Vintage Sounds, Modern Music
By Mark Davis
Published Apr 1, 2014 8:00 AM
He calls his business Antiquity Music and, granted, Mitchell Manger J.D. '12 keeps a foot in the past. But his vision is fixed clearly on the future — his own and that of the music industry and technology, and how those two might intersect in new and interesting ways.
On the surface, Manger's business model looks fairly straightforward: Find vintage and unique instruments, restore them and rent them out or resell them. And under the guidance of a different person, that might be the end of it. But Manger has a more expansive view.
A composer and musician, Manger says he has always been on the lookout for unusual and unique sounds. "A lot of the composers and musicians and producers I respect are known for using unique, eclectic instruments," he says. "People like Beck or Sigur Rós or Björk, they're known for having a really wide variety of textures. So I started the collection for my own compositional purposes."
After a brief post-college stop in Phoenix — where his collection of buzzing marimbas, harpsichords, vintage analog synthesizers and tuning-fork pianos grew — Manger headed for Los Angeles and the UCLA School of Law.
"Maybe I'm too risk-averse," he says, with a small laugh. "I knew I could always practice law if I wanted to. But my real passion was to combine the creative side of the music industry with something that's business-focused, not purely creative. Antiquity Music is that ideal combination."
He estimates that he spent 40 hours a week going to class and studying law, and another 35 running his business out of his extremely crowded Benedict Canyon home. It was a tough balancing act, Manger says, but he enjoyed making it work. And he was filling an interesting niche in L.A.
Manger's list of clients is as eclectic as his selection of instruments: 2010 Best Alternative Album Grammy-winners Phoenix, film composer and Devo founder Mark Mothersbaugh, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, actor/musician Jason Schwartzman, Coldplay, Gotye, and Foster the People. Recently, Iceland's Sigur Rós stopped by Antiquity Music's new home in Marina del Rey to peruse the collection. Manger's instruments can be heard on soundtracks for TV shows such as Hannibal, top-selling video games, and films and documentaries.
More on Manger's Music
Take a tour of his unique instruments and studio.
Video by Aaron Proctor '05
Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer is one of many who have taken an interest in Antiquity Music's unique Wheelharp, which looks like a feverish steampunk dream come to life. Designed by Manger and craftsman Jon Jones, the instrument is based on a 500-year-old concept by Leonardo da Vinci. Combining gorgeous natural wood with electronic wizardry, the Wheelharp is played by keyboard, like a piano. But unlike a piano, which produces a percussive sound from a hammer hitting a string, the Wheelharp presses strings against a turning wheel, creating a bowed sound, similar to that of a cello or viola. Depending on how the components are treated or dampened, the sound ranges from deep and orchestral to bright and historic.
Manger envisions the Wheelharp eventually finding its way into average homes. But given the Wheelharp's price tag of $11,900, Manger and Jones are working on less elaborate models that might bring the price tag down to a few thousand dollars.
The textures and charms of the Wheelharp, along with those of many other Antiquity-owned instruments, are now as close as the Internet. Positioning his business for the future, Manger has spent his post-law school years capturing samples from his exotic instruments and employing his legal knowledge to protect his intellectual property. Quite soon, his quirky collection of vintage and offbeat sounds will be available to the masses.