In Adelaide over the weekend, I used Harry Potter as an excuse to experience the Capri Theatre first-hand. The Capri is a majestic, massively high-ceilinged theatre, with wooden floors, and two tiers of plush velvet seats. It is also home to the SA branch of the Theatre Organ Society, and boasts the most incredible theatre organ I’ve ever seen – a modern mechanical marvel featuring 20-foot high pipes, automatic flapping vent things (excuse my ignorance on the details) that kind of act as selective amplifiers, and a battery of percussion instruments (from glockenspiels to snare drums and canastas) mounted on the walls. They’re played via switches and pedals on the organ itself, which – you better believe it – rises from underneath the stage to thunderous, delighted applause from the audience. (A history and lots of photos here).
I’m not satisfied yet that I know what’s going on when we love obsolete mechanical technologies (and, come to think of it, old things, and lost and found things) so much. I could follow a well-trodden cultural studies line, and argue that the ubiquity of the digital (that is, technological plenty, for those who have it) means that cultural capital can only be accumulated by performing your knowledge and mastery of the rare and forgotten as well as the new and undiscovered (that is, technological scarcity). I think maybe part of it is that digital culture, and digital technologies, are so slippery, transparent, and uniformly inscrutable – when they do break, or die, or become outdated, they just sit there like deactivated clones, blank and silent, with their blank little screens. Maybe loving the way that you can see and touch and hear and feel the moving parts of clocks, and cars, and spanners, and pianos, is not only about about their enhanced presence as things, but also something to do with bodies.