The amazing instrument that is really more like an entire orchestra in one handy unit was used in film's early days to play the live soundtracks to silent films
Curated by The Sadnesses
Total Runtime: 0:47:32
The photoplayer is an automatic mechanical orchestra used by movie theatres to produce photoplay music to accompany silent films.
The central instruments in a photoplayer were a piano and percussion; some machines also added pipe organs and methods for manually creating sound effects. Like a player piano, the photoplayer played music automatically by reading piano rolls (rolls of paper with perforations), but the photoplayer could hold two rolls: one that would play while the other was prepared. Common sound effects included gun-shots, bells and drums, which were generated by pulling chains called "cow-tails". Some photoplayers feature electric sound effects, such as sirens, automobile horns, and other oddities. A photoplayer operator had to load the paper rolls, start the machine and add the manual sound effects and percussion using the cow-tails.
Approximately 8,000 to 10,000 photoplayers were produced during the boom era of silent films, between 1910 and 1928.
Around a dozen manufacturers produced the instruments, including the American Photo Player Company, which made the Fotoplayer; the Operators Piano Company of Chicago, which made the Reproduco; The Bartola Musical Instrument Company of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, maker of the Bartola, Seeburg; and Wurlitzer. The popularity of the photoplayer sharply declined in the mid-1920s as silent films were replaced by sound films, and few machines still exist today.