I was in Washington, DC, the beginning of the week visiting George and playing tourist. Among other things I visited the current special exhibitions at the National Gallery of Art, Dada and Cézanne in Provence. The Dada show featured many of the icons of the Dada movement in Europe and New York, including the famous Marcel Duchamp “renovation” of the Mona Lisa.

One of the most interesting features of the Dada exhibition was the partial performance of George Antheil’s notorious 1924 “Ballet mécanique,” for sixteen grand pianos, drums, airplane engines, sirens, whistles, xylophones. For decades after its composition it was thought impossible to perform, because of its great complexity of rhythm and noise. Behold, the era of MIDI enabled some scientists and musicians at MIT to program the entire piece into a computer to control the instruments. So we had 16 Gulbransen player pianos and all the rest controlled by Digital Performer running on a Macintosh PowerMac G5. Each weekday at 1:00 and 4:00 PM, the National Gallery offered a ten-minute segment of the ballet. I captured a small excerpt of it. And here is a link to’s listing for a commercial recording of the performance that was offered.

The Cézanne exhibition had a lot of famous paintings; but there were so many people (on a Tuesday morning!) that it was impossible to see them, so I didn’t spend much time.

2 thoughts on “DADA in DC

  1. Thanks for your comments about our installation at the National Gallery of Art. but for the record, MIT had nothing to do with it: I am the programmer and music editor for the project, and I teach at Tufts University. Eric Singer and the League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots (LEMUR) of Brooklyn, New York built the robots.

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