Ballet Méchanique

Ballet Méchanique was a project created by composer  George Antheil and filmmaker Fernand Léger in 1924.  The musical score composed by Antheil was so radical that it could not actually be played at the time due to technical limitations.

Antheil wanted to syncronize 16 player pianos as well as airplane propellers and a siren for the composition.

Fast forward 70 years and the piece was discovered by Paul Lehrman, a composer and teacher at Tufts University. He had the piece performed as it was intended for the first time in 1999 in Lowell Massachusetts, thanks in part to Eric Singer and LEMUR or League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots and the use of MIDI or Musical Instrument Digital Interface.

Eric Singer has also created musical robots for groups like They Might Be Giants and Pat Metheny among others.

He and Paul Lehrman worked together and brought the Ballet Méchanique to life.

Since the first show in 1999, the piece has been performed numerous times, including at the National Gallery in Washington DC.

Shown here is MusikFabrik with airplane propellers performing Ballet Méchanique in Germany in 2002.

Click through to see the robotic instruments perform Ballet Méchanique at the National Gallery.

Link via antheil.org

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2 Responses to Ballet Méchanique

  1. Chief Robot says:

    Thanks for the clarification Paul and keep up the great work.

  2. Paul Lehrman says:

    Thank you very much for the mention, but I need to correct some of your facts. I can’t take credit for “discovering” Ballet Mecanique–it was well known in various versions to percussionists and conductors for a long time. The version I worked on was being published by G. Schirmer, and they hired me to do the computer programming that would make it possible to perform the piece for the first time on 16 synchronized player pianos, as the composer originally intended.
    The premiere of the piece was in 1999, with 10 human players and 16 pianos, but the robots didn’t enter into it until 2006. when I was commissioned by the National Gallery of Art to build, with Eric Singer and LEMUR, a fully-automated orchestra to perform the piece. That orchestra, using robots that LEMUR designed and built, has since been installed in Miami and New York City.
    If you want to know more about this fascinating piece, you’re welcme to visit antheil.org.

    Paul Lehrman
    Department of Music
    Tufts University
    Medford, Massachusetts

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