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out of the box

2006-07-28 16:12

  The high degree of craftsmanship and technical skill that has gone into making music boxes down through the ages is now on display at an exhibition in Pudong's Shanghai Oriental Arts Center, writes Sophie Wang

  They are magic boxes that play silvery music and their simple, beautiful melodies can awaken sentimental feelings of nostalgia in anyone.

  An exhibition of nearly 200 music boxes is now running at the Shanghai Gallery of Antique Music Boxes and Mechanical Works in Pudong's Shanghai Oriental Arts Center.

  “It is a perfect place in which to promote the culture of the music box,” says Lin Hongming, general manager of the arts center. “I am sure it will be an unforgettable and special music journey for everyone.”

  Some of the sounds from music boxes have been compared with those from nature - like the breeze through the leaves on a tree or the ripples of flowing streams.

  Unlike familiar small music boxes, the size of some of the antique boxes are much bigger. They are “music cases” rather than music boxes. Some are shaped like a floor lamp, a table or a bird cage. And others are tiny tobacco boxes, keys or chops.

  The highlight of the exhibition is the world's earliest cylindrical music box, made by Antonie Favre, a Swiss watchmaker in 1796. It is made of pure gold in the shape of a crown and is quite tiny, only three centimeters in diameter. Surely, the tune created by the mechanical equipment inside is known as “The No. 1.”

  Because of its unparalled status in the history of the music box, this piece will be on public display in Shanghai for about a year.

  The exhibition displays two basic types of music boxes - disk and cylinder.

  However, there are also some automata or figure-shaped music boxes that will immediately catch the eye. Even they are silent, the craftsmanship in making these adorable dolls is wonderful. For example, one painter, one writer and one harpist have vividly carved details including facial expressions, hairstyles and costumes.

  The magic begins when they are wound up. Visitors will be amazed not only by the enchanting music they hear but also by the movements of the figures, like the blinking of eyes, the writing of pens or the moving hand of the harpist.

  “Under the impact of fast-paced modern life, many of us ignore the excitement and surprise once given by the music box,” Lin says.

  The harmonious and peaceful aura created by the playing of the music boxes has a marvelous calming effect.

  Shobei Tamaya, a Japanese artist, said to be the inheritor of his family's long history of making dolls since 1733, displays some of his latest music box creations in the exhibition.

  If the antique music boxes on display are too costly to take home, an alternative can be found at a Reuge Music boutique on the first floor.

  Opening hours: 10am-8pm

  Address: 4/F, 425 Dingxiang Rd, Pudong

  Admission: 50 yuan for adult, 30 yuan for children

  Tel: 3842-4800

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