Sixty-four pages into his 1930 manifesto of rhythmic experimentation, New Musical Resources, the composer and music theorist Henry Cowell made a passing suggestion about how his more extravagant ideas might be realized: “Some of the rhythms developed through the present acoustical investigation could not be played by any living performer; but these highly engrossing rhythmical complexes could easily be cut on a player piano roll.”1 As far as­ we know, onl­y one man took him up on the proposal, an expat American card-carrying communist jazz trumpeter and polyrhythmic prodigy named Conlon Nancarrow. But this man made it his life’s work.­ ­Nancarrow’s early years are­ s­ummarized in a laconic biography from the January 1938 edition of New Music: “Born 1912, Texarkana, Ark­a­nsas. Studied at Cincinnati Conservatory for two years. Worked way to Europe in 1936. No j­ob since return. Went to Spain to help fight Fascism.” “There is nothing to do but hope for his safe return,” wrote a sympathetic Aaron Copland at the time.

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