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MMD > Archives > August 2011 > 2011.08.30 > 10Prev  Next

MIDI-Operated Pneumatic Player Piano
By John A. Tuttle

Hi All,  At the risk of sounding somewhat vain, I think that most
people who actually know me know that I have a real passion for player
pianos -- maybe too much at times.  So, it was with anticipation that
I followed the link to Geoff Ward's YouTube video which demonstrates
his recently installed VirtualRoll player system.

Before clicking on the link, I thought to myself, 'This will be cool'.
Also, I was curious to see how the van Basco's karaoke player looked
when coupled to Hunt's system [110826 MMDigest].

I'm sad to say I was disappointed.  The feeling I got was exactly the
same as the feeling I get every time I watch a digital player play
player piano music.  Words like 'empty', 'flat', 'lifeless', and
'disconnected' come to mind.  I know why I feel that way because I've
examined my emotions at great length for the purpose of explaining to
others why I love roll-operated player pianos.  It has almost nothing
to do with the music per se.  What it has almost everything to do with
is the 'interaction' between the operator (pianolist) and the machine.

Imagine, if you will, the difference between driving down a highway
or being a passenger in the car.  There's a distinct difference that
isn't all the difficult to understand and/or appreciate.  In one case,
you're interfacing with the car, and in the other case you're not.
It's really pretty simple.  What's kind of weird is that I get the
same feelings when I watch YouTube videos where a person is pumping the
pedals or a vacuum pump is doing the work.  The former has 'life' and
the later is just player piano music.

Admittedly, I can see the allure of having thousands of music files
at my fingertips, being able to program multiple hours of music, and
relaxing with my guests as the piano entertains us.  But, is that what
has made the player piano such a lasting part of world history?  Or is
it 'the human connection to a machine'?  What will ultimately happen to
the machine when the human element is no longer a part of the equation?

Don't get me wrong.  I appreciate the technology and it's nice to see a
device that interfaces with a pneumatic player piano which allows users
to hear their piano play without any effort.  Still, I have thousands
of scanned rolls in MIDI format, a MIDI player that I can program to
play for hours, a variety of quality sound font banks of various makes
of pianos, a computer, and a high quality stereo system that will pipe
music all over the house - -if all I want is to listen to player piano

What I enjoy is "playing my player piano", not having it played for
me!  And I'll tell you truthfully, I enjoy my 88-note pumper more than
my reproducing player for the same reasons.  Yes, it's wonderful to
hear the masters play with impeccable expression (something I can't
do), but it just doesn't 'feel' the same when you're only an 'observer'.

John A Tuttle
Brick, New Jersey, USA

 [ John, sometimes I __LIKE__ being a passenger in my own car.  I can
 [ relax and observe the scenery instead of concentrating on the road and
 [ traffic  ;-)   --Jody

(Message sent Wed 31 Aug 2011, 00:48:35 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  MIDI-Operated, Piano, Player, Pneumatic

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