Ellsworth Johnson wrote in 030207 MMDigest:
> According to Stonehill, who is known as an authority regarding the
> Duo-Art, the home model Duo-Art reproducing pianos were not exactly
> capable of a true concert hall performance due to insufficient volume
> of vacuum available, whereas his Vorsetzer was capable of a true
> concert hall performance.
It was the considered opinion of the London player-piano world when
the first of these CDs appeared that the Nimbus producers had cloth
ears. Some of the subtler pieces were unforgiveably rough in the
accompaniment, unlike the same rolls being played on a well set-up
original Duo-Art grand.
Gordon Iles had the theory that Duo-Art should have gone the way of
Ampico and engineered its system with feedback so that the size of
a chord had less effect on the playing power of each of the notes.
With Duo-Art a roll must be coded to take account of this. Also the
relatively slow movement of the accordions means that a sharp change
in power can't be achieved except by exploiting the theme switching,
which might be needed for another purpose at the same moment.
His pushup was designed to overcome some of these drawbacks and perform
"better". This was all very well but begged the question, what rolls
could you reasonably play on it? Everything put out in New York and
London was coded to offset the disadvantages of Duo-Art, five different
editing stages being required in some cases.
What happens with the Iles pushup is that its "improved design" makes
almost no difference with simple pieces where not much is going on and
playing dynamics are given room on the roll to establish themselves
anyway. In complex pieces where changes are happening thick and fast
it is running ahead of the editors and trying to do their compensation
for them. The result: rough and unconvincing accompaniment levels.
Theme powers are fast to act on the original Duo-Art, so happily not
altered by the pushup, so recordings made of the same rolls played by
Iles and traditional means do have a strong family resemblance. Also,
I dare say that the clarity of a modern piano would betray these
differences more starkly than if a six-foot 1920s grand were being
used, as happens on most of the traditional recordings.
After the first batches of CDs, which the player world said were
bringing the whole thing into disrepute, Nimbus listened to criticism
and an undisclosed modification was made to the pushup. The later CDs
are much better, but as I have only heard some and didn't buy any,
I can't say where this category starts.
Should you use a concert grand for Duo-Art demonstration recordings?
It has certainly worked in live recitals in the past in London (where
anyway you can't nit-pick and compare with a smaller piano) but Denis
Hall with his two original Steinways is making a very good case for
saying you don't need to when you're making CDs and can tweak the
acoustic to some degree. He's fooled me more than once with some of
his privately-made CDs. More news from him shortly on this front.
Dan Wilson, London