George Antheil/ Fernand Léger – Ballet Mécanique

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Ballet Mécanique (1924) was a project by the American composer George Antheil and the filmmaker/artist Fernand Léger. Although the film was intended to use Antheil’s score as a soundtrack, the two parts were not brought together until the 1990s. In this film apear Kiki of Montparnasse as the woman with the weird lipstick smile. Kiki (real name Alice Prin) was a French artists’ model, nightclub singer, actress, and also painter.


This is a remake of Fernand Légers 1924 movie and George Anthiels’ original composition in Jesus Himself fashion.

Ballet Mécanique was originally written to accompany a Dadaist film of the same name, directed by Dudley Murphy and Fernand Léger with cinematography by Man Ray. Antheil himself was not a Dadaist, though he had many friends and supporters in that community. Unfortunately, the score ended up being 30 minutes long while the film was only 16 minutes long. The film premiered on 24 September 1924 in Vienna presented by Frederick Kiesler, later a world-famous architect. Meanwhile, Antheil’s music for Ballet Mécanique became a concert piece, premiered by Antheil himself in Paris in 1926.

Ballet mecanique – Part 1

Ballet mecanique – Part 2

In this film, he does some stop-action animation with a cut-out puppet that crudely resembles Chaplin’s Little Tramp character. This must have been somewhat confusing for French and Belgian audiences in 1924. In its original release, this film’s French title was “Charlot présente le ballet mécanique” … referring to showman Andre Charlot, who financed this film’s French distribution. But in France, Chaplin’s Little Tramp character was also known as Charlot … so the presence of that puppet in this movie must have seemed a cheat: an attempt to advertise a ‘Chaplin’ movie that doesn’t actually have Chaplin in it.

The original orchestration called for 16 player pianos (pianolas) in four parts, 2 regular pianos, 3 xylophones, 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 used a re-orchestration with 1 pianola and 10 pianos.

In 1953, Antheil wrote a shortened version for four pianos, four xylophones, two electric bells, two propellers, timpani, glockenspiel, and other percussion. The original orchestration was first realized in 1999, when the University of Massachusetts, Lowell Percussion Ensemble performed it using MIDI-controlled Disklaviers.

The score and film were successfully combined in 2000 by Paul Lehrman.

Watch the premiere of all-robotic version for 16 player pianos and percussion orchestra. Features new robotic instruments from LEMUR (League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots):

Links:
– George Antheil on: Official page, LastFM, Wikipedia, G. Shirmer Inc.
– Fernand Léger on: Official page, IMDB, Wikipedia
– Ballet Mécanique on: IMDB, Wikipedia

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