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Make Music but Waste no Energy: The Player Piano, Political Economy and Psychophysiology
Halmstad University, School of Education, Humanities and Social Science, Contexts and Cultural Boundaries (KK).ORCID iD: 0000-0002-4453-945X
2014 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

The player piano was an invention which revolutionised music making around the turn of the century 1900. This machine/instrument served to blur the sharp dividing-lines between social classes and between art and entertainment. As a consequence, it became an extremely popular artefact. However, as was reflected in the Edwardian debate on music, the mechanical dimension tainted the perception of virtuosity. As a consequence, the player piano became the material repository of the problematic phenomenon of virtuosity, which long before the invention of musical mechanisation had foregrounded the excess and materiality of showy pianistic technique.

In my paper I will not confine the discussion of the player piano to the musical sphere but will situate it in a wider material framework. Taking my starting-point in political economy, I will argue that the significance of the player piano may be understood within the context of the theory of labour and value. This approach fits into a general energy conservationist model of mechanical work in which the human motor is to be understood within the frame of thermodynamics. The player piano is thus, I claim, an innovation firmly grounded in an engineering tradition but linked to the medical discourse as a means of combating fatigue, which since the 1870s had been recognized as a growing medical problem.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2014.
Keyword [en]
music, engineering, energy conservation
National Category
Humanities Engineering and Technology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:hh:diva-25512OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hh-25512DiVA: diva2:721789
Conference
ESSHC - 10th European Social Science History Conference, Vienna, Austria, 23-26 April, 2014
Available from: 2014-06-05 Created: 2014-06-05 Last updated: 2015-11-23Bibliographically approved

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Björkén-Nyberg, Cecilia

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Citation style
  • apa
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  • de-DE
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Output format
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  • asciidoc
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