JF Ptak Science Books Poat 1236
There is a certain layered, geological dystopic quality to the images of these men laboring at producing piano rolls for player pianos (and found in The Illustrated London News for 18 December 1909). This is true especially for the details, the small boxes in the background to where the rolls are being "processed"--music pounded out with metal points on a hard surface, as though produced by whatever it was that was in those little labeled wooden containers, far removed from the artistry of melody. These are images of a culture being made into hundreds of thousands of miles of hole-filled paper.
The piano roles remind me of automatons replacing humans in entertainment, and then replacing the humans making the piano roles; of machines taking over the jobs of people writ large. There's a long and rich literary history of this idea, not the least (or first) of which is the appropriately-named Player Piano, Kurt Vonnegut's first novel, written in 1952. Like a tiny idea-machine, Vonnegut manufactured part of his tale from Brave New World, with Huxley having taken his bit from an earlier novel, We, written by Yevgeny Zamyatin in 1921--they're all bleak images of a future dominated by machines, the humans acquiring numbers for names, like the replaceable and expendable units they became.
(Artwork by Malcolm Smith for Imagination, June 1954.)
The devices for producing the roles remind me of Jeremy Bentham's panopticon, a functional prison designed so that all of the prisoners could be viewed from one central point. The profile of the place reminds me of the geared punch machine for the piano roles; I'm not at all sure about what the function of the prison reminds me of. But in the history of holes, I guess all it foes it fill u its empty holes with people, keeping them there for months or years or decades, and then replacing them with other people, part of a long and continuing series.
Here's the panopticonal prison at Presidio Modelo, Isla De la Juventud, Cuba--with the walls laid flat, and some cells filled-up, and reduced, you may be able to make a certain music with it, like reading the scores made by pigeons roosting on a five-wire-strung staff of utility poles. My daughter Emma just suggested that there could be a Morse Code crossover as well!)
The plan and elevation of these prisons relate to the player paino paper, like the early dots and dashes of communication, like the punched cards that Vonnegut had in mind when he was writing his early classic.
Now, the rest of the Illustrated London News story (available here on my blog bookstore):