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MMD > Archives > May 1996 > 1996.05.17 > 03Prev  Next

Original Recording pianos
By Craig Brougher

Before 1920, there had been already several expression recording pianos built. One by Welte in Germany, and one by Wilcox and White in the United States, and there may have been more. The purpose was to allow an artist to hear his recording played back to him while it is still fresh in his mind. He could play it over again if he wished. The reason these pianos were not patented is obvious-- when you don't plan on building lots of them for sale, then why give away the store? You keep it secret.

It has been suggested in an article that Welte never had such a piano, but I happen to know differently. During the first part of the war, Richard Simonton had befriended Ed Welte and they had become trusted friends. Edmund didn't want his collection of priceless Welte master rolls destroyed, and between the two of them, conceived a plan to bring the rolls to the United States where they could be warehoused, away from American bombs. Dick told a friend of mine all about the "piano with the tray" which he also saw in the warehouse, but this could not be smuggled out. The rolls were smuggled out through France and saved.

For Welte to have claimed technology it did not have would, in my opinion, implicate not only the Welte corporation but every recording artist who made rolls for them in a gigantic fraud which would certainly be exposed. Other companies at the time would rightfully claim that this would be taking unfair advantage and gaining market shares by fraud and deceit, because the piano was used in many advertisements.

There has also been suggestions that the technology of the day could not support such a machine. That is true for market technology, but not corporate state of the art. For example, radar had already been conceived, the transforms all worked out, and a theoretical set designed by Tesla before 1910, and an extensive paper on it was presented about 1917. The only hangup was a few industrial processes that had to be worked out, first. Granted, the devil is in the details, but neither of these pianos used vacuum tubes. Nor did they need to.

In the "Genius Immortal" sales brochure selling the Wilcox and White Angelus reproducer, there is a two-page section describing how "Artrio-Angelus Records are Made." It reports that the artist sits down to a concert grand piano- differing only from any other grand piano in "that a cable with hundreds of wires wends its way to the reproducing device where every note is recorded for all time. There is not the slightest attachment to that grand piano that could in any way affect the playing of the artist-the keyboard- the action of the instrument is as untrammelled as though he were playing on a concert stage. And just as though he were playing on the concert stage, he plays-- with the added inspiration of the knowledge that his audience is not limited to a concert hall-- but is all posterity.

"And then the artist sits back and listens to the reproduction of his playing-- listens as does the audience, without thought to the production of the composition-- and in this regard a remarkable result has been achieved. For each time an artist plays a certain composition, he plays it with a slight difference. His mood, the temperature of the hall, any one of a thousand details may affect his playing. Listening to the reproduction of his playing, he finds that in certain passages he has not played it as he wished-- as he actually thought he was playing it. Dissatisfied, he again seats himself at the piano-- again his playing is faithfully recorded. 'Ah!' He exclaims as he hears the reproduction--'That is what I meant'-- and when he is satisfied, and not until then-- does he attest that master record with his signature."

These statements are not only good advertising, but legal documents which could embroil a company in a notorious lawsuit and destroy their credibility with the public as well as the internationally reknown artists who endorsed their product and claims as to how they were recorded! No one in their right mind would ever risk such a fraudulent scheme, when it could be so easily proven. It should kept in mind that the same artists who recorded for Wilcox & White recorded for other companies as well. They simply would not risk their reputations for a relatively minor contract and source of income involving them in possible legal ramifications.

The interesting thing about these registering pianos is that they were electric, their playback was apparently immediate or within the hour, and their mechanism was conceived somewhere around the turn of the century, I suspect, for them to have been built and in operation by 1920. The Wilcox and White registering piano had been in operation somewhat before 1917, since that is the date on the brochure claiming its perfection.

I would like to know if anyone can add to this discussion, and if perhaps some of our foreign members know about the "piano with the tray" which was seen in person by one very fine American, for sure! This would be a most interesting discussion, since we are now trying to do the same thing, again. This time with digital equipment.

(Message sent Fri 17 May 1996, 13:10:48 GMT, from time zone GMT.)

Key Words in Subject:  Original, pianos, Recording

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