Avant garde pianist and great 20th century commuications nerd


This week, ABC Australia is running a radio documentary about George Antheil, with extensive audio excerpts and an essay online.

Originally from New Jersey, the composer was obsessed with machines, player pianos, the technology of music reproduction, modernity. With actress Hedy Lamarr, he invented spread spectrum technology, taking out a patent in 1941. The story of their friendship features prominently in the wonderful history of the time, Hedy's Folly.

His pieces are truly wild. One of his major works, Ballet Mécanique, used 16 player pianos, three xylophones, four bass drums, a tam-tam, two grand pianos, seven bells, a fire siren, and three airplane propellers. After audience rioted at its premiere, Antheil was crestfallen.

His pieces sound even more relevant today, like someone rapidly switching between cable channels, or splintering community.