The Schirmer Project

The original score of the first version of the full-ensemble Ballet mécanique was given by Antheil's widow, Böske, along with a large quantity of other manuscripts and documents, to San Francisco composer and musicologist Charles Amirkhanian. Amirkhanian subsequently copied and distributed many of Antheil's works to performing groups under the name "Antheil Press", thus keeping the composer's music alive. A few years ago, the materials were turned over to various libraries, including the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, where the manuscript (as well as the older, pianolas-only version) can be viewed today, and the publication rights to Antheil's music were assigned to G. Schirmer, the New York music publishing company.

G. SchirmerSchirmer recognized that with modern MIDI-compatible player pianos, made by manufacturers such as Yamaha and QRS, the original version of the Ballet Mécanique is now performable in its original instrumentation—so that this revolutionary piece of music, now 75 years old, could now be heard for the first time.

For several years Schirmer prepared the score and parts to make them available to performing groups for rental. The task was formidable, in that the piece is over 1200 measures long, all of the parts (especially the pianola parts) are extremely complicated, and there are over 600 time-signature changes over the course of the piece. Most of the editing was done by George McGuire.

Schirmer wanted to distribute the pianola parts as MIDI sequence files, and this is where the current author came into the project. Between May, 1998, and December, 1999, I sequenced the pianola parts, and also prepared other files for the CD-ROM, including the following:

• The pianola parts (as printed in Antheil's score) converted into Standard MIDI Files, a disk-based data format which can be read by a "sequencer", which then plays the pianolas over a standard MIDI Interface and cable. Sequencer-specific files for several popular sequencer programs, on Mac and Windows platforms, are available.

• A click track. A separate track within the MIDI files to cue the conductor and/or the live players. It also includes vocal cues of rehearsal letters, and countdowns to crucial points, in case the conductor or performer gets lost. If the click track were to be fed directly to the players using in-the-ear monitors (so the audience can't hear it), then it would be possible to perform the piece without a conductor. I think Antheil would be delighted with that idea.

Digital samples of the airplane propellors, electric bells, and siren, custom recorded for the project: the siren was recorded by me at the Arlington (Mass.) Fire Department, the bells by me in my studio, and the propellors by Tim Tully at a small airfield in San Carlos, California. These recordings are provided in the form of digital audio files that are compatible with Kurzweil, Akai, and Digidesign SampleCell samplers, so they can be played by one of these MIDI samplers either from a standard MIDI keyboard or from dedicated tracks in the MIDI files. The samples are also provided as AIFF and .WAV files, and a Reason "song" (.rns) file with all of the samples and the click track is also available.

Documentation on CD-ROM (in PDF format) and also as a printed booklet. 38 pages containing information about the files, how to use them, how to set up playback systems, and the various options available to groups wishing to perform the piece. This documentation is online, in PDF format, here.

In addition, although this is not part of the Schirmer project, my colleagues Coleman Rogers and Eric Singer and I have built a "MIDI Bell Box" to handle the seven electric bell parts. We used bells from Edwards and Trine Corporations, and a MIDI-to-contact-closure box from MIDISolutions of Vancouver, Canada. This box has been used in performances in Lowell, New York, San Francisco, and Boston, as well as in the installations at the National Gallery of Art, the Wolfsonian, and 3-Legged Dog. It is available to other groups planning to perform the piece.

Copyright © 2003, 2010 by Paul D. Lehrman. All rights reserved