Electromechanical telephone hold music generator. Photo credit: Zoz at MIT.

telephone hold music: analog generator

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Recently a friend recounted to me a visit to a cool museum which had, in one exhibit, a “hold music” generator (you know, elevator muzak… here have some Cisco sound samples).

That is, before there was digital recording and playback, telephone switchboard operators wanted to play soothing music to callers while connecting their calls. To do so, they used little analog electromechanical playback devices — what we now think of as those cute music box toys


but which included very serious and complex devices once-upon-a-time.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_box#/media/File:Baud_museum_mg_8548.jpg
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_box#/media/File:Baud_museum_mg_8548.jpg

Anyway, so it turns out it was the Museum Speelklok (“Musical Museum”) in Utrecht, the Netherlands:


From Zoz comes this photo of the infamous Japanese telephone exchange hold music generator: (original content ahead! whoo)

Electromechanical telephone hold music generator. Photo credit: Zoz at MIT.
Electromechanical telephone hold music generator. Photo credit: Zoz at MIT.

[the end.]


Some wikipedia articles of interest:

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_on_hold
    Which contains this “lolwut” anecdote:

    > For those still uncertain of the difference between “song title” and “mechanical” copyrights, consider the Capitol Records lawsuit for copyright infringement against Nike some 20 years ago. Nike legally obtained permission to use the Beatles song title “Revolution” from the title’s owner, Michael Jackson. They used the Capitol Records owned recording of the Beatles’ performance, but failed to obtain and pay for permission and use. Capitol Records sued and prevailed because Nike ONLY had a license to use the title and did not have a license to use the mechanical recording

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elevator_music
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound_recording_and_reproduction
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_sound_recording
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_box
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Museum_Speelklok
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telephone_exchange#Sounds

Other interesting links I dug up while hunting for this museum before giving up and emailing Zoz:

  • http://www.telephonetribute.com/pdf/telephone_history_series_rev1.pdf
  • http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2014/09/history_of_hold_music_how_did_we_end_up_with_handel_tinkling_through_the.html