TePRA: robots play the Ballet Mecanique

In 1924 George Antheil, a "bad boy" of music, composed a piece of music called the Ballet Mecanique which, due to the complex synchronization between player pianos that it required, Antheil never heard performed as composed during his lifetime. Robotic technology has enabled music technologist Paul Lehrman to complete the Ballet and allow it to be performed as originally written.

Lehrman is a professor at Tufts University where he teaches a course called Electronic Musical Instrument Design. It's a combination of music and engineering where students work on projects like musical shoes and MIDI ties. In the 90s, Lehrman was approached to use MIDI technology to automate the synchronized player pianos required to perform the Ballet.

The Ballet was finally performed several times when, in 2006, the National Gallery in DC decided they wanted a full installation that could perform the piece daily. Since comissioning human musicians to play daily would have been prohibitively expensive, Lehrman teamed up with Eric Singer of LEMUR, the League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots. Together they roboticized the entire orchestra for the Ballet and the installation became an extremely popular attraction at the National Gallery. Today at the TePRA Conference Lehrman described how earlier this year, the robotic orchestra provided the musical score to a theatrical production called Frequency Hopping, about Hedy Lemarr and George Antheil. (Note: If you don't know about Hedy Lamarr's contributions to spread spectrum radio technology, read the Wikipedia article I linked there.)

Anyway, below is the video. It is ... noisy. I'm loving the automation, though -- how great to see technology so integral to a modern art installation!



IEEE Spectrum’s award-winning robotics blog, featuring news, articles, and videos on robots, humanoids, drones, automation, artificial intelligence, and more.
Contact us:  e.guizzo@ieee.org

Erico Guizzo
New York City
Senior Writer
Evan Ackerman
Washington, D.C.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for the Automaton newsletter and get biweekly updates about robotics, automation, and AI, all delivered directly to your inbox.