American composer George Antheil scored his Ballet Mécanique
(or Ballet for Machines) for sixteen player pianos, two conventionally played pianos, four brass drums, three xylophones, a tam-tam, seven electric bells, a siren, and three airplane propellers. Here's what happened during its first U.S. performance in 1927, according to Nicholas Tawa in The Great American Symphony:
Regrettably, when Ballet Mécanique was put on in Carnegie Hall, New York, in 1927, the airplane propellers created such a powerful blast that they blew the first-row attendees out of their seats. The concert was a complete and ignominious failure, musically and in composer-audience relations. Hardly anyone believed any sort of "music" had been heard. Both the general audience and the American avant-garde rose up against Antheil. Press coverage was widespread. Mockery mingled with condemnation...
He was labeled a charlatan and was forced to retreat to Europe. All the while, the New York fiasco haunted him like a nightmare. His reputation remained in ruins.
Baltimore Sun - Apr 17, 1927
While the inclusion of the airplane propellers provided a dramatic flourish, apparently it was the attempt to synchronize the player pianos that was the real technical challenge, and impossible with 1920's technology. In a 1999 Wired article
, Paul Lehrman describes an effort to perform Ballet Mécanique
with the help of computer technology.
While over at logosfoundation.org
, one can find a description of a more recent project to perform Antheil's symphomy with full-scale propellers... because apparently previous performances, for safety reasons, never used full-sized propellers.
Thanks to Virtual in Carnate for alerting us to the existence of Antheil's propeller symphony.