Articulate Information About Roll Arranging and Duo-Art

These Letters came from the Mechanical Music Digest, a Daily Publication whose Members Write the Articles

These Articles Are Being Presented With the Express Permission of the Authors and May Not Be Reproduced Without Their Consent.

From: Craig Brougher
To: Mechanical Music Digest
Date: Tue, 1 Apr 97 15:46:54 UT
Subject: Duo-Art Concert Grand

I agree with Doug Henderson's assessment of a Duo-Art mechanism in a Steinway DR concert grand in principle. The D/A mechanism was basically designed for parlor performances of the classics. The rolls were likewise coded as well. The pump was designed to slip its belt at high pressures, acting exactly like a pressure regulator to prevent its motor from stalling. Everything we are talking about here is easily measurable. This is not empty speculation. For example, were you to prevent the belt from slipping, and ran the pump a little faster for a larger piano, you would eventually burn up the motor, and probably start a fire. You have to have a special mechanism to play a piano which has twice the musical power capacity of a baby grand.

If anybody is interested in the physical measurements as they apply to the mechanism in a dynamic situation, they should measure (as I have) the pressures at full crash with 3 notes being played, and then with two handfuls of huge chords, being played one right after the other. The pressure drops to less than half the pressure of the individual crash (ffff) notes momentarily-- at the instant they are being played. You can also calculate it by displacement/time.

To play a _concert grand_ realistically at the concert stage level, you would have to maintain about 80 inches of water for any large group of chords or barrage you decided to attack that keyboard with. Two pieces come to mind which are decidedly different, and which both use crash intensities, are Danse Rituelle Du Feu (Ritual Fire Dance) and Bolero. The DR should have no problem playing the first piece to its full potential (at least from a physical perspective) because its loud, full power notes are individually played. The second piece it could not possibly attempt, because no Duo-Art pump is capable, without modifi- cations, of performing this massive, atonal work.

Much of the music played by Hofmann, therefore, cannot be realistically performed without someone also "faking it" on the levers while it is being played (or, as I said before, a modification of the coding on the roll). Even then, the pump will have to be speeded up, and a few other modifications made, such as a real, genuine spill valve safety to prevent stalling the motor, instead of the slip-shod slipping belt thing that was good enough for home use, but could never used for a realistic professional performance on the concert stage.

As far as hand manipulation of levers for expression is concerned, I fully appreciate what can be done in that department. I have heard some very fine pianistic effects, and it is highly realistic. However, few of us are able to do it that way. It takes years of practice. Also, if you were to remove the return spring tension to those levers and snug the nuts so they moved freely with the accordions as the roll operated them, you would sit then at the bench and wonder how in the world any human hand could move and precisely position those levers that rapidly. In some music, those accordions are moving very quickly. So it gives you a new appreciation for interpretive and arranged coding, in that the ear, which accepts these nuances as genuine, is easily fooled as well.

Craig Brougher


From: ARTCRAFT@msn.com (Douglas Henderson)
To: rollreq@foxtail.com
Cc: John A Tuttle, smythe@mts.net
Date: Tue, 1 Apr 97 03:18:29 UT

Subject: Gershwin and Armbruster

Hi Robbie, you wrote:

> Dear Douglas, please tell me more about Gershwin and Armbruster. >

> 1. Did Gershwin play the Duo-Art recording piano for the 2-roll > Duo-Art issue of the Rhapsody?

He probably played the source material for that 'Primo' roll I wrote about, going at Tempo 100, using the 'Secundo' piano for the orchestra. It has mathematical editing for some of the repetition but is definitely of the 'hand-played' source, masked by the faster roll speeds. I never claim that Gershwin made it, of course, but always bring up the similarity to his acoustic Victor 78. This was 1924, not 1925 and 1927 when the two Armbruster-ish rolls came out. The commercial releases appear to come from sheet music more than anything else, or a mix of the two sources with sheet music the dominant one.

I have a 1970s letter in which Armbruster discusses his work on that music for a variety of purposes, including Alternating Rolls of Rhapsody in Blue. Alternating Rolls were always made from catalogue releases, so the Tempo 60 (Roll I) and Tempo 70 (II) elevator-music set that Duo-Art issued came out after Gershwin left Aeolian, which was after the debut of his music at Aeolian Hall. They have Armbruster's dynamic building, pedal and connected notes. Several people might have worked on it, but Gershwin was not part of the equation.

> 2. Was Armbruster the primary editor?

Aeolian broke the music into popular, dance, classical and salon music, for the most part.

Armbruster was in charge for the demonstrations at Aeolian Hall, which involved 'Primo' rolls vs. the actual pianist on a 2nd grand. He did the salon music and light classical pieces, and Rhapsody in Blue was released in that category, along with Brides & Butterflies (etc.) music.

W. C. Woods did much of the classical scoring for the major artists like Hofmann, Paderewski, Bauer and others.

Aeolian was a corporate holding company, so many rolls might have had various hands on them anyway.

Rudy Erlebach did the earlier fake-Gershwin fox trots and much of the editing after Arndt died in 1918. Milne did arranging only, starting in the 1920's and continuing with his graph paper methods through Aeolian- American. Milne's rolls of Gershwin music are the later ones: Kickin' the Clouds Away, That Certain Feeling, etc.

Armbruster turned the phrased fox trot "So Am I" from "Lady, Be Good!" into a typical slush-ballad in Gershwin's name.

I don't know who assigned these projects, but I can usually identify traits that lean to one person's method of doing things. Back in the '50s I used to say that Robt. Summers and Henri Bergman had the same dynamics and sustaining pedal as Robt. Armbruster -- and they turned out to be pseudonyms, when he was interviewed many years later.

Think of the person in-charge of roll policies then as the "City Editor" at an old newspaper. The jobs were similar, meaning that not everything was done by the person in charge.

> 3. Did the editor of the Rhapsody do anything differently for > Gershwin than for other Duo-Art artists?

The released Gershwin rolls follow the same extended note formulae of the period. Many pianistic accents are mushed-along as crescendi, something Gershwin would have never done. There are no wild accents either, another Gershwin performance characteristic.

The 'Primo' roll is the only roll and "closest" to Gershwin's audio recordings I've ever heard.

So many that bear his name, such as the Mel-O-Dee rolls, are just Erlebach, and reflect standard thematic material of whatever particular year one selects. I have noticed that Gershwin's name appears on rolls in which he was the "pit pianist" (as in Kern's 'Miss 1917') or had some capacity in the musical, or was the composer. Perhaps Erlebach put the Gershwin name on the label (and the picture got in the Catalogue too!) on some Aeolian arrangement here.

> 4. The phono recordings of Gershwin indeed sound very mechanical, and > I guess he played this way all the time. Didn't Gershwin himself > remark that he preferred Oscar Levant's performances over his own?

I don't know. Gershwin couldn't stand Levant when they first met, with the latter being a prodigy and the other a now-successful Broadway composer. Levant went to Hollywood a bit earlier to write film music (skipping Gershwin's failure 'Delicious' for Fox in 1931) and they reunited about that time. Levant had the Gershwin "style" and played Gershwin's music very well, of course.

My favourite is the Columbia 78 and/or LP with Ormandy's Orchestra with Levant, from the 1940's.

I'm certain that Levant played better than Gershwin in the Hollywood (short) years, since the composer's brain tumor was already causing problems, diagnosed as "anxiety" by many friends in the business.

Gershwin's radio programs and Fox Movietone shorts don't sound "mech- anical" to me, just with highspeed repetition added in between the romantic melodic line. Mine on the MHS Cassette from a radio show for Feen-A-Mint introduces all sorts of little in-between effects, just as 'Strike Up the Band' for a Fox newsreel has many "extra" notes, mostly of the repetition sort. I really like Gershwin's 1926 Columbia 78's with Fred and Adele Astaire from the English cast version of "Lady, Be Good!" They really show his interplay with Fred's tapping on some numbers.

> 5. Why did Duo-Art produce rolls at Tempo 60 if they couldn't > maintain the staccato sounds the artist actually performed?

Aeolian was selling pianos and producing background music. On a '30s radio transcription about Gershwin who had just died, Harold Arlen (or somebody in that set) said that "Few people knew how to play Rhapsody in Blue for many years. They didn't grasp the style." (The style which Levant later made nationally famous, in my opinion). The Armbruster-ish fake rolls, by Duo-Art, sound just like somebody steeped in Salon Music who was given the jazz-oriented score, don't they?

> 6. What is the source-recording of the Aeolian Hall demonstration > roll? Is the note field taken from the same "master" recording as > the production Rhapsody? This seems unlikely, because of the tempo > difference. Is it a Gershwin performance?

The roll came from a trash can at the Aeolian plant in Dorchester MA, and came to a friend of mine when he bought the former employee's Stroud pedal upright Duo-Art. I hounded him for 18 years before he let me copy (44 rolls only) the original, with shredded margins. The hastily-edited roll was done on the standard Aeolian (Meriden CT) perforating equipment, however, suggesting that Aeolian Hall had at one time a small run of copies, for use when demonstrations came up. There was no serial number and it's not in any catalogue. (By the way, I "read" the unplayable roll in my head and knew what it would sound like if and when I'd get my hands on it, for copy purposes.)

My copies were all hand-edited against the master, itself an Aeolian copy from a perforated one.

> 7. What is the evidence of "hasty editing"? Is the editing different > from the typical classical productions? Could it have been edited > by a pop music editor instead of a classical music editor?

Don't have time to go into this now, but most demonstration rolls had serial numbers, and extra holes for cues, stops, starts, rhythm, etc., since a podium or off-stage control was usually part of the equation here.

This had pencil marks going back and forth (to be seen at a distance by the 2nd pianist) and it wasn't a true 'Primo' since it overlapped in order to get the 2nd piano "into" the music at the proper musical insertion point.

The roll goes to the *complete* extremes here, unlike the background music one the public bought. All the demonstration rolls I have (made for large pianos and/or hand-tooled from commercial releases) use the pp to ff range, not the Armbruster mp to mf range with a "touch" of Intensity #10 (between mf and f) here and there. (Crash is #15.)

> 8. How do rolls altered for concert performance differ from ordinary > production rolls? How can one tell an altered roll?

Different perforations in most cases. They reroll or turn off in the middle of the music, due to different tracker bar layouts!

Regards, Douglas Henderson


From: ARTCRAFT@msn.com (Douglas Henderson)
To: rrhodes@foxtail.com
Cc: John A Tuttle, smythe@mts.net
Date: Tue, 1 Apr 97 03:18:29 UT

Subject: Arrangers Make The Rolls

What so many MMD and collectors don't realize is that (a) companies did "whatever works" and on a production line (stores had new rolls/78's a certain times every month, and customers who visited to hear the new releases in those days of The City), and (b) pianists got money and publicity from the player people, and never considered rolls were an art-form or a method of recording their performances.

By contrast, many pianists in the pedal Pianola days believed in composing for and/or interpreting rolls on players. This was creative and educational, also helping one understand Chopin and Chaminade scores, popular in those days. Many, like Bauer, were not happy with the "reproducing" rolls made from their prior editing of 88-Note and/or 65-Note rolls bearing the same logotypes. But, radio was coming out, Steinway was not paying for many artist's travels (beyond Paderewski and several others), so the "event" of a concert pianist in town was in rapid decline *as an industry*. Paderewski usually turned off the reproducing action and used the hand controls, including at the A. B. Chase Welte-Licensee grand in the White House.

When the focus was on the Player-Piano and the human manipulation of it, artists were attracted. When it shifted to a "record/playback" medium, only the *money* (backed by advertising hoopla) remained among the musicians formerly attracted to it.

I'm amazed that people can't look at a roll and "hear it" in their minds, recognizing what is "arranged" and what is based upon some (gone) 'hand-played' source material. QRS's Tiger Rag "played by Ferrante & Ticher" was being arranged by Rudy Martin when Ed Openshaw, whom you know, was visiting the company in Buffalo. The duo-pianists were long-gone and the work was being done from old 'marked' rolls. Ed tells the story that Rudy says, "No player can handle that chord, so I'm going to take out some notes here" - and so forth.

I used to play this QRS Celebrity Series roll at the museum when it was a new release, and could easily tell which parts were 100% arranged by Rudy Martin and which were the jerky cadenzas "based"(?) upon the marked rolls. Remember, there was only 1 piano at QRS, so Rudy was working from two different rolls beyond adding his own material. Each pianist played his part of the arrangement for duo-pianos, using a headphones with a recording.

Knowing the above, how can one say "Marguerite Volavy did this"? You need first-hand information for the whole story, and only the formula arrangements exist.

I cut, at the Ohio Chapter's request, an improvised classical roll for the '90 Cleveland AMICA Convention. There was no sheet music, which is why the project was given over to me, involving Chopin, Grieg and Tchaikowsky. You could see the [recording machine] markings being artificially sustained by the equipment (just like Lee S. Roberts' "Strains From" medley series), and other notes were missing. Most keys were +/- a 32nd note off throughout the roll. I could have made an arranged roll (like Woods or Erlebach) based on this, but there wasn't time, so the jerky rhythm was retained. Robin Pratt, who thought up the project, added some extra bass notes later on.

Chronology: artist recorded in New York, music roll cut in Maine, final editing in Ohio. The roll sounded nothing like the precise and delicate pianist, who truly believed the roll was "her playing". Well, only up to a point, as you can see! She was happy and so was the audience. The roll had her picture and signature on a pseudo-Duo-Art leader. My name didn't appear, as happened with Lutter, Milne, Erlebach and other editors in the past.

Moral: *Arrangers* make rolls. Pianists do not.

Not many people have worked with 'hand-played' rolls (or made mathe- matical arrangements from them) as have I -- among the living, today.

Again, the collectors need to shift away from the pianist and back on to the roll (and one's monitoring or interpretation of it). My article for the PQ entitled "Jelly Roll Morton was a White Woman?" came out when Wodehouse had just discovered? Morton rolls. I met the niece of the woman who recognized my Leabarjan, who came to the museum in the early '60s. The Morton baloney runs on, in spite of what I say, since people want to hawk rolls, records and player restorations on false premises.

Audio is essential for players. You need to "learn music" in order to operate or repair these instruments. Also, you need to discover what the artist sounded like, especially to modify or judge a music roll allegedly based on a certain pianist. I couldn't see having a mechanical musical instrument without audio. Maybe the MMD and collecting problems is that people don't attend enough live recitals and concerts or listen to good audio that relates to the music the mechanical instrument is supposed to be playing.

As I said in my letter of today, Internet audio, with all its faults, still doesn't disguise what is an "inaccurate" recording. And, the promotion untruths are also there for all to read. (A reference to "DR" pianos in the text I sent you earlier today.)

Pardon the disjointed and hastily-written nature of this letter. I'm very tired and figured it was better to get this 'out' rather than be neat and better-written.

Regards, Douglas Henderson


From: rrhodes@foxtail.com (Robbie Rhodes)
To: john@foxtail.com
Date: Tue, 01 Apr 1997 17:53:01 -0800

Subject: Arrangers Make The Rolls

I was highly complemented when Paul Johnson sent me a music roll created by British roll-chopper John Farrell, who transcribed to roll my live- performance of "St. Louis Shuffle", by Fats Waller. Carole, my wife, pumped the roll at the good old Pianola, and a puzzled look appeared. "It sounds like you, but then it *doesn't* sound like you! What's happening?"

I assured her that her senses were still okay, and that she was hearing my arrangement as played by John Farrell. "Well, if they're the same notes, why does it sound different?"

"Because John has his own distinctive sound, no matter what he plays," I replied. Then I illustrated with a computer file transcribed from John's roll of 'California Sunshine', arranged by Bob Zurke, which I also perform in concert. Carole compared the difference as I alternated John's original arrangement with a truncated version (all note durations shortend to 70%). She said, "Now it sounds more like you playing." (I learned the song from John's roll, so it's no surprise that I play the same notes.)

John and I created transcriptions for Hot Piano Classics many years ago of the James P. Johnson songs, 'Jingles' and 'Modernistic'. They're pretty good, but they still don't quite match the phonograph record. That's quite difficult to do!

Conclusion: The same notes (music notes) will sound differently when arranged/played by different artists, unless great care is taken to emulate a specific performer.

J. Lawrence Cook did very well emulating Fats Waller's style. Victor Arden, arranging the later Ampico rolls for Zez Confrey, still sounds more like himself than Confrey.

In live performances Phil Ohman and Victor Arden sounded much like their piano rolls. I think it's an easier task that way!

Robbie Rhodes


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