Drexel Gallery to Feature Entire Orchestra in Just One Instrument, Two Musicians

The Rube-Goldberg-like contraption will be used to play Mauricio Kagel’s "Two Man Orchestra"

May 9, 2018
Wilhelm Bruck performing 'Zwei-Mann-Orchester', Donaueschingen Edition 1973. Photo: Zoltan Nagy

Wilhelm Bruck performing 'Zwei-Mann-Orchester', Donaueschingen Edition 1973. Photo: Zoltan Nagy

It sounds like the whole orchestra.  It's one instrument.  There are two musicians.  There's a cello in a baby carriage.

And it's all thanks to German composer Mauricio Kagel, and Bowerbird, a Philly experimental music presenter.

It's all happening at Drexel University's Pearlstein Gallery, part of the Sound Machines exhibit.  The instrument is on display through May, with half a dozen performances planned of an orchestra by Kagel called Zwei Mann Orchester, or, directly-translated, the Two-Man Orchestra.  It is a machine, an invention, a work of art, a math project...a creation of which Rube Goldberg would be proud, as bicycle chains drag a string of symbols across a ladder and a mallet-mounted shoe kicks a gong.

The orchestra debuted in 1973, and has only been performed three other times.  It calls for the building of a structure, a mish-mash of ordinary objects and musical instruments, strung together seemingly randomly until it all comes together...the chain drags across the ladder, the shoe kicks the gong, and an entire orchestra springs to life from the manipulations of only two musicians, who remain seated for the entire performance.

The score was discovered in the University of Pennsylvania's music library, under the somewhat dubious category of "Miscellaneous Instruments."  It took months of research, trial and error, and experimentation to sculpt the finished product, which will be seen in action only six times, and for which only standing room only tickets remain...though the masterpiece is on display at the Gallery through the month.

This, we think, is a sight worth seeing.