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MMD > Archives > October 2004 > 2004.10.08 > 04Prev  Next

Expression When Recording 88-Note Piano Rolls
By Warren Trachtman

Hello MMD'ers,  Julian Dyer brings up a critical issue with regard
to issuing CDs of the performances of 88-note rolls that don't have
embedded expression tracks.

Specifically, when Julian says [041007 MMDigest]:

>> The problem with using these (piano samples) to make recordings of
>> 88-note piano rolls is that you don't get any dynamics.  Doing this
>> in a recording project is no way to show respect for the roll artist,
>> or to impress a musical but non-player-piano public!

The dynamics can be obtained, and certainly are available when the
sampled piano technology is used, just as when the MIDI files are
played on a MIDI capable "live" piano, or when a pushup pianola is used
with paper rolls.  The decision is simply whether or not to edit the
MIDI files to include velocity (volume) variations and tempo variations
in the MIDI files.  This is essentially the decision as to whether to
have a MIDI pianolist perform the rolls, or to play them strictly as
punched with no tempo variations or volume changes.  This decision when
making an audio recording from old rolls is independent of the
technology used for the audio, but it is a critical decision.

Certainly, if the expression is inserted artistically into the MIDI
files, the CD will provide more enjoyable listening as a result.  From
a historical perspective, however, it can be argued that the CD then
becomes a recording of the pianolist playing Charley Straight
arrangements and is not as pure historically as playing the Charley
Straight rolls as punched.  This is precisely analogous to the
arguments that resulted from the colorization of old black and white

Recordings of piano rolls have been made both ways, with and without
pianolist interpretations.

I would welcome a discussion and feedback from the MMD folks as to
which approach they would rather see for this type of project, and why.
Should the expression be re-inserted by a modern pianolist to opt for
a more "live-played" performance from the roll, or should the rolls
be played strictly as punched, with no expression added, for maximum
historical accuracy?

One possible solution would be to produce a CD with both the flat and
the interpreted versions to satisfy both camps.  That is certainly
technically feasible, but results in two CDs rather than one.

Warren Trachtman

 [ J. Lawrence Cook created music roll arrangements that were issued
 [ as both 88-note and nickelodeon A-rolls, and they sound good whether
 [ played on a nickelodeon or interpreted by a pianolist.  So should
 [ his works be recorded with or without expression?  Should the audio
 [ recording be the pianolist's performance or should it represent the
 [ arranger's intention?  (The same question also applies to classical
 [ music composers and concert performers.   ;-)   -- Robbie

(Message sent Fri 8 Oct 2004, 15:38:09 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  88-Note, Expression, Piano, Recording, Rolls, When

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