Multiple Pianolas in Antheil’s Ballet mécanique

Lehrman, Paul

Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression

George Antheil’s notorious Ballet mécanique (1924-1925) was originally scored for percussion ensemble, sound effects, and 16 pianolas. He was never able to perform the piece with those forces, however, due to his inability to synchronize multiple pianolas. Thus all performances of the piece in his lifetime, and for decades after, were done with a single pianola or player piano.* The author traces the origin of the concept of synchronizing multiple pianolas, and explains the attendant technological issues. He examines attempts to synchronize mechanical pianos and other time-based devices at the time of Ballet mécanique’s composition, and suggests that Antheil’s vision for his piece was not as farfetched as has long been thought.