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MMD > Archives > October 2004 > 2004.10.20 > 01Prev  Next

Player Piano Systems to Play MIDI Files
By John A. Tuttle

Hi All,  In answer to Tom Hutchinson's question, there is only one
(1) MIDI capable system that can be effectively used with an Ampico
reproducing player piano and still retain all of the capabilities of
the pneumatic reproducing system.  That system is the Gerety-Chase
E-Roll Player System.  To read a fine article about the system, its
installation and capabilities, read Craig Brougher's excellent treatise

Comparing any of the available digital player systems to the G-C
E-Roll system isn't really a fair comparison.  It would be like
comparing apples to oranges.  While both are good, they are vastly
different.  The digital players use solenoids, while the E-Roll system
uses the existing pneumatic system.  The E-Roll system interfaces with
the existing pneumatic system, while the digital system replaces the
existing pneumatic system.

The stark disadvantage of the digital system, in this case, would be
that the instrument would no longer be capable of playing Ampico music
rolls.  The user would be forced to play the existing library of Ampico
music in the digital format.  On the other hand, with the E-Roll
system, the user would be able to play both the digital library and the
paper Ampico music rolls.

In terms of performance, a couple of things need to be taken into
consideration when comparing digital copies of Ampico music rolls
to real Ampico music rolls.  Primary among these is the fact that
the digital copies cannot take advantage of the full limit of the
capability of the digital system unless the files are re-mastered.
While the digital system is capable of 128 levels of expression on
any note at any time, the Ampico system is not.  And even though the
expression levels in the Ampico system can be changed with amazing
speed -- giving it an extremely life-like performance capability --
it cannot play two or more notes in the same register with different
intensities at exactly the same moment in time.

On the other hand, the digital system can play virtually every note
in any register with a different intensity at exactly the same moment
in time.  However, to take advantage of that capability, an existing
digital copy of an Ampico roll would have to be painstakingly edited,
note by note.  And, the resultant file would not be an exact duplicate
of the original roll, but rather someone else's interpretation.

As for the differences between the various digital systems on the
market, I've worked on all three (Pianomation, PianoDisc, and
Disklavier) and have found no discernable difference.  In my opinion,
the Pianomation system is the easiest system to access, maintain,
repair and calibrate.  The most difficult system to work on is the
PianoDisc system.

In terms of reliability, all of the systems mentioned in this posting
have a great track record.  However, the fact that all of the digital
systems have been upgraded in one way or another over their years in
existence says that even the manufacturers found ways to improve the
systems.  Whether that points to specific problems with the early
systems is not known to me.  The E-Roll system has been around for
only a couple of years but a couple of very minor changes have been
made already.

In closing, it's my feeling that it would be a shame to remove
a functional Ampico reproducing system and replace it with a digital
system.  While you might not get all the bells and whistles that
the digital systems offer these days, you would be sacrificing what
I believe to be the most enticing aspect of a reproducing player piano,
which is an 80+ year old mechanism that is capable of re-enacting the
artists of that era in a manner that they approved.

John A Tuttle
Brick, New Jersey, USA

(Message sent Wed 20 Oct 2004, 13:45:32 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  Files, MIDI, Piano, Play, Player, Systems

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