I’ve always been fascinated by player pianos. These magical contraptions turn motion into music through a system of pedals, bellows, linkages, and gears. While modern player pianos are controlled by computer, the originals were operated by foot pedals, which create a system-wide vacuum that drives a pneumatic air motor and reads music from paper rolls.
In the fall of 2019, I got my hands on a half-working player piano and went to work on patching holes, sealing hoses, and cleaning off 100 years of dust. Just when I was about to give up on ever getting it to play music, I tried overwhelming the leaky system with a massive amount of suction – two vacuums: one on the motor drive and one on the music production assembly and voila – music began to flow.