Reuge Good Vibrations: Musical Automatons and Vibration Damping Feathers
What would musical automatons be without the world of birds? Their colourful feathers don’t only make them pretty to observe but they also contribute to the clarity of their song
The Reuge factory recently invited us into the quiet and colourful backstage of its “feather” know-how, a place where feathers are placed onto singing birds, such as the hummingbird. But when it comes to musical automatons, a bird’s finery can also be found in more unexpected places. The feathers can also act as anti-vibration devices, allowing the precision and the duration of the sound to be controlled. Their installation is part of these rare crafts, kept alive in the Reuge workshops where the craftsmen and women pass them on.
Hens with superpowers
Did you know that in the past, anti-vibration features came directly from the farmyard? The cartilage from the tiny feathers found on the back of hens^ backs has amazing properties. It can reduce the vibrations of the musical automaton musical teeth or blades, reducing their acoustics. Today, small Kevlar strips of 0.8 mm thick replace these organic ancestors.
Vibration Feathers © Reuge
Fixed directly under the teeth of the keyboard (also called the cylinder) of the musical automaton, the anti-vibration nibs function like a resonance damper, capable of absorbing echoes and metallic noises. By limiting the vibration of each tooth, a more pleasing sound and melody are achieved. The quality of the sound depends on the fineness of the feather, which are sometimes as thin as 0.05 mm. They are also designed to last as long as possible, however, wear-and-tear is inevitable and the manufacture will replace them.
A touch as delicate as a feather
At Reuge, it is a feather-layer who, like the vibration-tamer, handles the tweezers to perfection during this delicate operation. The ends of the nibs, in groups of four, are dipped in a rapid-drying glue and then fixed in place under the 43 teeth of the musical automaton. Some of the longest keyboards have 144 teeth. “Each cylinder is different. It’s a challenge to line up the feathers perfectly,” she says. The teeth are 0.55 mm at their thinnest point and are spaced at a distance of a third of a millimetre. This operation requires extreme precision. For the feathers that were quite long and resembled a small comb, these are shortened to a length of 4 mm with a stamp.
Vibration Feathers © Reuge
In “cartel” type music boxes, the barrel is parallel to the cylinder, where in “snuff box” type music boxes, the barrel is perpendicular to the cylinder. For the “cartel” type, it is a matter of gluing two layers of feathers, mainly on the deeper notes, which are heavier and more difficult to dampen. A rare skill for a result of musical beauty.