Technology, History, and Aesthetics of the Player-Piano

Cornell University
Ithaca, New York
May 4–6, 2017

See Conference Schedule

Player-pianos, those amazing instruments able to play “by themselves” via the incorporation of means of complex mechanisms inside acoustic pianos, had their heyday in the early twentieth century. Their sounds were ubiquitous across public and private realms, from theatres to domestic parlors. In the early days of mechanical reproduction and the music entertainment industry, these machines helped shape the contours of the modern experience and revolutionized how people made and listened to music. Yet, in the aftermath of the Great Depression, player-pianos lost their cultural prominence. While phonograph records, and eventually LPs, CDs and iPods, defined the trajectory of recorded sound, player-pianos became the preserve of the odd collector, mechanic, or avant-garde composer. Recently, however, the player-piano has begun to re-emerge as an object of scholarly inquiry that can offer significant insights into histories of technology, mediation, digitization, computation, globalization, and modernism.

The Westfield Center for Historical Keyboard Studies and the Cornell University Department of Music will host a conference on player-pianos to take place May 4-6, 2017. The conference will feature keynote presentations by Professor Georgina Born (University of Oxford) and Rex Lawson, director of the Pianola Institute. It will also include workshops and scholarly panels ranging across multiple disciplines and perspectives, including: technological, cultural and trade histories; cultural and musical mediations; the analog/digital dichotomy; computational technology; media storage; reproducibility and inscription; sound archives and the preservation of instruments. In addition to hands-on engagement with historical instruments, the conference will offer a special concert with newly-commissioned music for player-piano and piano, as well as solo and ensemble works for pianola.

The conference is made possible by the support - in addition to Cornell Music and Westfield - of various departments and institutes at Cornell, including: the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, the Latin American Studies Program, the Sidney Cox Library, the Department of Performance and Media Arts, and the Department of Science and Technology Studies. The interdisciplinary team of organizers include Professors Alejandro L. Madrid, Roger Moseley, Benjamin Piekut, Trevor Pinch, and Annette Richards, as well as Ph.D student Sergio Ospina-Romero.
Please direct all inquiries to

Events take place in Lincoln Hall (see campus map here) and Barnes auditorium, home of Cornell University's Department of Music, and at the A.D. White House.

Here is the schedule of events. All events are free and open to the public.

The nearest airport is Ithaca/Tompkins County Regional Airport [ITH], 10 mins. from campus. Alternatives are Syracuse, Binghamton, and Elmira, however ground transport is limited and expensive for these airports farther away (1-1.5 hour drive). The nearest Amtrak station is Syracuse, which Ithaca Air Limo services (on request) along with Hancock International Airport [SYR]. From New York City, bus lines to Ithaca include Shortline (most frequent but slower) and Cornell's Campus to Campus coach (limited schedule direct from midtown). For additional possibilities, see visiting Cornell and scroll all the way down for links.

Where to Stay
Since parking on campus (and especially anywhere near the relevant buildings) is costly and close to impossible during weekdays, you may find it easiest to stay in downtown Ithaca and shuttle up on the #10 bus, which runs every 10 mins. during business hours.

The brand new Ithaca Marriott Downtown offers a 10% discount if you call and ask for the Cornell visitor's rate.
The Hilton Garden Inn also has a conference rate, but you need to book by April 24th online with this link, or by calling 607-277-8900/1-877-STAY-HGI with group code "CUMUS" (CU Music conference).

For many additional listings, including bed & breakfasts, see the Ithaca Visitor's Bureau site.