In the mood for a different musical sound? Look no further than these typewriters


Listening to Alex Holman wax lyrical about the music of the Boston Typewriter Orchestra, there’s a temptation to tilt away, eyes narrowing, and wonder, “Is this guy for real?”

But Holman, a Bill Nye The Science Guy look-alike, points out that he and the rest of his key-clacking ensemble have endured and survived the skeptics.

“We’ve got 20 years in this. So when we show up at a show, we do our damnedest to bring a quality product, something that’s a lot of fun and not just yahoos banging on typewriters,” said Holman, who works in computational biology when he’s not performing.

Then Holman, perfect deadpan, tosses out this and you feel like maybe you’re back to square one: “As far as we know, we are currently the best typewriter orchestra in the world and the worst typewriter orchestra in the world.”

Meaning, no one else has decided that what the world really needs is a band of half a dozen or so Boston-area, middle-aged buddies risking serious carpal tunnel syndrome and bloody fingers to bring their sound to the world. It’s a sound, by the way, that when they appeared briefly on “America’s Got Talent,” Piers Morgan called “a sort of very long, annoying noise.”

The typewriter guys are bringing their unique sound to Chicago on June 20 for a performance at Co-Prosperity. The set lasts about an hour. It’s rhythm-heavy, with beats that run the gamut from bongo drum jams to heavy metal.

“Whatever is funny to us or sonically interesting, we will kind of just go there,” says James Brockman, who by day is program director of the Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education program.

It’s not pure typewriter. There’s singing, electronic effects, bells and other whimsy.

There is no “first typewriter” or even a front man, although Brendan Emmett Quigley, with a shaved head and shaggy copper-colored beard, would seem to fit the bill.

“When it requires someone prancing around at the front of the stage, singing as an extrovert, then Brendan grabs the mic,” Holman said.

The ensemble has not been signed to a record label, although they sell their music online.

“We do a lot of stuff ourselves. There’s a big DIY punk ethic,” said ensemble member Chris Keene. “There’s really no pattern for any type of music industry to take on a typewriter orchestra.”

In case you’re wondering, there’s no typical BTO audience. They’ve appeared in front of a few dozen to several hundred people, often at museums and public libraries.

“Our groupies are the exact sort of folks you’d expect being at a public library performance,” Holman said.

Kids are welcome, too — even the rambunctious kind.

“After a show, we’ll hit the last note, the applause dies down and then there’s this rush of kids that show up at the front because they have never seen a typewriter,” Holman said. “Usually, they start tying to peck at the keys and the parents are like, ‘No, no, honey! Be careful with their instruments!’ We have to assure them that they aren’t going to do any worse to this thing than we have just in the past half hour beating on it,” Holman noted.

Given how long some of the ensemble members have been together, is there anyone itching to go solo — a la George Michael of Wham! or Sting from The Police?

“There’s no good reason to fracture the band out and start up a new project because we already have a band of good buddies that are interested in making weird sounds out of typewriters,” Holman said. “Who else could we find in the world that would be great to sit down like this?”





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