Alfred Suvigne and Adolphe Riouls were a duo of wandering transformists: the Toufignes, who travelled the desolate areas of southern Europe.
Their numbers ranged from public scarification to bawdy songs, manual tap-dancing, through to cutting the lady into pieces and selling elixirs.
After a few financially successful years they retreated to come up with their final number, a Salto Mortale of itinerant art: the automatic guitar.
The principle is simple: making a guitar automatically play music just previously played on it. The system rests on the premise that musical instruments possess memory. Suvigne and Riouls were able to revive the moves performed on the instruments: fingering, plucking strings, etc. They started from the assumption that an instrument changes slightly after it’s been played: wear and tear, fingermarks, etc. Accurately mapping the difference between this before-and-after would make it possible to reconstruct at least some of what had been played. To achieve this, they developed an astonishingly fine device to measure differences in physical aging in an instrument. This gave them a first general approach to the music played. Next, by provoking memory shifts (via hypnosis, forced awakenings, accounts of dreams) in the instrumentalists, they were able to approach the music more clearly.
But the decisive step came when Riouls perfected sibuline, a sound developing bath for instruments. Dipping a guitar or other instrument into a sibuline bath triggers a series of vibrations in the instrument, which starts to play the same music that has just been played on it, in exactly the same way, without intervention by a musician. The density of the active ingredient determines the age of the music played; the denser the solution, the older the music it recovers. From a certain age range, which varies depending on the instrument, music is not fully recovered but merely fragmentarily so. Some instruments remain silent regardless of the sibuline dose. It would also seem that after a sibuline bath, an instrument becomes unusable and the bath can only be used once: after that, the music recovered loses quality and becomes mechanical and soulless. This aspect has led its detractors to categorise sibuline as really bad musically, for failing to breathe life into every interpretation.
Finally, in the crowning phase of their career, The Toufignes thought of assembling orchestras of sibuline instruments, which when properly synchronized could play the works of dead composers in period style. Who could forget Prygent's 3rd symphony, performed by the Bourmangham sibulinated orchestra?