibitions and performances.

The most dramatic rejuvenation has occurred at Wilton’s Music Hall, hidden down an alley in London’s East End, which was built behind a pub in 1858. Divas once raced over from the Covent Garden opera house to perform their arias. Nevertheless, when some local Methodists attended a performance they “prayed that god would break the power of the devil in the place”; and in 1885, they took it over. After they left, Wilton’s fell into serious disrepair.

In 1999, Broomhill Opera moved in. The quirky programme of opera and musical theatre—a reasonable approximation to that of the 1860s—has been a roaring success. Local residents pay what they can. In an age when the “high” and “low” arts, and their audiences, have become polarised, the sweaty, bawdy Victorian music hall could point the way to a more inclusive artistic culture.

Aug 9th 2001

Just watched: Ripper Street (the entire first series)

Just watched: Ripper Street (the entire first series)

Ripper Street 2012-

“The story begins in April 1889, six months since the last Jack the Ripper killing, and in Whitechapel H Division is responsible for policing one and a quarter square miles of East London: a district with a population of 67,000 poor and dispossessed. The men of H Division had hunted the Ripper and failed to find him. When more women are murdered on the streets of Whitechapel, the police begin to wonder if the killer has returned.

Among the factories, rookeries, chop shops, brothels and pubs, Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) and Detective Sergeant Bennett Drake (Jerome Flynn) team with US Army surgeon and former Pinkerton agent Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) to investigate the killings.[3]

They frequently cross paths with Tenter Street brothel madam Long Susan (MyAnna Buring), who came to London with Jackson from America and lets him reside at the brothel. Their relationship becomes strained due to Jackson’s attraction to one of her most profitable girls, Rose Erskine (Charlene McKenna), and because of his close involvement with H Division and Reid.

Sensationalist newspaperman Fred Best (David Dawson) knows a dark secret about Reid’s daughter’s death. Although still being troubled by her daughter’s death, Emily Reid (Amanda Hale) determines to make a new life by helping the fallen women of Whitechapel despite her husband’s reservations.

Each episode features stand-alone crimes that serve to test Reid, Drake and Jackson, both in their working and private lives.”

Death at a Funeral~ being a system neutral RPG Adventure set in an Alternate Victorian London

Death at a Funeral~ being a system neutral RPG Adventure set in an Alternate Victorian London

“Take a group of players through an alternate Victorian London… as you work to solve a fiendish mystery and unravel a vile conspiracy.

On the way they will encounter fiends hungry for human flesh, both living and dead! With a plague of undeath still gripping Great Britain, even the World City isn’t safe from the shambling dead that threaten everyone’s way of life. Add to that the destitute whose hunger overwhelms them and a far more sinister threat, and it seems unlikely that anyone could live to tell this tale…”

Headless Portraits from the Victorian Era on i09

Headless Portraits from the Victorian Era on i09

The Creepiest Headless Portraits from the Victorian Era

We all know that people messed around with photos long before there was Photoshop. But you might not have realized how crazy the Victorians were about headless portraits. They literally lost their heads over this trend. Check out the absolute creepiest examples below.

Photographs of William Henry Wheeler, Oxford, 1875

(via Photo History Sussex)

A decapitated man, ca. 1875

(via George Eastman House/Flickr)

Around 1900

(via Photo History Sussex)

A woman keeps his head down

(via Retronaut)

Not a rugby ball

(via Is it weird?)

Happy family

(via PetaPixel)

It can be weirder.

(via courroiedetransmission, elisandre-librairie-oeuvre-au-noir, International Center of Photography and Dictionary of Sydney)