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Antheil: Ballet Mechanique

Can you guess this piece? Here’s a hint: “Paris, we have lift-off…”

In the 1920s, American composer George Antheil’s was the darling of the avant-garde art scenes of Berlin and Paris. This was an atmosphere that thrived on musical scandal, which Antheil had a talent for providing. Ballet Mechanique premiered in 1926, and was perhaps the pinnacle of Antheil’s interest in mixing together musical modernism with technology. Inspired in part by the Futurist movement, which celebrated technology and the aesthetic value of pure noise, and in part just to irritate the ‘squares,’ Ballet Mechanique was conceived for sixteen pianolas (a type of player piano) and various percussion instruments. The near-impossibility of synching so many mechanical instruments led to re-orchestrations, but these later versions weren’t necessarily any tamer. One included parts for electric siren and a variety of airplane propellers!

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