Somewhere Tom Hanks is weeping. For when the Boston Typewriter Orchestra performs, the primary musical technique consists of beating holy hell out of a bunch of vintage typewriters. The filmic embodiment of Chesley Sullenberger is known to be such a fan of old typewriters that he recently published a moderately typewriter-themed collection of stories called Uncommon Type, which (of course) was written on a vintage typewriter.
The Boston Typewriter Orchestra doesn’t collect typewriters—it punishes them. In their promotional materials they claim (boast?) that typewriters do not last longer than two years once they have been recruited as instruments for the waggish collective.
The combo, which occasionally calls itself “BTO,” has been in existence since 2004 and has a 2008 album and a 2017 10-inch to its name. It has never been idle, performing multiple times in every calendar year since then; despite logging dozens of performances in the New England area, they have never ventured further south or further west than Washington, DC. That changes next month when they play Phyllis’ Musical Inn in Chicago.
As will readily be imagined, the BTO’s primary mode of music is percussive, although they do get a lot of mileage out of the damned bell that chimes whenever the typist reaches the end of a line. (Then again, bells are percussion instruments too—Wikipedia’s description of a bell runs “a directly struck idiophone percussion instrument,” ahem.) Suffice to say that with a gizmo as complicated as an old typewriter, there are a lot of solid moving parts to fiddle with—you can bash the keys, bang on the housing, crank the platen around, slam the carriage back, and (as mentioned) twiddle on the bells.
Who are the relevant comps for a band like this? The BTO strikes me as a hipster’s cheeky version of a jug band, although I can see an argument for Einstürzende Neubauten. Visually the gang tends to adopt the garb of a midcentury office drone, meaning lots of jackets and ties.
It’ll be a while before the Boston Typewriter Orchestra passes the “other” BTO in terms of sales. I refer of course to Winnipeg’s greatest contribution to boogie rock, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, who released five gold albums during the 1970s. When are the typists going to release their version of “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”?
In 2017 the group released a 10-inch (the title is adapted from George Michael) called Termination Without Prejudice, Volume 1. Etched in the runout of side 1 is the phrase “HOW MANY WORDS PER MINUTE?” You can buy it on Bandcamp.
Here’s Termination Without Prejudice, Volume 1, available on Bandcamp:
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
The Vienna Vegetable Orchestra covers Kraftwerk’s ‘Radio-Activity’