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Stanford University Piano Roll Archive SUPRA

About the Archive

The Piano Roll Archive is the digital phase of the Player Piano Project that began with the construction of a roll scanner. Preservation is a central concern and because of the age and fragility of the original rolls it is highly desirable to reduce the need for handling and playing the originals.

The goal was to capture an archival quality digital image of the roll so that the information on the roll could be preserved indefinitely and so that the rolls may be used safely for study, research, and listening. The image file is intended to act as a digital surrogate for the original roll and to reproduce the visual appearance of the roll as much as possible.

In addition, several derivative files are made from the master archival preservation file for use by researchers: JPEG files at two resolutions for visual inspection of the rolls, a green channel for those interested in creating their own MIDI file interpretations or for reprinting rolls on new paper, a MIDI file to be used with MIDI pianos or other MIDI devices, and an audio file to hear the music recorded on the roll.

Reproducing piano rolls are an early form of sound recording and do not offer an absolute reproduction of every aspect of a pianist's performance. In translating the perforations from the paper roll into MIDI computer code, a certain amount of interpretation is involved especially as in terms of the expression and touch of the pianist. For example, the dynamics on a roll are relative. It is not possible to determine exactly how loudly or softly the pianist actually played. Even the proportions of the dynamics may not be as exact as the proportions of the dynamics on a modern digital recording made in a studio or from a live performance. However, the interpretations here attempt to present the rolls with as much objectivity as is possible given the limitations of piano roll technology. It is important to emphasize that these MIDI and audio files present only one possible interpretation, but they do serve as a useful reference for how the rolls sound on an acoustic player piano.