Sergio Ospina-Romero
Cornell University

Ghosts in the Machine and other tales around a “marvelous invention”: Player-Pianos in Latin America, 1912-1915

The fourth chapter of Gabriel García Márquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude begins with the arrival of the player-piano in Macondo as “the marvelous invention that was to arouse the astonishment of the town and the jubilation of the young people.” As the years went by, the player-piano would become a nostalgic symbol of the bygone days when they saw their world transformed by the inexplicable wonders of modernity. In many ways, the literary portrait of García Marquez captures the cultural significance the player-piano had in Latin America during its heyday in the 1910s, being a mediator between tradition and modernity and between the manual and the mechanical. As a technological intruder, it inhabited a liminal space between unmediated musical experiences and mechanically mediated consumption of sounds; as such, it symbolically connected nostalgia for the past and new desires for cosmopolitanism and modernity. Along these lines, this article examines the way in which the player-piano bridged the gap between tradition and modernity in Latin America via two processes: the cultural legitimation of mechanical reproduction and the commodification of sounds. Furthermore, it analyzes the early international trade of player-pianos between the United States and Latin America in the 1910s. By digging into the pages of The Music Trade Review, it reveals how American businessmen in the player-piano industry made every effort to capture the Latin American market, in an interesting interplay of mutual stereotyping, first-world-war commercial geopolitics, and cultural capitalization.

[Sergio is the graduate student mastermind behind this conference!]