By dint of meditating on the nature of hydrogen gas, by dint of experience on the vibration of strings and sound transmission, by means of research, investigations and distillations, Mr. Pumpernikle has found what he sought: the CARBONIZATION OF SOUND WAVES, and through it the MUSICAL FLUID!

Drunk with joy and happiness, this clever and profound chemist has kindly confided his process to Le Ménestrel, while he is occupied with addressing to the Institute a comprehensive report on this surprising discovery.

Gasometer (left) and coal purifying plant (right)

Here is the device that is used by Mr. Pumpernikle for the condensation of sound waves, and the production of musical gas:
A copper pipe, carried through a wall and flared like the bell of a trumpet on one end, receives the sounds of music, and conducts them to a deposit of iron placed in the middle of a red-hot stove. Here the condensation of sound waves occurs. Mr. Pumpernikle has not revealed to us the means of the ingenious chemical process by which he obtained this wonderful result; but we believe we recall that a concoction of catgut and stony materials, combined with copper pipes and bells in fusion, is sufficient to effect the transformation of sound waves into a carbon substance that is very similar to coal.

Once the acoustic coal is obtained, the rest of the operation follows a course similar to that adopted for the production of hydrogen gas.  The volatile products of acoustic coal are conducted by an iron pipe into a refrigerator, also of iron, where tar, oil, etc. are extracted from the coal, and where they exit in liquid state through a particular pipe. The gas, by virtue of being lighter, rushes through a pipe above, passes through a container filled with lime water to be stripped of all bituminous smell, enters a gasometer intended to regulate an equal emission of musical fluid, then rushes through the ducts of Paris to spread the harmony to all points where subscribers have their gas jets.

Thus will dawn a new era, all for the benefit of our musical enjoyment. Thanks to the wonderful discovery of Mr. Pumpernikle, one subscribes to music like one subscribes to the light company….

Mr. Pumpernikle’s discovery of musical gas appeared on the front page of Le Menestrel, one of three major music journals of mid nineteenth-century Paris. Like Grandville’s “Steam Concert,” the story satirized the widespread techno-euphoria of the period. It may have duped more than one reader as well.
The imaginary process of producing and distributing musical gas was modeled on that of gas lighting. Introduced in Paris in the 1820s, gas lamps burned the fuel produced by carbonizing coal, and unlike the oil lamps they replaced, were connected to a centralized system of  delivery. Similarly, subscribers to the musical gas company would receive music “gushing forth in long waves through the hole of the gas jet” in their home. By this means, a maestro could “send his concerts by thousands of copies to all points of the capital.” Gas lighting thus inspired an imaginary medium for storing and broadcasting music decades before the inventions of phonography and radio. Reading of Mr. Pumpernikle’s musical gas, we may recapture the sense of wonder and uncertainty – of confrontation with a new, magical reality – that attended these later media.
Text: “Charbon acoustique. Gaz musical,” Le Menestrel June 25, 1837
Image: Friedrich Christian Accum, A Practical Treatise on Gas-Light (London, 1815)