Benjamin Franklin and History's Most Dangerous Musical Instrument

In 1761, Benjamin Franklin attended a London concert and heard a musician play a set of water-tuned wine glasses. A mellow tone washed over the hall, leaving Franklin enchanted—and a little dismayed. The instrument sounded beautiful but looked unwieldy. One wrong move and all the glasses would topple. Inspired to improve the design, Franklin invented an alternative: a rod of rotating glass bowls called the "glass armonica." The instrument would sweep Europe by storm; Mozart even composed music for it.

Then it started killing people.

That's what doctors said, anyway. Decades earlier, anatomists had discovered how auditory nerves worked, and they began warning that too much music—like too much coffee or tea—could affect the nerves, causing headaches, fainting spells, and other medical problems.

These fears weren't totally new. Centuries earlier, Plato suggested banning certain musical modes, arguing that "novel fashions in music … [were] endangering the whole fabric of society." The Roman rhetorician Quintilian once argued that the timbre of some instruments could "emasculate the soul of all its vigor," driving men mad. By the arrival of the 19th century, wonky science helped this musical fear-mongering go mainstream—music was blamed for hysteria, premature menstruation, homosexuality, and even death. (In 1837, the controversial Penny Satirist magazine would report that a 28-year-old woman had died from listening to too much music.)

During this burgeoning period of anti-music mania, no instrument would be feared as much as Franklin's armonica. Critics said it overstimulated the brain; performers blamed it for dizziness, hallucinations, and palsy. In 1799, doctor Anthony Willich argued that the instrument deserved to be condemned, saying it caused "a great degree of nervous weakness." In 1808, people attributed the death of armonica virtuoso Marianne Kirchgessner to the instrument's eerie tones. Some psychiatrists went so far to say it drove listeners to suicide.

To say the least, the assault was a PR nightmare. Within decades, the feared instrument was relegated to the great big concert hall in the sky.

The Bus From Spice World is Now an Airbnb Rental

Razzladazzla, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

This summer, Airbnb is giving 1990s kids the chance to fulfill their dream of living like a Spice Girl. As People reports, the Spice Bus, made famous by the 1997 movie Spice World, has been converted into an Airbnb rental—and it's open to guests for only a few nights in June.

After shuttling Baby, Sporty, Scary, Posh, and Ginger Spice around London in Spice World, the Spice Bus fell into disrepair. The movie prop was neglected for years until the Island Harbour Marina on the Isle of Wight purchased it and renovated it to its former glory. It went on display on the island in July 2014.

Now, the bus is moving back to London as a quirky vacation rental. On June 14 and June 15, up to three guests per night will sleep over in the bus at its temporary location at Market Square in Wembley Park. There they'll be made to feel like pop princesses (or princes). The interior has been decked out with Union Jack upholstery to match the outside paint job and zebra-print carpeting that would make Mel B proud. There are also disco balls, a neon sign that says "Girl Power," and nostalgic goodies like scrunchies and CDs.

Rates start at $129 per night, but the two announced dates have already been filled. Spice Girls fans looking to relive their childhood shouldn't give up hope: More rental dates may open starting May 22. After the bus's stint in London, it will return to its home on the Isle of Wight at the end of June.

[h/t People]

10 Amazing Variations on the Game of Thrones Theme Song

Jerome Flynn and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in Game of Thrones
Jerome Flynn and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Game of Thrones has an iconic credits sequence, featuring a memorable theme song composed by Emmy Award-winning artist Ramin Djawadi. It's weirdly catchy—so much so that other artists have found increasingly unique ways to cover it over the years.

1. NESKeytar

Greig Stewart combined a Guitar Hero controller with an old school Nintendo to create the NESKeytar he used in this cover. Bonus: The NES still works as a separate gaming system!

2. Floppy Drives

Eight floppy drives playing in sync. The geekery is extreme.

3. Violin

A beautiful electric/acoustic violin version by Jason Yang.

4. Hard Rock

Roger Lima overdubs some metal riffage, drums, electric bass, and several layers of electric guitar.

5. Metal

Charlie Parra del Riego shreds.

6. Classical Guitar

Five guitar tracks!

7. Solo Piano

Bonus geek cred if you know the answer to his opening question.

8. 8-bit

YouTube commenter skinke says it best: "No? 'Game of Tones'? That's a missed opportunity if I've ever seen one."

9. Piano and Violin

Lara, coverer of video game music, takes a shot at this one, purely by ear. Wow.

10. Guitar, Cello, Drums, Shaker, and Flute

Talent show players for the win!

This post has been updated for 2019.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER