Steam Man of the Prairies was a dime store science fiction novel written by Edward S. Ellis in 1868 and is widely considered to be the earliest depiction of a humanoid robot in popular culture. Despite Ellis’s rather clumsy writing style and overtly racist depictions of Irish immigrants and Native Americans, this novel provides an interesting perspective on the excitement surrounding innovations in steam technology and exploration of the Western United States in the late 1800’s.
Just as the Steam Man represented the attainment of superhuman capabilities through the use of technology, this piece utilizes electronics to expand the sonic palate of the piano and alto sax. By limiting electronically produced sounds to only recordings of extended piano techniques (bowed, plucked, muted, and scraped) my goal was to create a sonic bridge between the timbres of the sax and piano in an attempt to create the illusion of a single super-instrument. As a means to take this sonic cohesion one step further, amplification of the electronic sounds in this piece forgoes a typical loudspeaker setup in favor small vibration speakers attached to the soundboard of the piano. This method allows the strings of the piano to vibrate sympathetically with the electronics and takes advantage of the instrument’s natural acoustic resonance.