The collection of 46 automated instruments ? including banjo, piano, guitar, steel drums, glockenspiel and accordion ? is capable of playing any of the 30,000 songs stored on the hard drive of the computer that serves as the band's conductor.
It is real instruments playing real music just as it was written, and far superior to any recording, is how one of Caulkins' customers described the experience. The beautiful noise is created at Caulkin's Ragtime Automated Music, which has been based in a warehouse just south of
Caulkins, 62, is a
Caulkins modified a computer protocol called musical instrument digital interface to create his musicianless bands. MIDI typically is used to record the musical notes of a live instrument and turn them into computer-generated synthetic music. Caulkins switched that around. He uses MIDI to have a computer send signals to the instruments. So with the aid of mechanical devices, a drum is beaten, a guitar string plucked and a piano key struck based on the computer signals.
Over the decades, his customers have included
"They will stand there and watch it for several songs," General Manager
Prices range from about
Caulkins said his business is focused on the ragtime castaway bands and other large products because of a changing market. Nickelodeons that he sold to restaurants, private collectors and others once accounted for most of his business. But now most of his business is with casinos and amusement parks in the developing world.
"It's simple," he said. "The developing economies, they want amusement parks. The people in
Caulkins estimates Ragtime will have revenue of more than
But he has seen better days. Caulkins said revenue topped
Caulkins said from the time he started playing with blocks as a toddler, he knew in his bones he would be an inventor. That desire never abated. It doesn't hurt that he loves music, from the classic rock 'n' roll of
"I love the music of whatever country I'm in," he said. "It's just fascinating to mix mechanics with musical instruments. ... I live to invent and solve problems."
Bee staff writer
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