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 Posted:   Aug 18, 2021 - 6:08 AM   
 By:   Sehnsuchtshafen   (Member)

George Antheil – Ballet Mécanique (1924) – The Film Music And Concert Piece, Part I

“Ballet Mécanique” (1924) is a so called “Dadaist post-Cubist” art film conceived, written, and co-directed by the artist Fernand Léger in collaboration with the filmmaker Dudley Murphy (receiving cinematographic input by Man Ray). Ezra Pound was also involved at some point and gave his input.

The experimental film should have had a musical score by the then 24 year old George Antheil who was largely supported by the American expatriate writer and publisher Robert McAlmon while composing the "Ballet Mecanique." McAlmon also provided the piano. Antheil’s composition was originally conceived as an accompaniment for the film and was even scheduled to be premiered at the “Internationale Ausstellung neuer Theatertechnik” (English: “International Exposition for New Theater Technique”) in Vienna. However, the film premiered as a silent version during the expo on 24 September 1924.

Some sources claim that Antheil left the project during its final stages of completion due to various disagreements - including that Antheil's original version of the music ran 30 minutes while the film was only about 16 minutes. Although the film was intended to use Antheil's score as a soundtrack, the two parts were not brought together for many decades.

It’s been said that Antheil never claimed to have created a score that could synchronize with the film, and the two or three performances that he did with the film in the early 1930s used only one of the three pianola rolls that comprise the piece (and the duration of that roll is much shorter than that of the film). There is no earlier, shorter version of the score than the one that Antheil wrote for multiple pianolas, and that runs between 25 and 30 minutes, depending on the tempo (although there are two different versions of it, the pianola parts are identical).

The original orchestration called for 16 player pianos (or pianolas) in four parts, 2 regular pianos, 3 xylophones, at least 7 electric bells, 3 propellers, siren, 4 bass drums, and 1 tam-tam. As it turned out, there was no way to keep so many pianolas synchronized, so early performances combined the four parts into a single set of pianola rolls and augmented the two human-played pianos with 6 or more additional instruments.

The technical issues to perform the music in its original conception could not be resolved until many decades later – at least sort of thanks to digital techniques – long after Antheil had died.

A restored version of the film with Antheil’s music were first shown together on 25 August 2000 in Antwerp, Belgium, at the Cultuurmarkt van Vlaanderen. The film print with music was created by Paul Lehrman.

After the films silent screening in 1924, Antheil's music for “Ballet Mécanique” became a concert piece, premiered by the composer himself in Paris in 1926. It’s considered as his most enduring and famous composition today.

In concert performance, the ballet is not a show of human dancers but of mechanical instruments. The official Paris première in June 1926 was sponsored by an American patroness who at the end of the concert was tossed in a blanket by three baronesses and a duke. The work enraged some of the concert-goers, whose objections were drowned out by the cacophonous music, while others vocally supported the work. After the concert, there were some fights in the street. Antheil tried to replicate this scandal at Carnegie Hall by hiring provocateurs, but they were largely ignored.

George Antheil revised his mechanical ballet multiple times during his own lifetime. Up until now, this composition has been recorded on several occasions by different conductors and ensembles. There are also various versions of the ballet that have been performed live.


Ballet Mécanique (1955)

Performed by The New York Percussion Ensemble
Carlos Surinach, Conductor

It’s the sole recording of Antheil’s “Ballet Mécanique” revised and supervised for the occasion by the composer. In January 1955, the music was released on the A side of a LP as part of the “Modern American Music Series” (Columbia Masterworks – ML 4956). Antheil’s piece was paired with two works composed by Henry Brant on the B side. The music is in mono.

Antheil wrote detailed LP liner notes describing his composition. The text is printed on the LP’s back cover.

This historic 1955 recording is available digitally:




(to be continued)




======================

See also these George Antheil topics:

George Antheil, Cecil B. De Mille & Boris Morros – UNION PACIFIC (1939 – The rejected score)
https://filmscoremonthly.com/board/posts.cfm?threadID=144656

ANGELS OVER BROADWAY (aka BEFORE I DIE) (1940)
https://filmscoremonthly.com/board/posts.cfm?threadID=144770

SPECTER OF THE ROSE (1946)
https://filmscoremonthly.com/board/posts.cfm?threadID=144602

THAT BRENNAN GIRL aka TOUGH GIRL (1946/1951) - also presenting some clips from other Antheil scores
https://filmscoremonthly.com/board/posts.cfm?threadID=144512

WE WERE STRANGERS (1949)
https://filmscoremonthly.com/board/posts.cfm?threadID=144944

HOUSE BY THE RIVER (1950)
https://filmscoremonthly.com/board/posts.cfm?threadID=144679

THE SNIPER (1952)
https://filmscoremonthly.com/board/posts.cfm?threadID=145107

THE SNIPER (1952)
https://filmscoremonthly.com/board/posts.cfm?threadID=145107

THE JUGGLER (1953)
https://filmscoremonthly.com/board/posts.cfm?threadID=144559

JESSIE JAMES' WOMEN (1954) - Film Song “CARELESS LOVER” performed by Lita Baron
https://filmscoremonthly.com/board/posts.cfm?threadID=144708

HUNTERS OF THE DEEP (1954)
https://filmscoremonthly.com/board/posts.cfm?threadID=145484

NOT AS A STRANGER (1955)
https://filmscoremonthly.com/board/posts.cfm?threadID=144803

THE PRIDE AND THE PASSION (1957) – 2009 discussion concerning a possible rerecording
https://filmscoremonthly.com/board/posts.cfm?threadID=59888

THE TWENTIETH CENTURY (1957-1966) – 20TH CENTURY WITH MIKE WALLACE (1994-2005)
https://filmscoremonthly.com/board/posts.cfm?threadID=145267

Jerome Moross on George Antheil (1979 Interview) – ONCE IN A BLUE MOON (1935)
https://filmscoremonthly.com/board/posts.cfm?threadID=145177

 
 
 Posted:   Aug 18, 2021 - 9:46 AM   
 By:   waxmanman35   (Member)

I believe that the Surinach conducted version, which was specially arranged by Antheil for the Columbia Masterworks recording (ML4956) is the best version of the work. In the liner notes Antheil wrote that "with the present technique (c. 1955) with microphones it was not necessary to double the pianos...". A glockenspiel was also added for highlighting. I feel none of the so-called "original" recordings comes close to this one. On the flip-side of the album are two works by Henry Brant who did some orchestrations for Alex North.

 
 Posted:   Aug 18, 2021 - 1:46 PM   
 By:   Sean Nethery   (Member)

...This historic 1955 recording is available digitally....

Not in the USA (on Spotify or Apple or Amazon anyway) that I can find. And that video doesn't work either. Though various other recordings are available.

A shame since I'd also like to hear the Brant recordings.

 
 Posted:   Aug 18, 2021 - 1:56 PM   
 By:   Sehnsuchtshafen   (Member)

I believe that the Surinach conducted version, which was specially arranged by Antheil for the Columbia Masterworks recording (ML4956) is the best version of the work. In the liner notes Antheil wrote that "with the present technique (c. 1955) with microphones it was not necessary to double the pianos...". A glockenspiel was also added for highlighting. I feel none of the so-called "original" recordings comes close to this one. On the flip-side of the album are two works by Henry Brant who did some orchestrations for Alex North.



I agree, that the 1955 recording is quite good. Regrettably it's in monophonic sound. I'm not familiar with all of the other recordings so I can't compare those. All I can say for now is this, that I was disappointed when I've listened to the 1960 recording (which is in stereo, by the way).


This leads me to the next segment: "Ballet Mécanique" Part II:



Ballet Mécanique (1960)

Performed by The Los Angeles Contemporary Music Ensemble
Robert Craft, Conductor

In 1960, a new recording was released of Antheil’s work. It’s the first in stereophonic sound and considerably different compared to the 1955 recording. Unfortunately, the composer had prematurely died on February 12, 1959 and wasn’t around to supervise Robert Craft’s recording.

“Ballet Mécanique” is featured on a Urania Records LP that also includes works composed by Ronald LoPresti, Carlos Chavez, and Alan Hovhaness (US 5134). There was also a mono edition of the LP made available by Urania Records (UX 134/UR 134).

The 1960 stereo recording is available digitally for some time now:





Ballet Mécanique – The Rolls

A restored Bösendorfer Ampico Grand was used to record the following clips.


Roll 1




Roll 2




Roll 3





The Original Ballet Mécanique – George Antheil's Carnegie Hall Concert Of 1927

Performed by The New Palais Royale Orchestra & Percussion Ensemble
Maurice Peress, Conductor
Recorded live at the Carnegie Hall, July 12, 1989
Released on CD in 1992 by Musicmasters (01612-67094-2), reissued in 2010 by Nimbus Records (NI 2567).


Ballet Pour Instruments Mecanique et Percussion, Roll One




Ballet Pour Instruments Mecanique et Percussion, Roll Two




Ballet Pour Instruments Mecanique et Percussion, Roll Three





(to be continued)

 
 Posted:   Aug 18, 2021 - 1:57 PM   
 By:   Sehnsuchtshafen   (Member)

...This historic 1955 recording is available digitally....

Not in the USA (on Spotify or Apple or Amazon anyway) that I can find. And that video doesn't work either. Though various other recordings are available.

A shame since I'd also like to hear the Brant recordings.



You'll need VPN access then.

The whole album, incl. the Brant stuff is available on YT.

Follow the links (with VPN):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJPp16OeGIk
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtHPyoXfF6s

 
 Posted:   Aug 19, 2021 - 2:07 AM   
 By:   Sehnsuchtshafen   (Member)

Part III

Ballet Mécanique Live


Aus der Kölner Philharmonie, 2000 (From the Cologne Philharmonia, 2000)
Ballet Mécanique for 2 pianolas, 6 pianos and 11 percussionists
Performed by the Ensemble Modern
Peter Rundel, Conductor




You’ll find more performances on YouTube, of course.







Ballet Mécanique (Original Version, 1924)

Ballet pour instruments mécaniques et percussion
Performed by The Boston Modern Orchestra Project
Gil Rose, Conductor

This recording was released on SACD in 2016 (BMOP/sound – 1033). It’s also been made available digitally:





(to be continued)

 
 Posted:   Aug 20, 2021 - 4:00 AM   
 By:   Sehnsuchtshafen   (Member)

Part IV (Conclusion)

The “Canonical Version” by Ortiz Morales


Finally, here is new recording of Antheil’s “Ballet Mécanique” put into context with a restored version of Léger’s experimental 1924 film:



The following text in broken English is by Jesús Manuel Ortiz Morales sourced from his video description:

“The film Ballet mecanique (by Fernand Léger, with contributions from Dudley Murphy, Man Ray and even Ezra Pound, and "mechanically synchronized music" by George Antheil) is one of the most mysterious and enigmatic films in the history of cinema at the same time as one of the most praised by later cinephiles and filmmakers: a true cult film, and one with which the generic label of “avant-garde cinema” may begin to take shape. Given the problematic history of the various copies existing to this day (films were easily burned at that time, and the operators cut them, spliced the saved fragments as best they could and continued to project) we currently find very different versions that this film has been assuming throughout history (from Dadaist to Cubist, due to variation and change of the images and internal sequences), based on the multiple reconstruction attempts undertaken, for almost 80 years. In this case we present the last of the reconstructions carried out, called “Canonical Version”, and carried out by the researcher (and channel manager) Ortiz Morales, based on his doctoral thesis in 2008 (and carried out at the UMA, Málaga , during the years 2014-2016), and whose result is absolutely different from any of the previous proposed versions (especially from Paul Lehrman's, the immediately preceding one) and, according to its author, with a notable advance over the previous ones. This version, which has the honor of having the special collaboration of the Ensemble Modern, in Frankfurt, searches by means of computer algorithms, and starting from the few reliable and safe data that we have today, the "canons" and visual/musicals rhythmic patterns , which the authors are known to have used as a formal template for the audiovisual experiment; that is to say, it looks for the exact copy of the film to which the machinist composer Antheil ends up adapting, in 1952, the score that, now finally, must fit as closely as possible with the authors' announcement to the press, already in 1924, of the "first mechanically synchronized film in history", and that it could never be obtained before (not even by the authors themselves, whose "mechanical synchronization" surely referred to a player piano or a photoplayer specially coordinated to the projector).”


Link to Ortiz Morales’ thesis (in Spanish):
http://ortizmorales.info/Publicaciones/El_synchrocine_de_Charles_Delacommune.pdf


There are certain scholars of the ballet and Antheil’s music in general who strongly disagree with Ortiz Morales’s views about the existence of a canonical version. They say there’s no “Canonical Version” of that ballet in the first place, and it would be utterly impossible to reconstruct such a version. The dispute isn’t settled.



The Silent MoMA Version

Here’s a video in decent 1080p picture quality of a silent copy of Léger’s film as preserved by MoMA. But it’s considerably shorter than any of the full length versions that are currently available:





Michael Nyman’s Score (1983)

On a side note, in 1983 Michael Nyman came along, composed and recorded his own score for “Ballet Mécanique”:



Instrumentation: violin, viola, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, piano, accordion, contrabass.

 
 Posted:   Aug 20, 2021 - 9:39 AM   
 By:   Sean Nethery   (Member)

You'll need VPN access then.

The whole album, incl. the Brant stuff is available on YT.

Follow the links (with VPN):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJPp16OeGIk
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtHPyoXfF6s


Well, of course! Thanks for the VPN reminder - and for the links!

 
 Posted:   Sep 12, 2021 - 10:10 AM   
 By:   Sehnsuchtshafen   (Member)

Here is a link to Paul Lehrman's website devoted to George Antheil's "Ballet mécanique":

https://www.antheil.org/

 
 Posted:   Oct 4, 2021 - 9:34 AM   
 By:   Sehnsuchtshafen   (Member)

Follow-up

Most people familiar with the biography and works by George Antheil might at least have heard from the following story which I couldn’t figure out where to place it best as there was at first glance not an obvious connection to his film music works or to one of his musical pieces in general. I thought it best to leave it out. If you search Antheil’s name on the internet, especially on YouTube you’ll find the story covered within the first search results: The Patent with Hedy Lamarr.

First of all, I quote Mark Alburger in his excellent and quite lengthy article about Antheil's life and career (published online in 2013; it’s already been mentioned in my thread “Jerome Moross on George Antheil”). Alburger describes the “Ballet mécanique” premieres in Paris and New York with some colourful details that are worth reading:


Quote:

“1925, the year of Ballet Mécanique, originally conceived to be accompanied by a film by experimental filmmakers Fernand Léger and Dudley Murphy (with cinematography by Man Ray). The first performances of the piece, in 1925 and 1926, did not include the film, which turned out to last around 17 minutes, only half as long as the score.
Antheil described this "first major work" as "scored for countless numbers of player pianos. All percussive. Like machines. All efficiency. No LOVE. Written without sympathy. Written cold as an army operates. Revolutionary as nothing has been revolutionary."

The original scoring called for 16 specially synchronized player pianos, two grand pianos, electronic bells, xylophones, bass drums, a siren and three airplane propellers, but difficulties with the synchronization resulted in a rewrite for a single pianola and multiple human pianists.

The piece consisted of periods of music and interludes of silence set against the roar of the airplane propellers.

Antheil described as "by far my most radical work... It is the rhythm of machinery, presented as beautifully as an artist knows how." He assiduously promoted the composition, and even engineered his supposed "disappearance" while on a visit to Africa so as to get media attention for a preview concert.

The official Paris première in June 1926 was sponsored by an American patroness who at the end of the concert was tossed in a blanket by three baronesses and a duke.

The work enraged some of the concert-goers, whose objections were drowned out by the cacophonous music, while others vocally supported it, and the concert ended with a outdoor riot.

On April 10, 1927, Antheil rented New York's Carnegie Hall in order to present an entire concert devoted to his works, including the American debut of Ballet Mécanique in a scaled-down version.

[…]

The concert started well, but according to the concert's promoter and producer when the wind machine was turned on "all hell, in a minor way, broke loose." During the gale, audience members clutched their programs and their hats, one "tied a handkerchief to his cane and waved it wildly in the air in a sign of surrender." Much to the amusement of the audience, the untested siren failed to sound on cue, despite frantic cranking and reached its climax only after the end of the performance, as the audience were clapping and leaving the hall.

American critics were hostile, calling the concert "a bitter disappointment" and dismissing the Ballet Mécanique as "boring, artless, and naive" and Antheil's hoped-for riots failed to materialize. The failure of the Ballet Mécanique affected him deeply, and he never fully recovered his reputation during his lifetime, though his interest in the mechanical was emulated by other prominent composers such as Arthur Honegger, Sergei Prokofiev, and Erik Satie.

[…] the Léger-Murphy film and Antheil Ballet Mecanique score were finally performed together at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1935 […]”

End quote.


Now to the Patent story:

Quote:

“Antheil's interest in endocrinology brought him into contact with the actress Hedy Lamarr, who sought his advice about how she might enhance her upper torso. He suggested glandular extracts, but their conversation then moved on to torpedoes.

During World War II Lamarr, who was fiercely pro-American, realized that a single radio-controlled torpedo could severely damage or sink enemy ships. However these radio-controlled torpedoes could easily be detected and jammed, by broadcasting interference at the frequency of the control-signal, thereby causing the torpedo to go off course.

Using knowledge of torpedoes gained from her first husband -- munitions manufacturer Mandl -- Antheil and Lamarr developed the idea of using frequency hopping: in this case using a piano roll to randomly change the signal sent between the control-center and torpedo at short bursts within a range of 88 frequencies on the spectrum (there are 88 black and white keys on a piano keyboard). The specific code for the sequence of frequencies would be held identically by the controlling ship and in the torpedo. This basically encrypted the signal, as it was impossible for the enemy to scan and jam all 88 frequencies, which this would have required too much power. Antheil would control the frequency-hopping sequence using a player-piano mechanism, which he had earlier used to score his Ballet Mécanique.
On August 11, 1942 -- U.S. Patent 2,292,387 was granted to Antheil and "Hedy Kiesler Markey," Lamarr's married name at the time. This early version of frequency hopping, though novel, soon met with opposition from the U.S. Navy and was not adopted.”

End quote.


Source: https://21st-centurymusic.blogspot.com/2013/10/george-antheil-mark-alburger.html

 
 Posted:   Oct 6, 2021 - 7:39 AM   
 By:   Sehnsuchtshafen   (Member)

After-follow-up

"Lamarr and Antheil submitted their patent to the US Navy, which officially opined that Lamarr could do more for the war effort by selling kisses to support war bonds. On one occasion, she raised $7 million. She and Antheil donated their patent to the US Navy and never realized any money from their invention, which would eventually become the basis for wireless phones, Global Positioning Systems, and WiFi, among other cutting-edge technologies. [...]

In 1997, the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave [Lamarr] its prestigious Pioneer Award, three years before her death in Orlando, Florida on January 19, 2000 at age 86.

Source: https://jwa.org/thisweek/aug/11/1942/actress-hedy-lamarr-patents-basis-for-wifi


By the way, Antheil's student and occasional collaborator, Jerome Moross, told Charles Amirkhanian during his interview in June 1979 that he was not happy how Antheil revised his "Ballet mécanique" in 1953. He considered the original version as being the best.

 
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