As creative as the use of the machine is on Westworld, Nolan and Joy are hardly the first science-fiction writers to use the player piano as potent metaphor for humanity's relationship to technology. In 1952, a then-30-year-old Kurt Vonnegut published his debut novel with the title Player Piano, which depicted a highly mechanized, post-WWIII society where middle-class jobs have been eliminated by highly efficient machines. Vonnegut used the the dated fixture of early 1900s saloon life as symbol for a world running without human involvement, placing it at the center of a scene early in the book that takes place at a rundown bar favored by lower-class patrons. The player piano clangs away as they drink away their sorrows. "Makes you feel kind of creepy, don't it," remarks one of the characters after seeing the self-playing instrument in action. "Watching them keys go up and down? You can almost see a ghost sitting there playing his heart out."
Ever the optimist, Stephen Kent Goodman sees the contraption as something less ominous but just as fantastical. "They're time machines," he says. "The machine doesn't know it's not 1912. And there it is blasting out something that's a current hit of the day all on vacuum and pressure technology."
Unfortunately, it's a time machine that's harder and harder to find -- at least outside of premium cable dramas starring Anthony Hopkins and Evan Rachel Wood. According to Goodman, many of the most beautiful self-playing musical instruments are owned by private collectors and not routinely put on public display. He says that he likes to prioritize his repair business on machines that will be displayed at museums, locals businesses, fairs, or other public areas. It's easy to see why he would be fearful about the player piano's future: nowadays the iPod is dismissed as a piece of outdated technology. For Vonnegut and for Westworld, the player piano is a symbol of a fallen world. For Goodman, it's just waiting to be discovered.
"There's a whole generation that's waiting for it," he says. "That's what motivated me to stop what I was doing and take on this Westworld assignment. I thought, 'They're going to reach a lot of younger people with this and it needs to be done correctly.' So, they came to the right place."