Rachmaninoff on Ampico rolls
From: Craig Brougher
Date: Monday, September 28, 1998 11:14 PM
Subject: Re: Fw: Rachmaninoff on Ampico rolls

I'm glad we're getting into the nitty-gritty of coding, since that's something that is less subjective and more absolute. The Ampico doesn't require 6/can, 6/can etc. to recalibrate expression levels, since everything it does relies on a set point controller which doesn't change, called the first intensity, by which it is continually self-calibrated. That is just nonsense. Even the Ampico Marque which doesn't have the set point controller still has a flat spring that opposes the intensity lever, and even it's marginally designed pseudo-reproducing system doesn't require "recalibration." There IS a right and a wrong way to code Ampico rolls. For those roll arrangers who want to learn the right way, I heartily suggest studying the originals, not these disclaimers (which are wrong, anyway). They are possible to learn, especially if you also listen to what the original coding pattern just did.

Doug Henderson made these comments yesterday, and I'd just like to put in my two cents for what it's worth;

" and they don't sound like his recordings at all, especially with respect to the staccato striking and dynamic attack."

Fine. That's an opinion, to which we are all welcome. That is not necessarily a fact. But I really appreciate when a man has an opinion, that he conscientiously notes it as such.

"The Ampico - when playing with 'single note control' (as I attempt to achieve in my own arrangements) - can't use the crescendo, which is more of a "radio dial" adjustment tool than a musical entity as it was on the Welte-Mignon, the latter having a M.F. 'stop' pneumatic to prevent "creeping". (This is why Ampico keeps setting-up the same patterns all the time: 6, cancel, 6, cancel, 6 cancel ... to recalibrate the expression levels.)"

If you will first play a certain passage you are learning on Brilliant Mode, and then switch it over to Medium or "Normal" mode, you will notice that they should sound the same with the exception of the top end being "clamped" to the nominal pressure on Medium mode. Why is that? Because Ampico designed the "Crescendo" system-- NOT to crescendo-- but to 1: Nuance, and 2: Platform intensities.

When the Ampico relies strictly on intensities for its dynamics, then it will not work well on Brilliant. First, although intensities also raise pump pressure in the model A, they do not do so on the model B, so the model B would not play them very nicely. But now here comes the clincher-- neither would the model A!

"Whoa," you say! "Why not? If the model A's pump is amplified by intensities, then you can make the intensities operate the amplifier one to one, and it works exactly the same as a crescendo."

Actually, no for two reasons. First, the amplifier barely moves until the 5th step, or the 2+6. You'd use up your intensities just trying to hold the amplifier on. Second reason: The amplification caused by intensity codes follows, not leads, the code, and since the amplifier cannot move faster than the fast crescendo anyway, it is 'way too slow to think you are going to jack it with intensity coding! The intensity is intended to be applied at or close to the point of accent.

Remember what Doug said-- "when playing with single note control" -- his own jargon for giving each note its own level of intensity. The only way you can do that is at the point of accent. Oops! If you've only got three int. valves and two of them are used to raise the pump, all I can say is, have fun with the other one! It isn't unusual at all to have ten or fifteen changes of intensity in less than six inches on the roll. I showed that very thing in a video lecture on the subject of Ampico roll codes. They're all over the place!

Besides that, Ampico Corp. coded rolls such that the intensity codes would NOT be used to raise the pump. Why? Because if they stayed turned on to amplify pump pressure, that same roll played on "Medium" mode would really flop, since in Medium, the amplifier has been switched out of the circuit! Without an amplifier, and then trying to play a roll coded without a nuancing "crescendo," you wouldn't have too much. (I agree with Doug, It might sound better on his Marque with the Ampico turned off.)

Now here is why Ampico needed both "crescendo" and intensity codes together to make the model A work. The model A has a pressure range on Medium of between about 5" and 20." The 3 intensity valves with first intensity create 7 (not 5 or 6) discrete steps in combinations. In the model A, The first 5 steps represent 10" or just a little above. Step #1 = 5", #2 = 5.6", #3 = 7.2", #4 = 9.13", #5 = 10.2" vacuum levels. Now of course, there will be variances, but from a number of charted Ampico expression boxes, this is presently what I've found, and they all lie on that curve pretty closely.

What about steps #6 and #7? At those same pump spill settings for "Medium," I measured #6 = 16, and #7 =19.8" (Taken with a Magnahelic 0-40 gauge). What does that tell us? it tells us that there are as many inches of vacuum between steps #5 and #6 as there are between steps #1 and #5, and that's just on Medium! So how are you supposed to get intermediate levels between these last two steps on the Ampico? Simple. You learn how to code rolls WITH the "crescendo." Remember, a "crescendo" hole NEVER crescendos! That's a common misconception. For example, if you hear someone say that crescendos are really too slow to be used for serious virtuoso playing, they just told you that they themselves have this misconception.

Without crescendo, the model A on Medium setting and Brilliant could not nuance its steps properly, and the dynamics would sound comical--that is, to a musical person. (Unfamiliar music sometimes cannot be honestly evaluated right away. But well-loved, beautiful pieces will be patently obvious to everyone when they're not quite right.)

There are two basic kinds of "crescendo" used for musical effects (not to mention the ones also needed for instrument compensation). These two usage's have a different pattern on the paper that we cannot go into right here. Basically though, without crescendo codes, the model A would play the roll so differently between Brilliant and Medium that it would sound like two different arrangements. From my earliest roll, (early 1914), to my latest Aeolian American cuts, these same patterns are repeated over and over. I have measured and gauged the results to see what levels are reached, and it is reliable.

Because the "crescendo" system is linear by time/pressure, and because it gives you two different slopes (slow and fast), absolutely anything can be programmed, using them. They are NOT used to "crescendo" the music, nor are they used by themselves, but only in conjunction with the intensities. The nuance stepping is often done with a combination of slow crescendo and intensities with cancels. Sometimes though, it is accomplished by interspersing small fast crescendos with cancels and intensities. When that happens, it is called platforming. But between the fast and slow crescendos and decrescendos, anything can be realized from the three intensity valves-- with room to spare! That is why they are timed as they are, to easily work with rolls travelling up to about 3" per second. (That's a tempo of 150).

The Crescendos nuance the model A on Medium, and when on Brilliant, the same codes raises it proportionally with the amplifier. Without the crescendo coding, you will hear neither nuance or platforming of the intensities properly. Unless the roll has them, it cannot adjust the intensities between steps, and without correctly timed crescendo codes in the roll, the Ampico on Brilliant will be dead. Yes, I could code rolls using only intensities, and about all pop rolls were begun that way. The crescendos were put in last of all. But they were put in because they were required. Not, as some say, to make the roll look more complex.

"Money and publicity were the rewards for selling one's name to a player roll company. Later, when a career took off, the artist shifted over to audio recordings and radio or movies and dumped the FAKE roll medium."

That is the same as saying, "These guys were all fakes. Ampico was a fake. Duo-Art was a fake. Nobody did anything for an honest reason or purpose! And regardless their claims, it was all lies for public consumption." To anyone promoting such judgments of the thoughts, intentions, motives, and spirits of these early pioneers, all I can say is, I would quietly encourage a little fear about saying these things so dogmatically, knowing that I too would be judged the same way, and given equal benefit of the doubt-- In other words, I'd be asking for it.

"Any form of the Ampico has only 5 dynamics, like the 'Recordo', when examined musically. All effects have to be in the cutting, i.e. the "arranging" of the rolls and the selected steppings. Ampico advertised 7 levels, but at zero crescendo 4+2 = 6 and 2 = 4 from the musical standpoint."

Well technically, this is not correct. I think he's getting intensities mixed up with "steps." The intensities are the valve units. The steps are the levels generated by their combination. The 2int.+4int. actually was useful because you find it a lot. It isn't one of the 7 steps because it is about .6" vacuum less than a full 6int. valve. I would have to start coding just to see why they used it as much as they did, but here are the 7 steps: (first int.) =1, 2int.=2, 4 int.=3, 6int.=4, 2int+6int=5, 4int.+6int.=6, and finally 2int+4int+6int=7.

Now lets see, do we count 7 steps? Ah, yes, I believe we do. So you can see, Doug, old Mr.. 2+4 isn't even counted by Ampico in the 7 discrete steps (but, it was used), and by the way, 2 does NOT equal 4. Sorry about that. (So much for there being only 5 steps to an Ampico!) These are the technical facts about the Ampico that are so easily proved. Ampico even graphed them so you can actually see where they lie on a chart.

"Ed Gaida recently published a "How to Sell an Ampico" salesman's book. It's exactly like the automobile marketing methods for dealers today, only full of more lies than one could ever imagine. Since the whole marketing was based on artist-fraud, the book has lines like, 'Don't explain the controls or show the levers, as it confuses the customer' "

In the first place, Doug, That might not be blatant dishonesty, but just sound advice. Every time I go off the deep end (like now) explaining something in detail, I totally lose 90% of my audience. So if I were to try selling pianos that way, I'd have to eat my salesman's manual just to stay alive. Sales techniques are not necessarily deception. They are designed to steer the customer away from distraction and focus his mind on the primary sales point-- the music, and the prestige of ownership. Don't you think they were standing right there and saw the little levers? Couldn't they just imagine twiddling away with the expression turned off so they could really hear the roll as it was meant to be played? Then why worry about the path taken to sell an instrument, as long as the customer is standing right there, and can ask any darn question he wants to? And probably did. The salesman's manual was geared to point of sale, so the things a customer wanted to know could never be ignored. You have to keep your salesmen on the track, too, because the customer will get him off his pitch easy enough.

"Don't open the instrument on request, but tell the people that everything was built 'scientifically' in a factory." ('Recording' at Ampico, Duo-Art etc. followed these same general lines.)"

Yes, that's right, Doug. Let's suppose you were selling one of your Duo-Arts, and the customer wanted to see the guts. Would it be dishonest of you to tell him you didn't really care about tearing it down to show him. He could hear the instrument play and if he likes it, he can buy it, but you are not going through the workings with him. That's fair. I don't say they didn't have problems with honesty too. I'm just suggesting to you that you give them the benefit of the doubt.

"Forget Rachmaninoff on rolls. They might sound fine, but they aren't authentic ... and those who enjoy HIS OWN PLAYING on audio don't accept music roll editions as anything but arrangements made in his name."

When you say that this or that isn't "authentic," may I put in a plug for the player roll? Although Doug Henderson seems to scorn anything appearing in player rolls with the exception of his own, It was not Money, Power, and Greed that caused Rachmaninoff to say that he was thrilled and amazed with the performance of himself on the Ampico.

Now he did not say the same about the Victor. I have some of those really pristine Red label one-sided Victor records of Rachmaninoff too, and I can say how lucky we are to live in an age of some GOOD audio recordings by contrast. The day that anybody can tell me I can hear every nuance of Rachmaninoff in a "like-new" 70-80 yr...old Victor record is the day I have totally lost it! Their dynamic range was so limited as to be worthless. The phrasing, the melody, some but not nearly all the pedaling, and superficial points of the recording do come through nicely. The sound is clean and loud, as far as that goes. One had hardly been played at all, so it is "new" as far is Victor records go. Didn't even have dust or a needle mark in the pickup groove. Good shape, yet as closely as I could listen, there were no dynamics to speak of. That is because they had to drastically limit the cutting stylus on loud passages. So for Rachmaninoff to have said to the Victor company, "I, Sergei Rachmaninoff, have just heard myself play," would have been quite a feat of hypocrisy! Yet, this is exactly what Doug is saying he should have said!

Sorry about the length of this letter, but I wanted to respond to every single point in Doug's letter. I didn't want to miss a single thing, to make sure that others know there are points of view which are opposite and supported by some really provable, traceable, hard solid evidence and facts, rather than just intractable opinion and unconscionable judgmental dictum stated as though it were all well-known unquestionable fact. Like I said at the first of this letter, it would serve us better if we would remember to make it clear when we are speaking from sketchy evidence as an opinion, and when we are speaking from physical facts that are not a matter of opinion.

Craig Brougher

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