Everything starts with an idea...

Dec 4th, we posted this idea on our Facebookpage...

As many replies came thru different channels (Facebook, Email, MMD posting, ...) we list them here in a sequence, so that you can follow the discussions.

Even if the idea doesn't come through, we value all thoughts and inspirations coming from the respective discussions.

Marc Widuch
How about a „Global Piano Roll Convention“ in 2018?
110 Years after the famous Buffalo meeting (Dec10th, 1908) - „Gathering of
the Player Man (and Woman)“? Time for a real global approach.
During Leipzig Hupfeld Symposium last weekend, I again had the
impression, that there is so much valuable knowledge distributed all around
the globe on how to find, scan, process, digitise, interpretate, publish, store,
recut … rare piano rolls and related resources. And - currently many different
approaches are underway to invest into new scanners, publishing projects,
recut machines, etc.. Many public and private collections are out there
waiting for getting scanned and shared. On the other hand there are many
fully understood individual restraints on fully share knowledge / investments.
I am convinced that just a joint approach would allow to identify, scan and
share the still existent piano roll treasures out there in a way, that all
stakeholders do benefit. If we would find a way to join into a shared initiative,
considering and respecting the individual requirements of investments being
done, I am sure we will make a huge step forward for the entire community.
There are hundreds if not thousands of authentic rolls out there, even for rare
systems like Hupfeld DEA or Philipps DUCA etc., we just need to bring all
these together.
We would be very willing to share and invest into such a joint initiative - and
to help getting such a convention in 2018 carried out successfully. Open to
anyone interested, inviting all the key players and stakeholders all around the
globe: museums, research centers, roll producers, experts, collectors,
pianola organisations, etc. etc.. Your thoughts would be very appreciated on:
whom to be invited, where to locate this convention, how to prepare, the
agenda, necessary pre-conditions for the highest possible participation,
workshops and presentations, sponsoring, etc. etc..
Please share this with anybody interested or with whom it may concern!

Max Lakeman (Netherlands)
I fully agree! The only way forward is together! I would certainly like the idea
of the “New Roll Convention 2018”!:)

Julian Dyer (UK)
It would be good to do this. About 15 years ago the Yahoo 'rollscanners'
group was set up to create designs for optical scanners, file formats,
electronics, software. This was successful and a lot of material has been
shared. For reasons I don't understand there was zero participation in
Europe other than in the UK. There is a website to share scanned rolls,
iammp.org, but it operates under USA copyright where every piece of music
from 1923 is copyright. So IAMMP cannot share this saved material. We
need a European site. But I would extremely strongly suggest building on the
work already done. Every American roll perforating operation uses these new
public standards, as do the couple of us in the UK. My roll editing software
already supports Welte T98 and Hupfeld Triphonola expression, as well as
Duo-Art. It can also process 73n rolls. It would be great to extend to other
piano formats. I'd leave extra-instrument machines to others, but the basic
ideas all apply.
I wrote the rollscanners project up 10 years ago. It needs updating, but gives
a good idea. http://pianorolls.co.uk/rollcopying.htm

Marc Widuch
Hi Julian, can't agree more. I read about the valuable work being done
already. Nevertheless we still don't have a joint approach, at least over here
in Europe, on how to leverage on the huge roll collections in private and
public (museums) ownership. Museums seem not to cooperate in digitising /
publishing roll collections. Individual scanner solutions are built - but not on
a joint / shared standard. Investments are done individually, never enough to
set up a comprehensive solution that meets all the technical, commercial,
license, historic/art requirements etc. etc.. We should absolutely build on the
work already done!

Julian Dyer (UK)
It's interesting how private individuals can collaborate when institutions
can't! We did it with no formal agreements. The basis for the metadata used
to describe rolls comes from Wayne Stahnke. Perhaps it all worked because
Warren Trachtman didn't have a player piano! If we want this to work a
practical working basis is needed. I was interested in the summer seeing the
roll scanning at Seewen. It was exactly what you said. We need a shared
pool of scans. I see how this may go against some collector/hoarder

Marc Widuch
Human beings and their peculiarities. I am not free of this either. Museum
directors are also humans... After 2-3 years of reasearch and thousands of
Euros spend, I understood that only a joint comprehensive approach can
lead to the greater solution required to allow access to the incredible large
repertoire of "all" still existent rolls. "Weltarchiv pianistischer Kunst" Hupfeld
called their own repertoire. Adding DUCA, Welte, Duo-Art, Ampico, etc. this
really comes true.

Peter Phillips (Australia)
As one of few people with a PhD in piano rolls, I try to attend as
many academic gatherings about piano rolls as finances will allow.
The most recent was at Cornell University, in which the topic was
largely about player pianos and rolls, not reproducing piano rolls.
This event highlighted the lack of understanding among academics
about the difference between these types of piano rolls. But all
is not lost. Stanford University is currently planning a symposium
to be held in April 2018 which will be focused on the very aspects
Marc Widuch refers to.
Stanford is not the only university interested in reproducing piano
rolls. Bern University in Switzerland has a group of dedicated
researchers involved with Hupfeld and Welte piano rolls, researchers
at Barcelona are similarly occupied. I am aware of a number of
academics in Germany who are researching Hupfeld, surely the most
complex of all the companies of the time. In short, there is an
increasing interest in piano rolls among musicologists, especially
now that many of these historical recordings are becoming available
as MIDI files or sound files. I am responsible for some of these
and researchers often contact me to obtain these recordings.
The concept of a global piano roll convention is compelling, and
I would definitely support such an initiative. It is important,
however, that guidelines are produced, as the topic of piano rolls is
far wider than many people think. I have concentrated on reproducing
piano rolls, but I am aware that an even wider area of specialty is
the player piano roll. My Cornell University experience suggests both
topics at the one convention would be overwhelming.
I believe that the future for piano rolls and the like belongs now
to academia. Collectors and enthusiasts have taken us to the point
where there is not much more that can be done. We are indebted to
these erstwhile people, and their collective knowledge must not be
underestimated. Unfortunately, being erstwhile does not always mean
an enthusiast has adopted the best way to seek answers, and there
are many examples of misinformation published on the internet by
enthusiasts. Academics are by nature mistrustful, and tend to seek
answers through extensive research.
A global convention would bring together a disparate group of
academics, private researchers and specialists (including collectors).
Questions are where would this be held, and in what language?
Regardless, count me in, as I believe it is high time something like
this was organised.
Some collectors rightly view universities as the death of collections,
but this is changing. If there is to be a future for piano rolls and
related instruments, it is institutions, not individual collectors.
Our time has come and is passing rapidly if the obituaries are any
indication. So, I agree entirely with Marc Widuch. Bring it on!
[ I hope that other types of perforated music aren't neglected,
[ such as coin-operated music and automatic music that "replaces
[ an orchestra of ten musicians!" These instruments at commercial
[ venues entertained far more listeners than did the highly
[ advertised reproducing pianos. -- Robbie

Pietro Zappalà (Italy)
Lieber Herr Widuch, dear Dr. Phillips, I am a musicologist teaching at the
University of Pavia, Italy (Dept. of Musicology in Cremona). Although I am not
a specialist in mechanical music, I am responsible for our collection of piano
rolls (about 3000 items, mostly from the Italian company F.I.R.S.T.).
I have read your posts in the MM digest through a good friend of mine, Mr.
Pedrazzini, and I agree on the one side on the issue of a Global Piano Roll
Convention, on the other side on the possible difficulties quoted by Dr.
Let me please introduce and summarize our little experience. Until a few
years ago we had a relatively small collection (about 1000 rolls) which we
catalogued but without any plan to develop it. Then we met the friends of the
Italian association for mechanical music (AMMI) and they offered us one of
their newly invented scanners, namely the one fitted for scanning piano rolls.
We therefore begun to understand better what we had and tried to draw a
plan to re-evaluate our collection, partly be exibiting it in a specific room
devoted to the rolls, partly by starting a project of scanning them (and also to
produce midi files from the scans, what we consider only a secundary goal).
At the same time we begun to look for and to accept donations of rolls: by
now our collection raised – as I wrote above – to about 3000 items, and is
still increasing. [We prepared a still rather rough site for our enterprise, mainly
oriented to the FIRST company: http://musicologia.unipv.it/dipartimento/first/
Since I was (and still am) unaware of the state of art, but also was aware that
other actors (like museums, universities, foundations, collectors, …) were in
similar conditions (i.e. having collections, trying cataloguing and scanning,
suffering lack of experience and ... money, and so on), I organized a meeting
in Cremona, trying to collect people with similar issues: on June 16th we had
a – let’s say – First European Piano Roll Meeting, which was simply a
working day to collect ideas about what to do with our piano roll collections.
We had 2 people form Barcelona, 2 from Germany (Stuttgart and Leipsic), 2
from Czech Republic, and some more Italians + many interested people from
around Europe unable to attend. We could say, it was like an appetizer for
what you are now proposing, a global convention.
But, even in my little knowledge in this matter, I agree with Dr Phillips that the
piano roll realm is very huge and multifaceted. Just to mention a basic issue:
I was deep interested in metronomic rolls (as FIRST’s are) and how to scan
them, and how to resume FIRST’s entire catalogue, and so on, whereas my
German colleagues were more motivated with the reproducing rolls of the
German companies: apparently similar objects, but quite different issues
involved. All in all: I firmly agree with the idea of a global convention, but also
subscribe the questions posed by Dr. Phillips (last but not least, the financial
question for attending the convention …).
Please, keep me up to date with the project and/or let me know if I can
contribute in some way to it.
With best regards,
Für Herrn Widuch: machen Sie bitte keine Sorgen, wenn Sie mir auf Deutsch
schreiben wollen, im Fall es Ihnen bequemer sei: ich lese es viel besser, als
ich es schreibe; und dazu ist es mir lieb, mein Deutsch damit zu üben …

...further postings will be shared as they arrive...

What are your thoughts? Who would contribute? Who would like to attend?


Please share your thoughts...

The planning…what has to be considered / discussed?

Nothing fixed yet. Should be result of a lively discussion. Best possible setup should be ensured. Current initiatives / planned meetings should be
integrated to avoid overlaps / duplicates.

Initial thoughts are…

Highly beneficial convention to all participants - and to the entire community.
Further develop global networking.
Attract more people for the treasures of piano rolls.
Get an overview/update on past and current initiatives.
Share an overview on global sources (rolls, material, literature, …).
Agree global standard on scanning, sharing, documentation, … of rolls.
Develop a concept on how to allow access to global repertoire of rare rolls.
Start a real global platform to further network and cooperate.

Classification of types of rolls (standard, reproducing, coin-operated, automatic music, …)
Criterias of quality of reproducing rolls (authenticity, interpretations, recordings, musical quality, entertainment, …)
Available rolls worldwide (listings of still existent rolls) per system
Scanning of piano rolls - latest developments, data processing, …
Global databases of data (scans, midi, …)
Producing recuts - overview, repertoire availabilities/gaps, paper, flenches, …
Repairing defect rolls (physically, virtually, …)
Producing new roll boxes (current offers, planned initiatives, …)

Preparatory work?
Gathering of what is already available / has been established on all convention subjects. Giving a structured overview and access to existing sources to allow for individual preparation.

Recent/past conventions / activities and their results shall be considered.
Planned meetings shall be considered to not to duplicate efforts. Currently
we know of:

April, 2018
Stanford University Player Conference

June 3-8, 2018 in Rapid City,South Dakota
Annual AMICA Convention

July 22-27, 2018 in Leipzig
Annual congress of the International Association of Music Libraries, Music
Archives and Music Documentation Centers (IAML)

Late 2018 would be good. 110 years after the Buffalo meeting.

Logistics should be easy for traveling, as we will have participants from all over the world. If a sponsor offers a location (i.e. museum, university, collector, etc.) this might be considered.

English. As this might be best for all international visitors. Nevertheless we should allow any language for papers, speeches, etc. - and use modern ways of translation.

Two days might be good. Enough time to cover all the topics.

Presence meeting. Nevertheless, a web conference participation shall be allowed for those who can’t travel. Presentations. Workshops. Mini-Concerts (live? Video?). Web based Market place (offer/search: for sale, for share, …). Depending on location: sightseeing/visit.

Open to anyone. In addition a wish-list would be good to have key participants there. Museums, Universities, Pianola Organisations, Collectors (large collection as well as just one instrument), Roll Manufacturers, Restorers, Scanning Experts, Researchers (interpretation, etc.), Musicians, descendants of composers/pianists having recorded, etc. etc..

Surely be a mixed approach of sponsorships, individual contributions, donations, self-financing, etc. etc.. To allow for maximum participation, a creative funding will be pre-condition to get the best possible group of participants.

Most likely more than one sponsor. Could be a joint approach. Museums/Universities might get a budget to support this as part of an existing or to be planned initiative. Joint fund could be established. Private sponsors also in scope. Location might be part of sponsoring.

To be discussed with all stakeholders. Agenda should be result of an open process, to ensure maximum quality and maximum interest. Good mixture of pre-reads, live presentations, discussions etc.. No replications of already given / published presentations.

Absolutely yes. To ensure a lively and high quality event.

What are your thoughts? Who would contribute? Who would like to attend?


Rare rolls still existent...

One of the goals of such a "Global Piano Roll Convention" will be to establish an overview on all still existent (rare) piano rolls. Especially the reproducing rolls repertoire should be transparent to the entire community. Once we have a solution on how to scan and reproduce such rare rolls, we all would have access to an amazingly hug repertoire still existent.

We already have details on many private and public roll collections. We now have to systemtically ask all these owners for the exact roll repertoire - and for the allowance to share this information.

Especially the rare reproducing rolls, like Hupfeld DEA, Hupfeld Tri-Phonola, Philipps DUCA and others are in scope. Even with these systems, enough rolls are out there in the various collections we already know about. We estimate the rolls still existent for Hupfeld DEA at something like 500-750 titles, for Philipps DUCA at 1000-1200, for Hupfeld Tri-Phonola at 1000-1500 rolls.

Please let us know a. which roll types we should ask for and b. what your roll repertoire is, we might include into the listings (we won't share or publish any personal data!).