With great interest I followed the discussion concerning the activities
of Paul Lehrman, with whom I am in contact since several months. The
project he plans is not as new as it seems to be.
Several years ago we performed the Ballet Mecanique with two Ampico
player pianos, two pianists, a percussion orchestra, sirens, bells and
so on, as indicated in the Antheil score. For synchronizing the two
Ampicos MMDers Dr. Walter Tenten and Horst Mohr constructed a computer
device, and the two Ampico pianos were commanded by MIDI files.
For creating the MIDI files Mr. Mohr read an original piano roll on
his roll reading machine. But the original roll was very bad, as
Douglas Henderson indicated several times. The Henderson rolls were
much better but had a lot of problems too. It took me several months
of time to correct the MIDI files as good as possible, with the help
of the original scores. We performed this version several times in
But we were not really satisfied with the MIDI files, because there
were still a lot of missing or wrong notes. And the meters and rhythms
were very bad.
That's why we decided to create an absolutely new MIDI file from the
scores and not from the piano roll. We had to transmit hundreds of
thousands of notes into a music computer program, a tremendous lot of
work, again several months. This task was done by Werner Funk, a
retired music professor. Now we had an accurate file for controlling
the Ampicos. For the computer controlling the Ampicos were not changed
at all -- the mechanism is a little bit similar to the PowerRoll
In May 1999 we performed this version very successful with the Ensemble
Modern all over Europe: In Vienna, Frankfort, Berlin, Cologne and
London -- always in the first houses -- and with between 800 and 1000
visitors in each town.
Now -- what is really new in the University of Massachusetts concert?
Paul Lehrman does again the tremendous work we did half a year before:
the transmission of the score to MIDI files. Maybe he didn't know of
our activities, but Schirmer (the Antheil publisher) knew it. He will
command player pianos by MIDI files. We did it years before.
Really new is that he uses Yamaha Disklaviers instead of pneumatic
player pianos. (But in my opinion, until now the old player pianos
are still better, because they can play more than 16 or 32 notes at
once -- that's only one point.) He uses 16 instead of two player
Maybe it looks nice, and in the first version Antheil had indeed the
idea to use 16 player pianos. But when he performed it, he used one
player piano and up to ten 'live' pianists. And now 16 player pianos
and two 'live' pianists. They will have to work extremely hard.
Indeed, Antheil uses in his scores four systems for four player pianos.
But there are only a few bars where the four pianos play different
But nevertheless: Lehrman and his staff try to make a good job and we
should support their activities (I do so!) because it is useful for the
mechanical music at all. Maybe the Ballet Mecanique is not the high
point of the music of the twentieth century, but as a piece written in
1924 as music for a film, it is still acceptable and worth performing.
With greetings from Germany
[ See more "Ballet Mechanique" articles at
[ -- Robbie