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MMD > Archives > January 2002 > 2002.01.20 > 07Prev  Next

Marantz Pianocorder
By Bob Baker

Dear Robbie,  To the best of my knowledge, Thelonious Monk never
recorded for the Marantz Pianocorder System.

 [ I'm sure you're correct, Bob; what other jazz pianist might
 [ I be trying to recollect?  -- Robbie

Contrary to Mr. Craig Brougher's assertion, any properly-functioning
Pianocorder System will _easily_ produce very loud chords without
ever burning out its power supply or even straining it.  Too, any
properly-regulated Pianocorder System properly installed in any
decent acoustic console, studio or grand, will be capable of playing
its repertoire with much more than a "salon-music" dynamic range,
in my experience of now 23 years.

I cannot deny that there were and still are (regrettably) many
poorly-installed Pianocorder Systems which have very truncated
dynamics.  On the other hand, I can personally attest to having heard
more than a few Pianocorder Systems installed even in mean, little
(albeit restored) grands which had excellent dynamics!

As explained to me by Will Dahlgren, President of Piano Automation,
Inc., many solenoids, when required to play at low volumes, introduce
timing errors.  Complicated software with "look-up tables" can lessen
these phenomena in terms of minimizing their impact on the overall
performance.  On the other hand, even at low vacuum levels, an
air-tight pneumatic will still cycle properly.  Thus, the vast majority
of solenoid-operated players usually cannot equal the dynamic-potential
of an intact, well-regulated pneumatic expression-piano.

Many commercial customers are totally oblivious to these fine-arts
discussions of dynamics and expression.  Their first concern is Will
the player system be reliable?  Then, does it have suitable music for
their commercial location?  Very, very few guests (if any) relaxing in
the lobby-bar of a large downtown hotel care about the dynamic level of
the nearby piano.

I know of not one commercial Food and Beverage Director who would
commit his limited personnel to the task of changing paper music rolls
on a pneumatic expression piano just to give his guests superior
dynamics.  So, this commercial reality is one more aspect to the
feasibility of "antiquated" automatic musical instruments.

On the other hand, an ice-cream parlor operator (with a large
population of tourists with children) may well find a well-restored
A-roll coin-piano to be just the ticket to augment his business.
His only problem will be retaining help which will soon tire of hearing
the same 10 songs every 30 minutes nonstop per 8-hour shift!  I have
heard complaints of this nature!  Further, neither he nor his staff
will be willing to take the 5 minutes necessary to change the
multi-tune A roll.

Finally, I do not believe this discussion has adequately stressed the
value of "good arrangements!"  The eminent Q. David Bowers used to make
frequent references to "snappy" arrangements.  While recently we have
begun to see the very first offerings of "snappy" "A"-roll-like MIDI
files, I have never found such music in any of the libraries of the
three major solenoid-piano player manufacturers.  I think this is a
serious and regrettable omission.

I suspect that many more systems would be sold using memorable "A"-roll
arrangements than Chopin Etudes.  The late Harvey Roehl used to refer
to the "happy music" which would issue from his Seeburg G coin-piano.
A return to this style of piano performance would, I think, improve
sales significantly.

I'm fairly certain that such arrangements would have met with strong
disapproval from SuperScope Pianocorder System promoter Joseph
Tushinsky because he was attempting to appeal to the serious music
aficionado.  Yet, there seem to be an increasing number of commercial
referents to the 1920's and "the Flapper era."  Since that (1923) was
the peak of the player piano, Hot Jazz arrangements might rekindle
popular appeal for the automatic piano.  It's food for thought!

Regards, Bob Baker

(Message sent Sun 20 Jan 2002, 02:12:59 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Marantz, Pianocorder

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