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Lyric Pictures (Bordertown Institute), Bordertown
Bordertown lies on the main highway from Adelaide to Melbourne, close to the border with Victoria. Its claim to inclusion in this Encyclopaedia stems from an item in the trade press in September, 1928:
"S.E. Murray, who six months ago acquired the show at Bordertown, was in the city this week. Mr Murray has been con-centrating on a musical inven-tion of his own, the Orchestrone [sic], which he has practically perfected, and is getting splendid results from the instrument."
.[Everyone's, 26 September, 1928, p. 28.]
This article gave rise to the thought that Mr Murray might have constructed some kind of photoplayer. However, further research has revealed full details of the "Orchestron", which was in reality an elaborate gramophone with two turntables, an antecedent of those later used by radio stations and their "disc jockeys". As the contraption illustrates an interesting aspect of silent film presentation in the late 1920s, details are given here for their historical value as they are otherwise unlikely to be recorded, and may be of interest to those researching silent film exhibition practices.
Mr A W (not S E) Murray was the Director of Lyric Pictures, which showed weekly on Saturday nights at the Bordertown Institute. He was also an Electrical Engineer who sold and repaired refrigerators, washing machines, radios and "Petter Home Lighting Plants" His invention was comprehensively described in the local press:
"Motion pictures have evidently become the popular form of entertainment in Bordertown if the recent attendances at the Lyric are any indication…
Quite evidently the management are out to give the town the very latest innovations, consistent with the size of the hall, and as evidence of that we instance the excellent music now provided on the 'Orchestron' (the name given the reproducer), the recreations of band and orchestral music being very fine, whilst the beautiful notes of the pipe and Wurlitzer organ numbers are amazing in their fidelity.
This instrument plays ordinary gramophone records, not special records as many people imagine, the only difference to the reproduction being that in the Orchestron the needle is attached to an electro-magnetic pick-up instead of a tone-arm….
The discs turning the records are driven by electric motors, so that there is no winding, and two discs prevent any delay in changing records and needles, which require changing as do those on ordinary phonographs. During the proprietor's recent visit to Melbourne he selected a large number of fine orchestral records and these are being introduced to the musical part of the programme…"
But all did not always go according to plan:
"There were some surprises for the management as well as the patrons of the Lyric last Saturday, when, after the announcement of the overture, the Orchestron failed to respond to the operator's manipulation. All efforts to start the instrument having failed, the piano and sheet music were hastily brought into play, and the entertainment commenced at 8.30 p.m.., all ideas of suitable music for the pictures having to be abandoned. If anything, the incident served to show what a vast improvement the Orchestron is to the show; the piano music, although well rendered, being very 'thin' after the volume of the finest orchestras. The trouble with the instrument was found on Monday to have been cause by two expensive rectifying valves being blown out - one evidently some time previously, as one only will operate the instrument with rather less quality of tone, and it is extremely unlikely that both failed together. While the management make no excuses for not trying the instrument before the entertainment opened, it is pointed out that it operated perfectly to the close of the dance last Wednesday, from which a false sense of security from failure was gained, but in future regular tests of all valves will be made to avoid disappointment to patrons. The management wish us to thank patrons fro the patience which they exhibited during this unfortunate occurrence and to advise that every effort will be made in the future, as in the past, to maintain the standard of the show."
In view of the comments about the thinness of tone of the hall's piano in comparison with the gramophone it is somewhat surprising to read that:
"In remedying the trouble with the Orchestron, which occurred on Saturday week, the management appear to have effected some general improvement, the music last Saturday being better than ever… Two records of pianoforte solos were remarkably produced, in fact it was hard to realise that some great master was not actually rendering the pieces on the piano."
Organ music was heard at the Lyric:
"The musical programme is subject to constant review and during the proprietor's recent visit to Melbourne some new and very fine records were purchased. These include some beautiful Wurlitzer organ records and will gradually introduced into the programmes."
"Every programme is accompanied by the most beautiful music on the Lyric Orchestron providing items from the world's finest orchestras, organists, bands, etc. The finest musical accompaniments to pictures outside the cities."
The Lyric's "Musical Directress" was Miss Murphy..
[All unattributed quotations are from The Border Chronicle, Sept-December, 1928]
Below are contemporary advertisements for commercial machines similar in concept to the Orchestron.
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