Engineers of Art

Carol J. Oja

in Making Music Modern

Published in print December 2000 | ISBN: 9780195058499
Published online January 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780199865031 | DOI:
Engineers of Art

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Leo Ornstein and Edgard Varèse began imagining the dimensions of American modernism during the 1910s. But on the whole, the 20th century dawned for American composers in the 1920s. This was a decade when iconoclastic ideas blasted through hallowed traditions, with machines often providing the horsepower to do so. The decade quickly became known as the “Machine Age”—a rubric that in a broader sense has been used to cover the entire interwar period. For modernist composers in the United States, the machine had two powerful manifestations: it yielded new sound sources, and it provided new means of preserving and transmitting performances. One important facet of the machine movement in modernist music was the invention of new musical instruments. In New York City, these instruments were the Theremin, the Clavilux, the Crea-tone, the Vitaphone, and the Martenot. By no means a circumscribed movement that yielded a few art works and then ended, the machine aesthetic projected outward like a beam of light, illuminating future potential and suggesting unexplored aesthetic territory.

Keywords: Machine Age; American modernism; New York City; United States; composers; machines; musical instruments; art; modernist music

Chapter.  4656 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: American Music

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