Actually, most of us are probably wondering what exactly an Orchestrion is. Especially popular in Germany during the 1920s, they were mechanical contraptions that consisted of a variety of instruments that would all play themselves, kind of like overgrown player piano.
The version Metheny is touring with is 25 feet long and 12 feet high; it incorporates “a large ensemble of acoustic instruments—including several pianos, drum kit, marimbas, ‘guitar-bots,’ dozens of percussion instruments and even cabinets of carefully tuned bottles.”
All of which sounds like a tour nightmare, equivalent to the monolithic ‘70s Mellotrons that became famous for falling apart on the road. And yes, a laptop and a couple of sequencers might have accomplished much the same thing, but it would have been a whole lot less impressive.
To find out more about Metheny’s current obsession — and hear it in action — check out last night’s intriguing 7-minute Metheny interview/demonstration on Public Radio International’s “Echoes” program. You can also click below for a quick video clip: