Wednesday, November 30, 2005

House On The Rock

If you haven't noticed, all of the older archives are dead. I had them on a different server which mysteriously deleted the directory. Someone requested I rebuild this entry. So here you are if you missed it...with 4 extra mp3s!

If you're ever in Wisconsin, you must visit House on the Rock. Built by Alex Jordan, a budding architect who Frank Lloyd Wright dismissed with the declaration, “I wouldn’t hire you to design a cheese crate or a chicken coop”, House on the Rock is a sprawling monument of obsessive collections and shambolic claustrophobic architecture built upon a 60-foot chimney of rock.

One of the main attractions is ‘The Infinity Room’, which is a ridiculous tapered glass structure that juts out from the rock and dangles precariously 50 feet over the forest. The structure is very frightening, especially when every heavy footfall from fat tourists makes the ramshackle structure shake.

After crawling through the low ceilinged, carpeted corridors dimly lit by Tiffany lamps, you eventually come out to the real attraction- the automated music machines. There are about 20-30 of these marvels, some with such stunning craftsmanship featuring whole doll orchestras banging out the Bolero and the Hungarian Rhapsody.

Since these machines were built in the 1940’s, they are in various states of disrepair. A lot of sour notes are squeezed out, the music phases in and out of time, the dead drum heads sound like suitcases. Sometimes most of the music is pre-recorded and piped in with just one lonely out of tune automated instrument trying to keep up. It is truly a sonic feast, especially when more than one machine is struggling to fart out a song.

Here are eight field recording mp3s from these great machines. The House on the Rock giftshop sells CD's of the music, but it is very sterile, very in-tune, not very interesting.

House On The Rock Automated Music MP3s

| 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 |

Further into the labyrinth, you enter the carousel room, home of the largest carousel in the world which features 239 grotesque carousel beasts rotating at a ridiculously fast speed. There is a cacophony of piped in music accompanied by a rolling thunderous white noise produced by cherubs suspended from the ceiling banging away on dead tympani drums. Hundreds of topless winged mannequin angels rotate overhead on what seem to be medieval torture devices.

The grand finale is the Organ Room, which is overly saturated with red light and stuffed haphazardly with all manner of antique pipe organs, odd acoustic contaptions and strange random collections of dolls. Unfortunately, none of the organs actually operate and they pipe in some bland music. Eventually you navigate your way through the winding staircases, dizzy with the sensory overload and you are spit out into the gift shop where you collapse on the ground.

Read more about House on the Rock
See more pictures of House on the Rock
House on the Rock website

UPDATE 4/24/5
WFMU's Beware of the Blog posted a brief entry on The House on the Rock and Listener Todd D. wrote in with this great explaination and description:

Hi from Madison, Wisc. Alex Jordan is a fascinating character - even more so when you dig beneath the official local tourist lore. He built the House on the Rock as a personal Bali Hai/ Space Age bachelor pad/ Shangri-La. He brought underage girls from Spring Green to party and parlayed money made from patents on inventions into hanging out with movie stars and politicians, blackmailing them with compromising photographs, using that money to become a slumlord in Madison to make money to buy tons and tons of weird crap (a suit of armor for an elephant, a carousel horseman of the apocalypse with a bouquet of heads on the saddle, the world's largest collection of angel wings, etc.).

Don't miss the scenic overlook under the House on the Rock that sits across the valley from eternity needle thing. Coolest smoke spot in south central Wisconsin. THE best thing about the House though is seeing the tourists go from enthused in the first half hour, to confused midway through the seemingly endless maze of bizarre crap, to totally annoyed by the end of the four hours it takes to go through the menagerie. Everyone leaves pissed off.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having been there 10 years ago, I agree completely. Flabby middle aged women seem to really love the place, sort of like they seemed to like the bloated Elvis and Liberace.

I went in with no clue as to what it was, and found it an excructing, cluastorphobic jouney, sort of a modern day Dante's inferno.

Along the way are escape doors to allow those with claustrophobia or motion sickness to escape. Of course, then your out, and can;t get back in.

I remember a enourmous deisel engine from an ocean going coat, and wondered how it ever arrived in rural Wisconsin.

If you know what to expect, and take a set of Bose noise cancelling headphones and some hallucinagenic drugs, it might be entertaining. Otherwise, head for The Gobbler in Fort Atkinson. Yeah, it's way on the other side of Madison, but your brain will feel better.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Chardman said...

I went there while on a long, dull business trip with two or three cabbage-headed coworkers and was pleased that the long duration and weirdness of the experience tormented my traveling companions worse than I.
It was revenge for making me go through the Cave on the Mound and too many cheese factories.
later that evening, as they all slept, I hijacked the rental car and spent the last of my per diem on beer and $1 bills to stick in stripper's g-strings.
Which is how I always want to remember Wisconsin.

12:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excuse me, but where did you get the idea that the music machines were built in "the 1940's"? Most were actually built right in the house workshops circa the 1970s. There are, however, several real old automatic instruments (dating from c. 1880's-1930, the real heyday), though a couple have been parted out to make the newer contraptions.

5:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought some of you out there might want to know what's playing on what, as well as some links to clips of well-restored, in-tune examples of similar model instruments.

1. Regina 27" upright disc music box. Needs regulating and adjusting. Disc was put on in wrong position, which is why it starts at the end, and stops before it should! (The mechanism is geared so 1 revolution = 1 tune).

2. Double Mills Violano-Virtuoso. The 2 violins and piano are in tune, however the whole thing needs a thorough restoration to sound nice. A sound clip of a well-restored single mills (1 violin + piano) is here:
and a photo of the single mills in the file:

3. Tangley O-roll build-up calliope. AKA "Gladiator Colossal Calliope" and/or "Jenny's Landing". This was made from a regular Tangley high-pressure air calliope (similar in appearance to this:, which was taken apart and then built into this faux boat landing. Originally playing A-rolls, it now plays O-rolls with a lot of new percussions added, as well as some tuned bottles!

4. "The Peacock" 92-key Mortier orchestrion-organ. This is one of the more original machines there, and has only a few modifications like moving the percussion effects to more visible positions in the case, and adding a few more accordions than is the norm. It had been tuned before my trip last week (August 2006), and sounded nice! Too bad it is slightly out-of-tune here.

5. "The Blue Room". Supposedly an automatic symphony orchestra, this is really just a humongous put-on and one of the most bogus machines there. The only actual playing instruments are the percussion; the string, flute, bassoon, etc. sounds are created by synthesizers and pumped through strategically-hidden speakers. The instruments just pretend to play, cued by the computer track running the synthesizer and percussion. What a rip! probably put-together/made-up in the late '70's or early '80's. The only really old parts are the tuned percussions (glockenspiel, etc.) in the far corner, which were taken from old theater organs.

6. The "Franz Josef" music machine. Another bogus machine. I believe there are old recycled pipe organ pipes etc. hidden behind the massive cabinet, since the music is quite obviously "live". This one is another put-on from the '70's or so.

7. The "Franz Josef" again. The cylinder on one side of this display is not actually playing the organ, as a careful inspection will attest. It is a very clever sham, but sham it is. At least the music is live, and not piped in. Someone should tune the organ pipes, though! I am guessing it was intended to be a wild take-off on Maelzel's Panharmonicon, as well as more conventional Welte orchestrions. However, both of these consist of just organ pipes and percussion, no ridiculous band instruments such as sousaphones (which weren't even invented when the thing was supposedly built).

8. Seeburg KT with xylophone. I got to hear this one, too, and it still sounds about the same! Whoever did the "restoration" of this did a botched job; even with an added suction box (which should never be necessary), it can hardly play! I think this instrument really needs a fine restoration, since Seeburgs (or any antique instrument playing A- or G-rolls) are really snappy instruments! A nicely restored KT (with violin pipes though, not xylophone) can be heard here: (scroll down to the bottom and click the link to the sample).


6:02 AM  
Blogger Fatty Jubbo said...

thanks for ther info.

I don't know where I get the idea that they were built in the 40s, actually.

1:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

is there a song of the mikado?

7:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

how was it for you on house on the rock? and see the worlds largest carousel how was that

11:48 AM  

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