Saturday, September 8, 2007

7:30 p.m.

Strauss Performing Arts Center

University of Nebraska, Omaha



Henry Cowell, Aeolian Harp

Conlon Nancarrow, Rhythm Study No. 7

Dan Becker, Re-Invention

Jeff Harrington, Surge

Conlon Nancarrow, Rhythm Study No. 20

Kyle Gann, Unquiet Night, (Mechanical Study No. 10)

Conlon Nancarrow, Untitled Work*

Rudolf Kamper, Mrs. Armour (of the Chicago Armours) was aghast at the suggestion of Madam Peterson.*

Conlon Nancarrow, Untitled Work*

Joe Drew, The Mother Chord*

La Monte Young, Piano Piece for David Tudor #1 (arranged for 6 pianos)



(Dementia, 1955)


George Antheil, Ballet Mécanique

*world premiere


Jeremy Baguyos, sound engineer
Mark Diischer, xylophone
Joe Drew, conductor
Analynn B. Fassler, xylophone
Andrue Humphrey, sound engineer
Rudolf Kamper, piano
Anne Madison, piano
Adam Reidelbach, drum
Tomm Roland, xylophone
Nick Romero, tam-tam
Jay Sinner, drum


The player piano was the first widely used computerized instrument. The pioneering work of Conlon Nancarrow (1912-1997) re-popularized the player piano as an almost sacred medium for modernist composers. Until that time, it was known as a parlor instrument, designed to play rolls full of popular rags and show tunes, but certainly not multi-linear, complexist compositions too difficult for human beings to perform. In fact, most piano rolls, until Nancarrow, were cut by pianists playing live. By slowing the process down and punching holes in the rolls by hand, Nancarrow was able to create music that pushed the instrument to its limit.


Oddly enough, transcribing Nancarrow’s music and dividing the too-difficult parts among several musicians (a sort of assembly line approach to the music) has become so common that hearing this music in its original player piano format is almost radical again. Kyle Gann has graciously provided the two untitled Studies which receive their world premiere at tonight’s concert. Kyle, the long-time Village Voice critic of uptown/downtown fame, is one of the more prodigious composers working in the disklavier medium today. Unquiet Night is the tenth in his Mechanical Study series.


George Antheil (1900-1959) was born in New Jersey but made his name in Paris as ‘the bad boy of music’ with his Ballet Mécanique. Originally written as the soundtrack to Fernand Léger’s abstract short film, it was never used for that purpose in part because it was twice as long as the film itself. Moreover, Antheil scored Ballet for 16 player pianos, 2 regular pianos, 3 xylophones, 7 electric bells, 3 propellers, 4 bass drums, 1 tam-tam, and a siren. There was absolutely no hope of synchronizing player pianos in those days, and the piece languished in multiple revisions until the onset of MIDI technology, when Schirmer commissioned Paul Lehrman to realize a fully performable version of the original score.


Even with the help of computers, performing the score involves backbreaking work on the part of the musicians who have to shift almost ever bar between meters ranging from 6/4 to 5/32. After the notorious Paris premiere of the piece, Antheil returned to America to deliver Ballet Mécanique in an equally notorious flop at Carnegie Hall, which nearly destroyed his career. He returned to Paris to lick his wounds, and the sting of that performance haunted him for many years. Antheil eventually settled in California and wrote copious amounts of forgettable film music for some of the least memorable films by major stars and directors like Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, Fritz Lang and Stanley Kramer. During the intermission of tonight’s concert, a portion of the surreal anti-drug short Dementia will be shown. Antheil’s score surely must have been a reference point eleven years later when Alexander Courage wrote the theme for Star Trek, and the foreboding voiceover work is done by none other than Ed McMahon. — Rene Edmunds

Nebraska Arts Council
Reniers Pianos
Yamaha Corporation
John Ellison


ANALOG performs Ballet Mecanique at ARTSaha! 2007