Ballet Mécanique (1924) was a project by the American composer George Antheil and the filmmaker/artists Fernand Léger and Dudley Murphy. Although the film was intended to use Antheil’s score as a soundtrack, the two parts were not brought together until the 1990s. As a composition, Ballet Mécanique is Antheil’s best known and most enduring work. It remains famous for its radical style and instrumentation as well as its storied history.
In concert performance, the “ballet” is not a show of human dancers but of mechanical instruments. Among these, player pianos, airplane propellers, and electric bells stand prominently onstage, moving as machines do, and providing the visual side of the ballet. As the bizarre instrumentation may suggest, this was no ordinary piece of music. It was loud and percussive –- a medley of noises, much as the Italian Futurists envisioned new music of the 20th century.