Technology, History, and Aesthetics of the Player-Piano

Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
May 4–6, 2017

[Conference Schedule will post here.]

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 organized by an interdisciplinary team that includes Professors Roger Moseley, Trevor Pinch, Annette Richards, Alejandro Madrid, Benjamin Piekut, and Marianthi Papalexandri Alexandri, as well as Ph.D student Sergio Ospina-Romero. Please direct all inquiries to

Academic presentations and performances will take place in Lincoln Hall, home of Cornell University's Department of Music.

Traveling to Ithaca, NY
The nearest airport is Ithaca/Tompkins County Regional Airport (ITH). Alternatives are Syracuse, Binghamton, and Elmira, however ground transport is limited and expensive to these airports farther away (1-1.5 hour drive). From New York City, bus services to Ithaca include Shortline (most frequent but slower) and Cornell's Campus to Campus coach (limited schedule direct from midtown). The nearest Amtrak station is also in Syracuse. For additional details, see visiting Cornell and scroll all the way down for links.

Events are free and open to the public.