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MMD > Archives > March 2000 > 2000.03.21 > 08Prev  Next

What is a Recording? What is a Record?
By Douglas Bush

In MMD 000320, Joyce Brite referred to a newspaper article.  First
I would like to comment on some of the observations made.

> "First, he has made the erroneous generalization of grouping
> piano rolls in the same broad category with sheet music."

Is this generalisation totally erroneous?  To my mind, the majority
of piano rolls are mathematically arranged with no expression coding.
As such they are nothing more than a representation of musical
notes.  The same can be said for sheet music.  Indeed many of the older
rolls seem to be direct transfers from piano scores and could thus be
considered to be different ways of storing the same information.  Of
course, this argument does not apply to reproducing piano rolls.
Perhaps the error was to generalise all piano rolls into the same broad
category as each other.

> "When he insinuates that piano rolls do not capture 'interpretation
> or performance,' he demonstrates his ignorance of the mechanical
> music medium."

I would say that the majority of rolls do not in fact capture
interpretation or performance.  These are added by the end user when
playing the roll.

Importantly, though, we should not forget those rolls that do in fact
capture these additional elements, both by means of 'hand played'
arrangements and by the use of additional dynamic coding.  I do not
wish here, though, to enter the discussion as to whether these rolls
capture the performance of the artist named on the roll label!  It is
probably true, and unfortunate, to say that few people, other than
enthusiasts of mechanical music, are aware of reproducing pianos or
their capabilities.

Finally to address the questions, "what is a recording" and "is a piano
roll a recording?"

A good place to start in considering this question is a dictionary.
A non-exhaustive list of the definitions of "record":

1) [noun] a piece of evidence or information constituting an
   account of something that has occurred;

2) [verb] the state of being set down or preserved in writing or
   some other permanent form;

3) [noun] an object serving as a memorial of a person or thing;

4) [verb] to convert into permanent form for later reproduction.

While a reproducing piano roll is not a physical representation of the
actual sounds waves created during the original performance, such as
found on a CD for example, I do not have a problem with considering
them to be a set of instructions that may be used, with the correct
equipment, to reproduce an encoded performance.  To my mind, this falls
within the scope of definitions (1), (2) and (4) above.  The key part
of this analysis is "with the correct equipment".  The instrument used
to play the piano roll needs to be able to accurately 'undo' the
original coding used.  This equally applies to any storage medium

A reproducing piano roll could perhaps be considered to be a recording
of the process used to create the music rather than of the music
itself.  Is not the end result the same for all practical purposes

Of course, this does not take into account any editing work that may
have been undertaken during production of the roll.  Editing will
result in the roll no longer preserving the original performance.  Even
so, does not a roll with sympathetic editing still fall into the scope
of (3) above, if not the others?  Care needs to be exercised to
separate the technology itself and the use of that technology.

As to the question of MIDI, this is another means of storing the same
information.  As such, I would consider this in much the same way as a
piano roll.


Douglas Bush

(Message sent Tue 21 Mar 2000, 23:13:56 GMT, from time zone GMT.)

Key Words in Subject:  is, Record, Recording, What

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