House On The Rock
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
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|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.
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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.