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Publisher Description

Many of Kurt Vonnegut's and Philip K. Dick's novels written since the 1950s reveal their unusual obsession with the image of player pianos as an effective musico-cybernetic symbol. Since the 1890s, the player piano, the unique mechanical instrument, had greatly influenced Americans' home life, American society, and American literature, and in the 1950s, with the rise of cybernetics, such science fiction writers as Vonnegut and Dick became highly ambitious in dealing with player pianos as extremely rich symbols of hybridity between man and machine, between art and technology, between visual and auditory, and between original and copy. They used the image of player pianos in order to emphasize flexibly both the contrast between the binary elements and the ambiguous mixture between them and to describe our present world and possible society in the near future. According to Arthur W. J. G. Ord-Hume, in "1896, Edwin Scott Votey invented a piano-playing machine [in Detroit] which he called the Pianola.... The Pianola was intended to make any piano into an automatically playable instrument.... The elemental production Pianola was a cumbersome device" (26). While similar products appeared with extensive advertising, they were developed in the 1890s. What made player pianos popular was the production of the German Welte-Mignon in 1904. Since the Welte-Mignon was the first elaborate recording, reproducing piano, many world-famous pianists began to record their performances by using this reproducing piano. The popularity of player pianos reached its peak between 1910 and 1925. During this period, player pianos became popular as domestic instruments. While many Americans at that time were fascinated by the automatic instrument and desired to buy it, it entertained family members and their guests in the living room with famous pianists' wonderful performances, making a warm, comfortable atmosphere. In addition, as Ord-Hume stresses, "the player piano had a profound sociological effect on the community ... a whole generation grew up without the need to learn to play the piano. Hitherto, piano playing was part of home life, part of growing up. Almost everyone could perform to some degree. With a self-acting instrument, there was no longer any call for tiresome five-finger exercises" (37-38). Thus, around the turn of the century, player pianos had a great influence on Americans' home life.

Professional & Technical
December 22

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