(listed in alphabetical order by author last name)
“Gesture and Transformation in Joel Mandelbaum’s Thirty-One-Tone Keyboard Miniatures”
William R. Ayers (University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music)
This paper uses Joel Mandelbaum’s Four Miniatures (1984) for the thirty-one-tone archiphone to examine the connection between physical performance gestures and musical transformations. The topics of gesture and transformation have been connected since the outset of transformational theory; Lewin’s GMIT (1987) provided a basis for the treatment of musical intervals as “characteristic gestures” that may be performed or enacted. Focusing on the miniature titled “Triangulation,” this paper considers Lewin’s transformational attitude as a basis for understanding how the physical gestures of the performer on the archiphone keyboard invite the listener to actively participate in the musical transformations. Mandelbaum’s notes for “Triangulation” provide gestural indications that demonstrate how the piece should be visualized as triangular partitions of the keyboard; treating the piece as a series of triangular partitions that are performed in a particular order can assist a difficult performance on a generalized keyboard without the tactile information of a standard piano or organ. The archiphone’s generalized keyboard layout allows for unique gestural transformations (rotation, expansion, etc.) that generate musical content and structure, ultimately connecting the physical and musical spaces through the performer’s bodily actions. This paper demonstrates that the gestural actions used in the physical performance space generate a cohesive progression of elements in the musical space.
“The Dance Chorus in Recent Top-40 Music”
Alyssa Barna (Appalachian State University)
Contemporary trends in popular music incorporate timbres, formal structures, and production techniques borrowed from Electronic Dance Music (EDM). The musical surface demonstrates this clearly to the listener; less obvious are the modifications made to formal prototypes used in rock and popular music. In this paper, I articulate a new Top-40 formal type inspired by EDM techniques: a modified verse-chorus form that employs what I call a dance chorus. Following the verse and chorus, a dance chorus is an intensified version of the chorus that retains the same harmony and contains the hook of the song, which increases memorability for the audience. This hook is often simplified to a single word or phrase in order to promote dancing rather than singing along. I argue that the specific inclusion of a dance chorus is a result of pop artists collaborating directly with EDM producers and DJs. I eschew the term ‘post-chorus’ because it implies a rhetorically subordinate relationship to the previous chorus and overlooks the important function of this section to a live audience. The songs that form the base for analysis are widely regarded as pop music; they differ greatly from traditional EDM genres in the ways in which they are consumed and produced. I conclude my analyses with a connection to theories of embodiment and dance. Since the dance chorus is, naturally, intended to promote movement, it is important to analyze visual media such as live performances and music videos to support formal analysis.
“Hidden Topics: Analyzing Gender, Race, and Genius in the 2016 Film Hidden Figures”
Janet Bourne (University of California, Santa Barbara)
How does music convince us characters are geniuses or not? The 2016 film Hidden Figures tells the long-ignored history of three African-American women scientists and their essential work at NASA during the early 1960s American space race. From the beginning, the screenplay represents these women, especially math prodigy Katherine Goble/Johnson (Henson), as innate, natural geniuses, and their intellectual prowess helps them overcome obstacles they face because of their race and gender in 1960s Virginia. But, using an analysis of musical topics (Monelle 2006) and thematic development (Bribitzer-Stull 2015), I demonstrate that the musical score (Zimmer and Williams) reinforces a negative stereotype that women lack innate genius. I use psychological research and analysis of musical topics and thematic development in relation to events in the narrative. In addition, I compare patterns of the genius topic appearances and thematic development in Hidden Figures to patterns in films about the archetypal white male genius. I identify musical themes and features of musical topics that represent these characters and their identities: pastoral topic for female identity (Kassabian 2001), jazz topic for African-American identity (Maxile 2008), and mathematical/genius topic (relying on minimalist features) for genius identity (Eaton 2008). When these topics are troped, or merged together (Hatten 2004, 2–3), they create an emergent meaning that represents intersections of these characters’ identities. While characters in Hidden Figures overcome struggles, musical analysis of the score reveals their genius identity is not assumed innate.
“What is Musical Meaning? Towards a Foundational Theory of Music as Performative Utterance”
By Andrew Chung (Yale University)
This paper outlines a theory of musical meaning challenging the centrality of reference and representation in previous conceptualizations of meaning. While many scholars have written about what particular musical works mean and how those meanings got there, these questions all presuppose understandings of what meaning is. Hence, a more fundamental question remains: what does meaning mean? But, since inquiry into meaning always presupposes understandings of meaning, the question “what does meaning mean?” is infected with those very presuppositions. Questioning cannot interrogate that through which it already operates.
To avoid this impasse, I draw from J. L. Austin’s theory of performative utterances in his treatise, How to Do Things with Words. Austin radically rethinks language meaning by grounding language meaning in the actions that utterances perform, rather than what they represent propositionally. Representing, disclosing, and expressing thus become simply a few ways to do things with words or music. My analogous use-theoretic, actional model of musical meaning grounds music’s meaningfulness in how music is used to generate effects, how music’s efficacies entail social and imaginative transformations upon its contexts of audition, and how we skillfully comport ourselves to meaningful music around us.
Ultimately, a performative, use-theoretic understanding of musical meaning underwrites both the meaningful effects of music, and its representational, referential capacities. The actions performed by music as utterance thus serve as the condition of possibility for music’s meaningfulness within this logic. I demonstrate with musical examples drawn from Debussy, Schubert, and the German electroacoustic composer Michael Beil.
“Deviational Phrase Types in the Compositions of Maria Schneider”
Ben Geyer (University of West Georgia)
Recent publications on phrase rhythm in jazz have explored how different parameters interact with hypermeter, assuming regular hypermeter and eschewing irregular examples. Despite the importance of hypermetrical regularity, however, deviations in phrase length occur, and the exceptions warrant exploration. This paper addresses hypermetrical deviation in the works of contemporary jazz composer Maria Schneider.
The paper draws from a corpus study of twenty-five works, finding that regular hypermeter remains central even within Schneider’s somewhat progressive practice. Of the 1,092 phrases found the corpus, 61% correspond to the normative phrase. These findings corroborate the importance of normative phrase design, as emphasized by prior scholars. They also, however, suggest a substantial role for deviational phrases. This paper focuses on these deviations.
This presentation will have three parts. First, I describe our expectations for the normative phrase, which I represent through diagrams based on the kinesthetic image schema of the container. These diagrams aim to capture the phenomenology of the normative phrase, with a particular spatial shape. In the second part I present an overview of the deviations that Schneider uses to alter that normative container, using the piece Choro Dançado as a case study. Deviations often involves shifts of phenomenological expectations: we hear one metrical function when we expect another, and the container shape morphs as a result. The paper’s third part suggests larger roles—both formal and expressive—that these deviations play within the compositional world of Choro Dançado.
“On the Musical Similarities and Differences Between Poetic Utterances in Jazz and Hip-Hop”
Stephen Gomez-Peck (Indiana University)
Jazz and hip-hop share many aesthetic and cultural qualities: both genres have strong associations with anti-mainstream society and are considered fundamentally Afro-diasporic musics. Some scholarship has compared musical characteristics of the genres including Kyle Adams’s discussion of rhythmic layers (Adams, 2008) and Justin Williams’s work on aesthetics (Williams, 2010). Yet a thorough investigation of musical similarities and differences between the two genres techniques has yet to be taken on. Using tools originally developed to analyze flow in hip-hop, this paper explores some musical features shared by jazz and hip-hop as well as some of the characteristics unique to each music, asserting that the cause for these disparities is the syntax upon which each genre relies (i.e., extended functional harmony in jazz and the English language in rap).
I modify the analytical approaches of Adams (Adams, 2008 and 2009) and Komaniecki (Komaniecki, 2017) to treat improvised jazz solos of Dexter Gordon, Harold Land, and Clifford Brown as if they were raps. While I adopt previously used definitions of many terms, “line rhyme” and “extended assonance” are defined and employed as the generalized version of end rhyme and short repeated, rhyming motives, respectively. These analyses demonstrate that while essential poetic features operate similarly in jazz and hip-hop (including extended assonance and internal rhyme), several significant differences stand out including the metrical placement of line rhymes and the length of marked poetic utterances.
“Irregular or Irreconcilable? Troubling Metric Hierarchy with Popular Septuple Grooves”
Scott Hanenberg (University of Toronto)
Kick and snare drum patterns in metrically irregular popular songs sometimes imply grouping structures that do not conform to current understandings of metric well-formedness (Lerdahl and Jackendoff 1983, Temperley 2001, London 2012). Rather than rationalize such patterns as (mere) rhythmic dissonances, I consider the ramifications of treating prominent drum articulations as metric signposts. My association of drum-kit rhythms with metric identity takes the ubiquity and phenomenal prevalence of the backbeat in many popular genres as a point of departure; I therefore stress the metric potential of the snare drum in particular. While disjunctures between theoretical models and drum-kit practice are most clearly observable in septuple grooves (7/8 and 7/4), my reevaluation of metric well-formedness in rock applies to many irregular meters.
The drumbeat of Tori Amos’s “Spark,” for instance, suggests a 3+4 parsing of several 7/8 measures. The identification of three- and four-pulse beats at the same metric level does not conform to Lerdahl and Jackendoff’s MWFR 3, though it is acceptable under London’s WFC 3.4. Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” is more complex; I argue that a stylistically competent listener is likely to hear a metric structure of ((22)(12)) at the eighth-note level, which is irreconcilable with even London’s more permissive formulation of metric well-formedness. Through analysis of a modest corpus (71 songs), I suggest that duple and quadruple subdivisions of grooves in seven are even more prevalent than the expected (well-formed) triple possibilities. Understanding these apparently unconventional structures as metrical acknowledges the unique stylistic competence of pop-music audiences.
“Using Text-Mining of Historical Experiences to Inform Analysis”
Sarah Iker (University of Tampa)
At early performances of The Rake’s Progress, listeners reported that the opera was considerably different from Igor Stravinsky’s earlier neoclassicism. Some found this music stagnant and retrenched, while others found it refreshing and enchanting. Contemporary reviews provide compelling insight into the historical experience of Stravinsky’s neoclassicism. While reception history and its attendant close-readings recount many such experiences, digital tools can help augment historical analysis of a work. In this paper, I explore the reception of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress using such tools to understand the linguistic response to this opera changed over time, location, and type of reviewer. I then use this data to choose music-analytical methods that reflect these experiences and their differences.
The term “distant reading,” coined by literary theorist Franco Moretti, refers to using computational approaches to understand text corpora. I argue that this machine-learning approach can be combined with close reading to enhance the understanding of particular texts in their larger context. I then use these combined readings of the responses to the Rake to explore changes in reception over time, language, reviewer’s musical training, and performance type. I conclude the paper by using this combination of distant and close readings to guide my analysis of Anne Trulove’s Act I cabaletta toward Stravinsky’s alterations of expected schematic patterns, toward an analysis that offers a historically sensitive, experience-oriented reading of the work.
“‘Unlimited, the Future is Unlimited’: Re-imagining Expansion with Musical Theater”
Brian Jarvis (University of Texas at El Paso) and John Peterson (James Madison University)
A revived enthusiasm for issues of form in classical music by scholars such as William Caplin (1998), James Hepokoski & Warren Darcy (2006), and Janet Schmalfeldt (1992, 2011), has stimulated a burgeoning interest in popular music’s forms. Musical theater, however, has received comparatively little attention. Although it engages with formal strategies from both classical and popular music, musical theater’s formal idiosyncrasies confront us with analytical challenges that other repertoires present less obviously. While studies of musical theater often mention form within a broader analytical enterprise, one issue that has not been thoroughly addressed is the frequent occurrence and varied manifestations of formal expansions.
In this talk we begin by presenting touchstone examples of phrase expansion in musical theater. Next, we reimagine the concept of expansion—which is typically restricted to single phrases—to allow for its application at larger levels. We find two common situations: breakthroughs and key-changing elisions. We conclude by applying these concepts in an analysis of a recurring expansion in three numbers from Wicked (“The Wizard and I,” “Defying Gravity,” and “For Good”) that is inadequately described using existing tools.
The way we reimagine expansion in this paper—as a concept that applies at levels larger than the phrase—is significant not only for the understanding and analysis of musical theater, but also for the many challenges presented in other kinds of classical and popular music.
“Intertextuality in the Music of Ween”
Lewis Jeter (Florida State University) and Dickie Lee (Colorado State University)
We begin by combining Mosser’s theory of cover songs with the Bloomian notion of misreading. Mosser’s theory, designed to interpret covers (in which a song is created anew by another author), provides a hierarchy when applied to a more complex web of intertexts, such as genre. His hierarchy ranges from reduplication covers (musicians recreate a base song as faithfully as possible) to send-up (ironic) covers (substantial alterations are used to recast the original meaning of the base song). The send-up (ironic) cover, reread as a strong Blooomian misreading, provides a line of defense against the anxiety of influence, yielding ramifications for agency and subjectivity.
We aim to unpack meaning in Ween’s music by adding an undiscoursed agential layer to Mosser’s theory of covers. Specifically, Ween-as-fictional-composer and the fictional (intended) audience serve as starting points. We posit that Deleuzian readings of schizophrenia can culturally situate our analyses of Ween’s use of style. Ultimately, a (post)modern listening subject is inundated with a deluge of sound-images, resulting in a schizophrenic subject that struggles with identity formation. Ween’s music demonstrates a degree of enjoyment within this subjective crisis–a schizophrenic subject that props up their subjectivity behind a kind of mirror, the fictional audience. We argue that Ween’s use of genre foregrounds the fictionalized listener as an interpreting subject, leading to an interpretation of Ween as a subjectivity to itself in the world of popular music that constructs its agency from the intertextual nature of modern listening.
“Repetition as Expansion: Large-Scale Sentential Structures in Schubert’s Subordinate Themes”
Caitlin Martinkus (Georgia State University)
Scholars of form-functional theory have long been interested in the organization of subordinate theme groups in classical and romantic sonata forms (Caplin 1987, 1991, 1998; Schmalfeldt 1992, 2011; Vande Moortele 2016). Despite this, close readings of Franz Schubert’s subordinate themes are rare. I analyze Schubert’s first-movement sonata forms, focusing on processes of structural expansion in four subordinate themes: the D Major String Quartet (D. 810), the C Major Symphony (D. 944), the C Major String Quintet (D. 956), and the C Minor Piano Sonata (D. 958). These themes exemplify a broader trend in Schubert’s oeuvre—the composer’s frequent use of a large-scale, overarching sentential design as a means of structuring repetitions of thematic material in subordinate theme space. Within this framework, thematic repetition can be understood as a process of structural expansion.
Following the work of BaileyShea (2002/2003) and Vande Moortele (2011), I abstract an underlying template of sentential phrase construction, tight-knit + tight-knit + loose, to describe relationships between thematic restatements in sentential structures. I consider the first iteration of a theme or phrase and its repetition as tight-knit, forming a large-scale presentation, while the following loose section typically exhibits characteristics of continuation function and (often) leads to a PAC. In subordinate themes structured as large-scale sentences, Schubert’s treatment of thematic restatements folds additive, paratactic repetitions into the dynamic, hypotactic discourse of sonata form. The identification of large-scale sentential designs illuminates the underlying organization of expanded units of form (many comprise upwards of forty measures), and reveals the form-functional role of Schubert’s repetitions.
“Something ‘Freakish’: Disability and Narrative in the Music of György Ligeti”
Demi Nicks (Florida State University)
Current scholarship undervalues the influential role of modern art aesthetics on the music of György Ligeti. Tobin Siebers, art historian and advocate of disability studies, claimed, “the modern in art manifests itself as disability.” Music theorists, especially Joseph Straus, have extended this assertion to modernist music; as Straus equally pronounces, “the modernist musical body is itself a disabled body.” Ligeti’s compositions are usually described in absolute, strictly musical terms. However, recent literature supports that consideration of extra-musical elements (such as Ligeti’s self-acknowledged literary and artistic influences and fascination with broken machines) can offer additional interpretations and demonstrate narrative potential.
My analysis, informed by Ligeti’s interests and aesthetic values, offers a new perspective of his work through the lens of disability studies. I argue that the second movement of Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 2 contains a perceptible disability narrative of chaos (the breakdown of balance and symmetry, the threat of never reaching closure) turned acceptance (an affective shift in the final measures allowing contentment and closure). In conjunction with the musical analysis, I consider the physicality of performance and its embodiment of mobility impairment.
If a functioning musical machine is one whose processes unfold in regular, normal ways, Ligeti’s musical machines are definitely broken. This musical body is impaired, but there is no impetus to overcome the impairment. Rather, its potentially problematic or “abnormal” features are claimed and reframed as positive, desirable aesthetic assets.
“A Theory of Closure in the Late Works of Sergei Prokofiev”
Jacy Pedersen (Texas Christian University)
Cadences are a central feature in music that act as punctuation to musical phrases and bring closure to formal structures at both large and small scales. Theorists such as William Caplin (1998, 2004, 2013) and William Rothstein (1989, 1991, 1994) have written in extensive detail about the strength of tonal cadences and how they play a pivotal role in the structure of the music before and after their occurrence. In the music of the 20th century, Deborah Rifkin (2006) and Kristy Ann Bryden (2001) discuss elements of closure in context with deviation from local norms via motion and chromaticism in post-tonal contexts. As noted by Rifkin, chromatic alteration at points of closure can obscure arrivals in tonal-leaning 20th-century works (Rifkin 2006), but in the music of Sergei Prokofiev, it is uniquely used as a key element in creating closure.
In Prokofiev’s music, the strength of any given moment of closure can be gauged on a spectrum. Most cadential arrivals have tonal-like bass movement from dominant to tonic, along with the melodic movement that achieves tonic. This is further strengthened by the presence of two distinct features: direct chromatic motion into the cadence, and temporal displacement between voices. The degree to which these features are present determines the strength of closure. This presentation will show how chromatic alterations can affect the strength of cadence-like closure by delving into two of Prokofiev’s late works: his Piano Sonata No. 9, Op. 103, and Cello Sonata in C Major, Op. 113.
“The Schema Network”: Tracing a Melodic Schema in the Music of Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails to Film”
Steven Rahn (University of Texas at Austin)
Following recent work that expands musical schemata research beyond the galant style (Gjerdingen 2011, Love 2012, Stoia 2013), this project uses schema theory as a framework for analyzing film music derived from a particular rock idiom. Focusing on the music of Trent Reznor, film composer and founder of the rock project Nine Inch Nails, this paper shows how a recurring, salient contrapuntal gesture accrues extra-musical significance across three different films, appearing during pivotal narrative moments.
The “Fa-Mi” schema, found throughout Reznor’s output, comprises two contrapuntal elements: a descent from scale degree 4-3 in the upper voice, and either a tonic pedal or lowered scale degree 7 to 1 in the bass. Typically featured at the ends of phrases, the Fa-Mi melodic figure often acts as a major-mode inflection of a minor pentatonic or minor-mode pitch collection, or alternatively may suggest Mixolydian mode.
After exploring prototypical instances and variations of the schema in Nine Inch Nails’ music, I turn to three films scored by Reznor: The Social Network (2010), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), and Gone Girl (2014). Instead of functioning in a traditional leitmotivic manner, the “Fa-Mi” carries a cluster of extra-musical associations shared across the three films. The schema accompanies scenes featuring a shocking plot revelation, a shift in the power dynamic between characters, or moments that are positively valenced on a local narrative level but have long-term negative repercussions. This project thus broadens the syntactical emphasis of schema theory by examining how schemata can acquire extra-musical meaning in film scores.
“Transformation from Meter to Ameter in Ligeti’s Disorder”
Jay Smith (University of North Texas)
Ligeti’s Piano Etude, No. 1, Désordre, features what Ligeti calls an “irregular distribution of accents [leading] to seemingly chaotic configurations.” He wisely chose the word “seemingly” as Désordre includes a carefully constructed transformation from a metric A section to an ametric B section. Although previous authors have discussed temporal processes in the Etude (Haapamäki, Batchelor, and Isgitt), there are no discussions of the effect of those processes on the transformation from meter to ameter. This paper employs my Composite Downbeat Attack Point (CDAP) methodology, discussed below, to trace the transformation from meter to ameter in Ligeti’s Désordre, highlighting the temporal processes that contribute to the metric disintegration. Particularly, the conflicting right-hand and left-hand melodies participate in a quasi-phasing process, generating a composite palindrome of metrical downbeats that becomes increasingly unintelligible towards the end of the A section.
Among those meter-destroying temporal processes is metric diminution in both melodies, which transforms meter into beat; the deconstruction of an established composite palindromic pattern; increasingly dissonant internal grouping structures throughout the section; and non-coinciding phrase-group lengths between the soprano and bass melodies, which drift further and further apart throughout the section. Ligeti’s “seemingly chaotic configurations” of accents constitute numerous processes that transform meter to ameter.
“Murder and Musical Mystery: Pairing Plot and Modulation Schemas in The Mystery of Edwin Drood”
Joshua Tanis (Florida State University)
Recent research on Broadway show tunes (Buchler, 2008b) and popular music (Griffiths, 2015; Ricci, 2017) focuses on the dramatic potential of modulation, especially with respect to the “pump-up,” or direct ascending-step, modulation schema. My paper expands Buchler’s ideas about the coordination of modulation and a song’s and/or plot’s narrative as they apply to musical numbers from Rupert Holmes’s Broadway solve-it-yourself murder-mystery, The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1986). Holmes’s musicals have not received any appreciable music-theoretic attention; however, they exhibit many of the same stylistic features found in earlier musicals, such as the normative “pump-up” modulation, while offering more curious, less-normative techniques that also remain largely unstudied in the musical theatre repertoire, such as long spans of tonic-less, harmonically ambiguous music, and modulation schemas by direct descending-step, by ascending or descending third, and by tritone.
I posit that there is a particular synchronization of harmonic clarity and modulation schemas—from curious to clear—with the solving of the murder-mystery. My analysis comprises a harmonic and voice-leading investigation of four songs central to the unfurling of the murder mystery: “Two Kinsmen” and “Never the Luck” from Act I, and “Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead” and “The Writing on the Wall” (the Finale) from Act II. Specifically, as the musical progresses, harmonically ambiguous passages and curious modulations by descending step, thirds, and tritones recede, reserving a pure “pump-up” modulation for the moment the mystery is solved.
“A Lewinian Investigation of Rhythmic Calculation in South Indian Carnatic Improvisation”
Robert Wells (University of Mary Washington)
South Indian Carnatic music is built upon an incredibly intricate system of rhythm and meter, based on a background metric cycle called the tāḷa that performers and listeners track with specialized hand gestures (kriyās). Key to Carnatic conceptions of rhythm and meter are sarvalaghu, a rhythmic “flow” generated by gestures supporting the underlying tala, and kaṇakku, or “calculation,” referring to more complex rhythmic phrases that generate tension with the tala. Kanakku plays a particularly important role in improvised portions of Carnatic performances, for soloists must determine precisely where to begin a rhythmic pattern and how many times to iterate it in order to end a solo at a desired point in the tala.
While previous studies have applied formal music theory to analyzing metric tension in Carnatic compositions and transcribed performances or have considered kanakku-based improvisational strategies, this paper seeks to combine the theoretical and the performative. Namely, this presentation will investigate kanakku-based improvisation using Wells’s (2015a; 2017) metric generalized interval system (GIS) Met, which can quantify conflicts between the tala and a soloist’s melodic/rhythmic phrasing. Using Met, this paper will numerically investigate how special rhythmic cadences called mōrās can be strategically implemented within various talas and transformed via changing beat subdivisions (naḍais) or expanding/contracting pulse units (trikāla technique). Through Met-intervallic analysis of such improvisational strategies, this paper will suggest new ways of conceptualizing kannaku-based improvisation that do not supersede traditional Carnatic methods, but provide a complementary perspective that can generate new insights into this sophisticated music.
“Clearing the Bench: Absolute Music and The Player Piano”
Allison Wente (The State University of New York at Fredonia)
The player piano promises a new kind of absolute music to its listener, free from a performer’s personal influence or error, but the achievement of absolute music remains elusive even in its mechanical execution. Moreover, mechanical music reshapes the definition of absolute music by allowing composers to explore music without the pianistas-mediator influencing the musical product. In this paper I will show how the player piano revises standard definitions of absolute music — music about music, defined by Ashby (2010), Bonds (2014), Dahlhaus (1995), Goehr (1992), and others — by suggesting a performance without the present, laboring body and fallible emotive interpretation of a human pianist. Rather than seeking clarity, the paper sheds light on one problem within the discourse on absolute music: its shifting status after the advent of mechanical reproduction. I support my discussion with analyses of original works for player piano, each representing a different stage of the player piano’s rise, peak, and fall: 1) Stravinsky’s Étude pour Pianola (1917), 2) Casella’s Trois Pièces pour Pianola (1921) and Hindemith’s Toccata für Mechanisches Klavier (1926), and 3) Nancarrow’s Study No. 2 (from between 1948 and 1960). My analyses of these pieces show how early twentieth-century composers take advantage of (or ignore) the possibilities the piano keyboard affords when unlimited by the pianist’s ten fingers. Composers exploited the player piano as medium because the mechanical performer does not interpret a work — it plays from the data on the roll. In so doing, the player piano suggests a mechanically perfect musical absolute.