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Steampunk: Jules Verne’s 183rd Birthday!

February 8, 2011

“In the mid-nineteenth century the Anglo-German concertina was an exciting novelty with its mechanically-made music….”

The accordion renaissance is unique among musical trends in that it has its own literary genre.  Steam Punk science fiction harkens stylistically to Jules Verne’s tales of Victorian technological marvels.  Electric submarines, inter-continental airships, and steam-powered robots inhabit an era when the height of industrial technology was trimmed with beautiful hand-crafted brass fittings.  At the same time, the coal mines that fed those modern engines ran on child labour.  An imaginary century later, the moral and cultural challenges that come with drastic technological changes are familiar, but adding a veneer of proper Victorian manners to our hip music and culture helps it all seem a bit more civilized.

The Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band puts on a fine performance:

Their “Kibosh on Your Scene,” (download) mixes several genres with a splash of accordion.

UPDATE: The Nortons sent me another accordionish example of their stationary-ness:  Lonesome Vagabond, by Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band (streaming nicely).

Sci-Fi fans can be socially fearless, so when they gather, they come in costume.  And who would best open a Steam-punk convocation but a steam-punk band?  And what instrument is the most likely visual ornament in a Victorian mechanical, nostalgic-futurist orchestra?  Obviously a polished brass instrument like a tuba, but after that you want the bellows of our notoriously mechanical accordion.  The resulting musical sub-sub-genre of faded photos and lost sounds (not all of which has accordion, regrettably) was named and described by a Seattle fan-group; “Sepiachord: the genre that doesn’t exist…something that looks back to the past to comment on the present while looking sideways at the future….  It is the music our grandparents or great-grandparents would have listened to, if they were as off-set as we are.”

I see I’m not the only one who noticed:  

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 10, 2011 5:26 am

    Great post. I played with that google submarine thing for a while. Sometimes its just a small detail that creates alot of emmersion. Like the speed of changing directions mimicked the drag on the sub. Super cool.

  2. April 1, 2011 1:02 am

    My favorite used-book connection Abebooks did a nice little Steam-punk recommended book list. They neglected to mention accordion-content, but we know it’s got to be there: A Beginner’s Guide to Steampunk Literature, by Scott Lamin.

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