Mechanical Music Digest  Archives
You Are Not Logged In Login/Get New Account
Please Log In. Accounts are free!
Logged In users are granted additional features including a more current version of the Archives and a simplified process for submitting articles.
Home Archives Calendar Gallery Store Links Info

Spring Fundraising Drive In Progress. Please visit our home page to see this and other announcements:     Thank you. --Jody

MMD > Archives > October 2004 > 2004.10.11 > 07Prev  Next

Expression When Recording 88-Note Piano Rolls
By John A. Tuttle

Hi All,  Dick Merchant made a good point with regards to putting out
recordings that are 'expressionless', but I would counter by saying
that some of the 'charm' of these 'flat' recordings is that they are
unique and tell a story of a time long since gone.

While it's certainly true that today's technology allows us to 'un-do'
what I call 'mono-phonic' music (played at one volume level), attempting
to create 'life-like' recordings will only serve to put that music into
a class that competes with current state-of-the-art music.  In other
words, trying to make them 'perfect' destroys their charm and their
unique nature.  It would be like removing the 'noise' from Edison
cylinder recordings -- they just wouldn't be the same.  Or, put another
way, they wouldn't sound authentic.

The other day I saw part of an old Western movie in which a player
piano was playing unattended in an empty bar, I suppose to give
credibility to the story line about a ghost town.  Anyhow, as the
cowboy approached the bar you could hear the music getting louder and
louder, and it was obvious that it was a player piano _because_
there was no expression in the music _and_ it sounded mechanical.
To make the whole scene a bit comical, the piano stopped playing when
the cowboy stared at the piano for a few moments.  Then the cowboy
stomped his foot on the floor and the piano started playing again;
you had to laugh!

But the point is that, in this case and many others, the sound of
'mechanical music' creates an ambience that puts the music in a class
all by itself.  Making it 'better' for the sake of musicality would
only serve to pull it out of its own unique class and eliminate its

Mind you, I very much appreciate and admire all those pianolists who
utilize pumping techniques and manual lever controls to give otherwise
lifeless mechanical music so much life.  Also, I enjoy impressing
people on a regular basis with the capabilities of a foot-pumped player
piano.  Most people are somewhat amazed by the quality of music that
their own player is capable of producing.

However, for the reasons stated at the outset, I would never attempt
to create recordings for sale to the public that were so good that the
listener couldn't tell that a machine was playing the piano, unless
that was the point of the recording, as it has been with the recordings
made by Wayne Stahnke and others, which is an entirely different case,
i.e., reproducing vice 88-note piano.

I suppose that when you break it all down, it's all about the audience
that you're playing to.  Some people truly enjoy the old 'honky-tonk'
flavor of a slightly out-of-tune 1920's foot-pumped player piano, and
they wouldn't have it any other way.  (Reminds me of the story about
the black woman who accused me of "Taking out all the soul" from her
piano when I tuned it.)  Others can't stand it.  For my money, trying
to turn something 'in' to something that it 'is not' does not serve
to promote what it "is".

Musically Opinionated,

John A Tuttle
Brick, New Jersey, USA

(Message sent Mon 11 Oct 2004, 17:23:14 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

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

Home    Archives    Calendar    Gallery    Store    Links    Info   

Enter text below to search the MMD Website with Google

CONTACT FORM: Click HERE to write to the editor, or to post a message about Mechanical Musical Instruments to the MMD

Unless otherwise noted, all opinions are those of the individual authors and may not represent those of the editors. Compilation copyright 1995-2024 by Jody Kravitz.

Please read our Republication Policy before copying information from or creating links to this web site.

Click HERE to contact the webmaster regarding problems with the website.

Please support publication of the MMD by donating online

Please Support Publication of the MMD with your Generous Donation

Pay via PayPal

No PayPal account required

Translate This Page