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MMD > Archives > November 2003 > 2003.11.12 > 06Prev  Next

Welte-Mignon Recording Technology
By John A. Tuttle

Hi All, Although the web page (which is quite lengthy) is not yet
complete, Craig Brougher, Prof. Ludwig Peetz and others have been in
contact for a couple of months in an effort to actually prove that the
technology existed which made it possible to record and playback an
artist's rendition of a composition exactly as it was performed.  When
they are done, the page will be available for viewing at Player-Care.

Along the way, I've come up with a few questions that I have been
unable to answer.  One involves the carbon rods and the mercury.  As
many have experienced in their youth, before the dangers of mercury
were well known, mercury amalgamates to almost any metal.  And in a
conversation with a woman whose life centers around the use of mercury,
she did not know if mercury would amalgamate to a pure carbon rod,
especially if electric current were to flow through the rod.  However,
she did say that in her opinion it seemed very likely that molecules
of mercury would 'fill up the pores' in the rod.

The next question, and concern, I had was; If the carbon rod was
suspended over the mercury until such time as a note was struck, wouldn't
there be a spark when the two elements came in contact with each other?
And, if that was the case, wouldn't that create mercury vapor -- which
is extremely lethal to humans and other living organisms?

So, I surmised that if the system did work at all and was safe to use,
the carbon rods would have to be submersed in the mercury all of the
time, creating a 'trickle current'.  That trickle current could then be
used to calibrate the position of each marking wheel such that the
slightest movement of the key would put a mark on the recording paper.

Another question that Craig came up with was: If the rods were suspended
or attached to the keys in any way, how could the action of the piano
be removed for servicing or regulation?

In the two pictures I've seen of artists sitting at the recording
piano, it's clear that there is a box under the keybed which is
approximately six to eight inches in height, about eight inches wide
and fifty or so inches in length.  It is positioned about eight to ten
inches from the leading edge of the front of the piano, or just about
centered under the balance rail.  My true feeling is that these artists
would not have had their pictures taken had the system not worked
because it could destroy their reputations.

By the way, I tried to buy some mercury to find out if it would
amalgamate to a pure carbon rod when an electrical current was passing
through.  Unfortunately, due to the hazards of mercury, it is not easy
to purchase, and one must be in business, set up an account, and purchase
minimum quantities of one pound of the element -- which isn't cheap!
Food for thought...


John A. Tuttle
Brick, New Jersey, USA

(Message sent Mon 10 Nov 2003, 16:09:06 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Recording, Technology, Welte-Mignon

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