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Introducing The MB&F MusicMachine 3, A TIE-Fighter Inspired 10th Anniversary Music Machine

MB&F, Maximilian Büsser's horologico-mechanical collective think-tank, has just announced the latest in its collaborations with Switzerland's famous maker of luxury music boxes, Reuge: the MusicMachine 3, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of MB&F.

As you might have deduced from the name, this is the third collaboration between the two firms; all three draw their inspiration from the imaginary worlds of science fiction that have informed so many of MB&F's other designs. (Check out some of our exclusive coverage of the very first MusicMachine right here.) In the case of MusicMachine 3, the most obvious influence is the TIE fighter from the Star Wars series of films, although there were other inspirations as well. Still, you can't look at MusicMachine 3 without immediately thinking of the Twin Ion Engine starfighter whose menacing engine whine (yeah, we know sound doesn't travel in space, but you know, creative license) is so deeply ingrained in the memory of everyone who grew up living, at least in their imagination, in a galaxy a long time ago, and far far away.

The basic structure of MusicMachine 3 is built around the two "engines" on either side of the pod-like main hull. At the back of each, there's a stylized representation of an engine thruster -these are actually the winding keys for each of the two independent mechanisms. The main section of each of the two engines is taken up by the rollers, studded with tiny pins, that rotate in order to produce musical tunes; as the rollers turn, the pins pluck the teeth of a metal comb, producing musical notes. The tempo of each tune is controlled by means of a fan, which uses air resistance in order to slow the turning of each roller to a speed that allows the music to play at a pleasing speed. This type of air-resistance regulating mechanism has echoes in horology as well -such regulators are used both to control the speed of some chiming complications, and they're also used to control the speed at which remontoires rewind in some clocks and watches.

The regulator fans can be seen on the aft end of the engine pods (they look a bit like inverted eggbeaters, and you can fake watch them spinning when the MusicMachine 3 is set in motion. The combs are inside massive metal plates on the inboard side of each of the rollers, which are themselves clamped down by six large, blued steel screws. Each roller has around 1400 pins, each one of which has to be individually hand-finished and placed in tiny holes drilled in each roller. The placement of each pin determines the tune that will be played on the 72 teeth of each comb, and since this is a top-quality music box, traditional methods for tuning the teeth have been used, starting with the use of a special steel alloy. Teeth for bass notes are thickened with lead (a traditional technique) and tiny synthetic feathers are used to dampen excessive vibration. To fix the pins in place in the rollers, a hot resin is applied to the inside of the cylinders which, when it finally hardens, permanently secures the pins in place.

All this is pretty amazing stuff, but the entire affair rests on a box that's a work of art in itself. The box on which MusicMachine 3 sits is actually a resonating and amplifying chamber, and the mass of the MusicMachine itself is essential here as it helps mechanically couple the MusicMachine 3 to the resonant base (again, there's an analogy here with watchmaking and with chiming complications, in which the foot of each gong has to be properly secured to the mainplate -or, nowadays, sometimes to special resonance structures in the case or dial.) The base is made by the third partner in the production of MusicMachine 3: JMC Lutherie's Jeanmichel Capt, whose company makes high end guitars. JMC Lutherie, which is located in the Vallée de Joux, also makes "soundboard" speakers -speakers whose resonating surface is a sheet of very special wood. The wood is taken from 350 year old spruce trees that grow in a very cold climate, with short summers and long winters and like so many other things, adversity here breeds greatness, at least for the purposes of sonic purity -the slow growth of the trees means a very dense wood and tight grain, which has superior sound transmission properties. Once cut, the wood has to be aged for another five to ten years.

This expertise has made JCM Lutherie something of the go-to maker for resonance bases for high end horology, and that same expertise is the foundation -literally -of the MusicMachine 3, allowing the vibrations from each of the combs to be significantly amplified and enhanced -resulting in both louder and more beautiful music.

So what do you get to hear? There are a total of six tunes that the MusicMachine 3 plays -three on each roller. The right cylinder plays the themes from Star Wars, Mission: Impossible, and James Bond (as heard in 1962's Dr. No) and on the left, you get the theme from The Godfather; Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence; and The Persuaders (a famous early 1970s TV series starring Tony Curtis and Roger Moore as wealthy British playboys who moonlight as detectives -think Sherlock Holmes meets Austin Powers, but with better teeth.)

The MusicMachine 3 is a great exercise in exactly the sort of synthesis of apparently disparate worlds that has been MB&F's stock in trade from the beginning -a decorative, kinetic, and musical object that manages to fuse everything from guitar-making to 1970s popular culture to haute horlogerie in one exuberant package.

MusicMachine 3 is a limited edition of 99 pieces: 33 pieces with white finish; 33 pieces with black finish; and 33 pieces with 'chrome?finish. Price: CHF 17,500 + tax.

Get more info from MB&F right here.

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