Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A piano roll is the media used to operate the player piano or pianola, band/fairground organs, calliopes and hand-cranked organs.
A piano roll is a roll of paper with perforations (holes) punched in it. The position and length of the perforation determines the note played on the piano. The piano roll moves over a device known as the 'tracker bar', which first had 64 holes and then it upgraded to 88 holes (one for each piano key). When a perforation passes over the hole, the note sounds.
Piano rolls have been in continuous mass production since around 1897. Though they are still being made today, MIDI files represent a modern way in which musical performance data can be stored. MIDI files accomplish digitally and electronically what piano rolls do mechanically. Software for editting a performance stored as MIDI data often has a feature to show the music in a piano roll representation.
Rolls for the reproducing piano were generally made from the recorded performances of famous musicians. Typically, a pianist would sit at a specially designed recording piano, and the pitch and duration of any notes played would be either marked or perforated on a blank roll, together with the duration of the sustaining and soft pedal.
Reproducing pianos can also re-create the dynamics of a pianist's performance by means of specially encoded control perforations placed towards the edges of a music roll, but this coding was never recorded automatically. Different companies had different ways of notating dynamics, some technically advanced (though not necessarily more effective), some secret, and some dependent entirely on a recording producer's handwritten notes, but in all cases these dynamic hieroglyphics had to be skillfully converted into the specialized perforated codes needed by the different types of instrument.
Recorded rolls play at a specific, marked speed, where for example, 70 signifies 7 feet of paper travel in one minute, at the start of the roll. On all pneumatic player pianos, the paper is pulled on to a take-up spool, and as more paper winds on, so the effective diameter of the spool increases, and with it the paper speed. Player piano engineers were well aware of this, as can be seen from many patents of the time, but since reproducing piano recordings were generally made with a similar take-up spool drive, the tempo of the recorded performance is faithfully reproduced, despite the gradually increasing paper speed.
The playing of many pianists and composers is preserved on reproducing piano roll. Gustav Mahler, Edvard Grieg, Claude Debussy, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Scott Joplin, and George Gershwin are amongst the composers who have had their performances recorded in this way.
The pianola was originally designed for music rolls that were not recorded at a keyboard. Instead, musical editors drew pencil lines on blank master rolls as an exact transcription of the sheet music, and then other operatives used hammers and punches to create an original roll. When playing the pianola, if the music is not to sound like a mechanical automaton, one must play the instrument musically. Suction is provided by two exhauster pedals, operated by the feet of a pianolist. The force of this suction creates the dynamics of the music, and so accents, crescendos and other effects are obtained by rapid, yet careful use of these pedals. Similarly, because the music rolls are perforated at an inexorably constant tempo, all the tiniest fluctuations of phrasing and rubato must be introduced by means of a tempo lever, usually operated by the right hand. There are often other hand levers for controlling the pedals of the actual piano.
Besides these two clearly differentiated types of music roll, there were others that bridged the gap between the two instruments. Hand-played rolls reproduce the note values of a live pianist, but with no automatic dynamic control, and this allows pianola owners to recreate the performances of experts, rather than having to work too hard themselves.
However, since rolls for the pianola were not generally recorded by hand, there is also the possibility to create music that is impossible for humans to play, or, more correctly, music that was not conceived in terms of performance by hand, whether inhumanly complex or not. Over one hundred composers wrote music specially for the player piano during the course of the 20th century, notably Conlon Nancarrow and Igor Stravinsky.
Arranged rolls are produced simply by cutting holes in the paper with a knife and ruler, using the sheet music or other arrangement as a guide. This results in somewhat mechanical sounding rolls.
Hand played rolls are made using some form of recording device that marks the paper as a pianist plays. The marked paper is then used as a guide when the holes are cut. Extra notes may be added and errors deleted after the recording process. This method was in use as early as 1903 by the Welte company in Germany, who recorded such famous pianists as Camille Saint-SaŽns and Richard Strauss. In around 1911 hand played rolls started production in the USA, and have provided an invaluable historical record of the playing of famous performers who did not make sound recordings. Certain types of hand played recordings can also play back the dynamics as performed by the pianist.
There were dozens of companies producing rolls during the peak period of their popularity (1900–1927). Some of the larger companies are listed below, with their most promiment recording artsts.
- QRS Company — Max Kortlander , Pete Wendling, J. Lawrence Cook, and Victor Arden
- Imperial — Charley Straight , Roy Bargey
- Vocalstyle — Jelly Roll Morton, Mary Allison, Walter Davison
The Duo-Art and Ampico brands were known as "reproducing" piano rolls, as they could accurately reproduce the touch and dynamics of the artist as well as the notes struck, when played back on Duo-Art and Ampico capable pianos.
Duo-Art featured artists such as Ignace Jan Paderewski, Shura Cherkasky , Alfred Cortot, and Frank Milne . The Ampico brand's stable included Sergei Rachmaninoff, Leo Ornstein, and Marguerite Volavy .
The contents of this article is licensed from www.wikipedia.org under the GNU Free Documentation License. Click here to see the transparent copy and copyright details