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Living in a (Music) Box

At Milan’s Salone del Mobile, Lausanne’s ECAL is presenting a unique collaboration between its students, Swiss music box company Reuge and experimental designers Humberto and Fernando Campana

The words 'music box' often conjure up visions of kitsch collectibles playing traditional melodies or Swiss artisans creating in the 1800s pocket watches with musical movements. But a collaboration between the MAS Luxury course students from the Lausanne-based ECAL (Ecole Cantonale d’Art de Lausanne - University of Art & Design), Swiss luxury music box company Reuge and Brazilian designers Fernando and Humberto Campana, hopes to give a new look and purpose to music boxes, transforming them into avant-garde objects.
The collaboration, presented at Milan’s International Furniture Fair, features five extraordinary music boxes that combine art, craftsmanship and exoticness. The prototypes that will go into production include an all-white still life with fruit (Centerpiece), a pile of origami-like foliage that can be reconfigured into a necklace (Feuillage), wheat ears that move following the rhythm of the melody (Slightly Windy), a blissfully peaceful tiny Japanese garden (Landscape) and a futuristic lightning bolt-shaped track with a little music box that moves across it playing hard rock music (Tracks). Bizarre? No, just refreshingly modern, reassure the Head of the MAS Luxury programme Augustin Scott de Martinville and Reuge CEO Kurt Kupper.

Dazed Digital: What brought together ECAL and Reuge?
Augustin Scott de Martinville: The MAS Luxury course at ECAL is a Master mainly focusing on developing luxury products. We have so far worked with a wide variety of companies, among them also Bernardaud, Christofle and Nespresso. Usually we work with a luxury company and an international designer who leads the workshop with the students. Choosing Reuge was a very logic option since it’s a traditional company that has been creating music boxes from the 19th century and has an incredible savoir-faire.

Kurt Kupper: It was only natural for us to start this partnership with ECAL since we are based in the same geographical area. Reuge has been going for over a century now and, in the last few years, we felt it was time to start developing more contemporary pieces, applying our knowledge to more exciting products that looked very different from traditional music boxes.

DD: Did the MAS Luxury programme students enjoy this collaboration?
Augustin Scott de Martinville: Yes, they really liked it especially because they were caught in the middle of an extreme contrast. They worked with a company based in the Swiss mountains and with two designers, the Campana Brothers from Brazil, who arrived bringing with them their lively, tropical attitude to things. It was absolutely amazing to see the very serious and down-to-earth Swiss approach working with this craziness coming from Brazil!

DD: What did you discover about the Campana Brothers that you didn’t know?
Augustin Scott de Martinville: The way they find inspiration was intriguing: at one point of the workshop, they stopped everything and took all the students to the Natural History Museum of Lausanne. They asked all the students to look very carefully at the animals, the skeletons and all the other collections and to come back with new influences and inspirations. That’s absolutely very Campana, finding inspirations in the most unusual places!

Kurt Kupper: Having the Campana Brothers coming over and spending time with us was absolutely amazing. What struck me about them was that they found incredible to see how the music boxes are made in a very remote area of Switzerland and in a very old fashioned company. They could hardly believe that it is still possible nowadays to do that and to see highly qualified craftsmen with many years of experience working on such pieces.

DD: What was the most important aspect of this project?
Augustin Scott de Martinville: For the students it was vitally important to find their own way to make these objects while preserving the originality infused by the Campana Brothers and integrating into their products Reuge’s know-how. One student incorporated in the music box wheat ears that move in time with the music and the challenge in that specific design was making sure the technical aspects and the refined and at times almost punk approach to design would go well together and be synthesised in a luxury product. Another interesting thing was the fact that Reuge also had to translate into the boxes pop or rock melodies and that was a big challenge. The music box that looks like a car track only plays hard rock music, tracks by Guns N’Roses, Deep Purple and Metallica, for example. At times the project looked crazy and, when we started it, I was a bit wary since I didn’t know if a collaboration between a traditional and conservative Swiss company and students coming from different cultures and backgrounds and who have the typical “Why not? Let’s just try it!”-approach young people may have, would have worked. Yet in the end it worked super well and I think both sides learnt a lot from this experience.

DD: What did you think when you first saw the designs?
Kurt Kupper: I was really excited to see them since they were completely crazy and had an artistic edge about them. We are a traditional company and art is not necessarily on our agenda, but the ECAL students proved us it’s possible to produce modern and saleable pieces that also integrate fresh musical elements in their design. After this experience, we’re more confident and open to other collaborations. In the last few years we have been working a lot with the best independent designers, costumising products for our clients and I think we will continue along these lines in the future.

DD: Which one was the most challenging/bizarre music box?
Augustin Scott de Martinville: The most challenging was probably the one with the track and the small car that moves across it. It doesn’t look like a music box at all and people at Reuge thought it was impossible to make it! Also the music box with the wheat ears moving with the music is quite interesting since it’s a simple yet beautiful idea.

Kurt Kupper: Yes, the most difficult music box to make was definitely the one with the track since at the beginning we thought it was very hard to find a technical solution for it. From a commercial point of view I think the music box with the wheat ears and the one that looks like a Japanese garden are quite interesting.   
DD: Is this the first time ECAL and Reuge showcase their products at Milan’s Salone del Mobile?
Augustin Scott de Martinville: ECAL has been at the Furniture Fair in Milan for the past ten years. Every year we had from one to three exhibitions at the same time, but this is the first time we bring to Italy the results of the MAS Luxury programme, so it’s very exciting.

Kurt Kupper: This is the first time Reuge comes to the International Furniture Fair. In many people’s minds a music box is traditionally conceived as something that is showcased in a museum display, but we want to change this perception and show people that music boxes do not only provide beautiful music, but they are also innovatively striking pieces of interior design.

All images courtesy of ECAL/Reuge