Hay’s Daze: Ever heard of a typewriter orchestra?

I was thinking about typewriters the other day. You know, those ancient machines that people pounded away on with all five digits to make messages rather than tapping away on our phones with two thumbs or one pokey finger like we do now. And then there are the laptops and desktops that make QWERTY content creating as easy as pie. (Eating pie not baking pie.)

I happened to notice an article on a unique group I’d never heard because of nobody has ever hear of them called The Boston Typewriter Orchestra and that’s why I had typewriters bouncing around in my brain, although not literally. Needless to say, I was intrigued by a group as potentially weird and awe-inspiring as a ‘Typewriter Orchestra’ and I could immediately hear the clacking, thwacking sound of the old Remington that was on the desk in the spare room of our old house in Parkvale where I grew up. I would dork around on it, pressing the keys as fast as I could, getting the arm thingies with the letters that swung onto the page all criss-crossed and stuck together.

And if you pressed one of the keys, the ribbon thingy with the ink that the arm thingy would strike, would lift up and your typing was suddenly red. Red as in color not read as in somebody reading your really bad typing.

And later, I kept that big old clunky green Remington typewriter and hauled it to various apartments to college and university and subjected many an unfortunate professor to many messily typed essays and papers. Although, I must say my bad typing did improve to not-too-bad typing on account of I had taken a typing course at the Comp. Not because I wanted to learn to type particularly, but because that’s the class where all the pretty girls happened to be. I’m glad I did because it was an excellent, fruitful experience and I also learned to type somewhat.

And later, when I somehow got a job in a law office, I became good friends with the mighty IBM Selectric. The Selectric was a marvel of marvels. And electric typewriter! No longer did you have to pound each key down about two inches (several centimeters) to get each letter to whack the page (which was as difficult as it sounds), now the keys would activate with a feather touch. And get this – instead of those long metal arms whacking away and getting stuck all the time, the IBM Selectric had a ball! I mean, I’m not sure if the machine was enjoying it, and the typist could certainly have a ball with the Selectric, but what I mean is, it had a golf ball-shaped type thingy. The magic ball had letters embossed all around and it would rotate and spin so fast and cleverly that it would make your own head spin.

Man, could I fly on that thing! You still could barely read my stuff but wow, I could make mistakes twice as fast.

I have a vintage Smith Corona ‘suitcase’ typewriter on my shelf. The Better Half found it recently at a second hand store and knew I’d love it. I can barely type one sentence on it without getting hand cramps and nap-inducing exhaustion, but it’s a wonderful machine, as are all typewriters.

Which brings me to the BTO (the Boston Typewriter Orchestra, not to be confused with the Canadian band). In gleeful anticipation of something very cool indeed, I looked them up and found a video of one of their “performances”. I expected some rhythmic grooves transcending a percussive reverberation that would make any drummer envious.

It was fun, but truthfully? – pretty terrible. It sounded like a cacophonous malfunctioning factory from the Industrial Revolution – no doubt busy manufacturing typewriters.

Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker. You can send him column ideas to harleyhay1@hotmail.com.

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