Composing for the Grand Illusions Music Box

Composing for the Grand Illusions Music BoxComposing for the Grand Illusions Music BoxComposing for the Grand Illusions Music BoxComposing for the Grand Illusions Music BoxComposing for the Grand Illusions Music Box
A few years ago, we started selling the 15 note (2 octave) music box that plays from a paper strip with holes punched in it. As well as a pre-punched song strip, we also supplied blank strips and a hole punch, so you could create your own melodies. Since then, we have added the 20 note music box, and more recently the 30 note music box, which plays sharps and flats as well. The music boxes have always been popular with our customers; sometimes to create a special song for a loved one, but they have also been used by professional musicians. One of these is the rising star Hannah Peel. Born in Ireland and raised in Yorkshire, she graduated a few years ago from the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts. It was around that time that she released an EP using the music box.

How did the idea for your Re-Box EP come about?

I discovered the programmable music box when scoring some music for a theatre show in Liverpool. It wasn’t until afterwards when I thought; this box could work really well with singing.
As a bit of a joke, I made the remix of Tainted Love... instantly recognisable and the riff works really well on the box... I played it live at a gig one night for a friend and the reaction was pretty incredible! So I decided to create a few more remixes, put them on a CD and give out to a few people who I knew would like it... calling it Re-Box. The CD made its way into the hands of Geoff Dolman at Static Caravan who then released it as a limited 7 inch vinyl.
What makes the covers attractive, even though they are programmed, is the contrast to the rigid tempos of the original tracks programming. The music box strips away all that as it is hand wound and leaves you with the bare minimal melodies and structures of the songs, which are quite beautiful and classic.

After releasing her debut album The Broken Wave, Hannah’s work has became even more recognised and has since taken her and her trade mark music box to all corners of the world. Her music box compositions have now been featured on numerous adverts, artist remixes, dance shows and the 2012 'Anna Karenina' film featuring Keira Knightly and Jude Law.
Hannah’s latest album release this year is entitled 'Orkney: Symphony of The Magnetic North'.
More information is available at

By sticking several paper strips together, Hannah can create quite long compositions for the music box. But she would be the first to admit that punching the holes can take a little while, and you cannot hear what you have done until it is finished. So we were really excited to hear that an Australian developer called Grant Adam, who runs a company in Melbourne called Jelly Biscuits, has written an app for the music boxes, called Music Box Composer, that allows you to create virtual tunes, share them with friends, experiment, and when you are finally happy, print out the result so that you can then punch out your paper strip. The sounds are sampled from a real music box, so are totally authentic. And you can share your virtual compositions via Twitter, Facebook and Email.

Grant says ‘Designed to aid composing your own music prior to punching the paper strips for Music Boxes, Music Box Composer allows you to compose, preview, play, save and share your creations. The physical Music Boxes with the paper punch strips and are great fun - what was missing was an easy way to preview either transpositions or original creations.
I've seen Hannah's work on Youtube - it's great stuff. I am planning to send her a free copy of the app!’

The App works on iPad, iPhone and iPod, as well as many Android devices. There is a 'playback only' webplayer version (PC, OSX, linux soon) which can only be used to playback strips allowing people to share they work with anyone that has a PC or Mac. Grant says that he could publish a full version for the PC as well, so if we all ask him nicely ;-)

The app is available from iTunes and Google Play. See

Over in Germany, SALSA MAG have featured the music box several times, and have got the Colombian musician and composer Pablo Andrés Rojas to create several arrangements for the music box.

Here is "CASTELLANO" by Oscar D'León, arranged for the 20 note music box set.

And here is "CONGA" by Gloria Estefan / Miami Sound Machine on the 30 note music box set.

Credits - The Electricity Club, Helene Dehon,