Punched pattern cards and street organs

Punched pattern cards and street organs

Last week the exhibition Made to measure - woven music opened in the Zuiderzeemuseum in Enkhuizen. The TextielMuseum and the Zuiderzeemuseum commissioned the design duo Glithero ( GB/NL) to investigate immaterial heritage with the emphasis on crafts. Two projects are the result of this commission. The project Made to measure – woven music is now presented in the Zuiderzeemuseum. Glithero studied the craft of the street organ grinder and the weaver. A large part of the project was executed and took place in the TextielMuseum. The woven fabrics were executed on our weaving machines and our (old) weaver Will van den Broek features in the accompanying film.

Punched pattern cards and street organ punched cards
Both the organ and old looms using punch cards. Punch cards are cardboard cards or a long cardboard band with holes. These punch cards controlled mechanical devices, before the invention of computers and their software. The punch cards were the software for the machines. In an organ punch cards control the organ pipes and other musical instruments. This creates music. In a loom the punch cards contain information about the pattern to be woven.

This principle of cards with punched holes was invented by the Frenchman Jacquard, for the silk industry in Lyon. Later, the technique was used for street organs. Jan Koster, emeritus professor, wrote an interesting article on this development.

The punched pattern cards for looms look like punched cards that were used for the storage of information in computers, before hard disks had a lot of storage capacity. That’s because Herman Hollerith used the idea of punched pattern cards for looms when he designed a new system to store large amounts of data from the census of 1890 in the United States. Hollerith worked for IBM at that time.

Punch cards store information digitally , as hole / no hole , on / off . This is digital information. It’s generally recognized in books on the history of computing that punch cards used in weaving led to the digital age we now live in. You can read more on this development in the book Jacquard 's web : how a hand loom led to the birth of the information age by James Essinger .

The second part of the project, that will be realized for the TextielMuseum, is called 'Counting '. Counting the wires, which is a kind of second nature of the hand weaver, will be the central theme . Glithero will develop woven fabrics in the TextielLab and will produce a film.

More information about Made to measure – woven music can be found on these websites

By: Jantiene van Elk en Thea Veel

Another interesting article on the Jacquard mechanism and other machines and their impact on society: 'The rise of machines'