The Stanford University Archive of Recorded Sound has acquired the Richard J. Howe Mechanical Musical Instrument Literature Collection consisting of over 225 linear feet of publications and documents comprising more than 14,000 items. With this significant acquisition, Stanford Libraries will make available important primary source documents for research to support the newly launched Player Piano Project. The collection will be housed at the Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound, a leading music archive with over 400,000 items in its permanent collection.
Blog topic: Sound recordings
“Paling’s Reproducing Records” is not a publisher. Even though that company meticulously adhered their label over the original one (see below) on the container, Peter Phillips graciously let us know that Paling’s was actually a music store in Australia, not a publisher. It was one of several stores in Sydney and Melbourne where one could borrow a piano roll from a lending library for a few cents. This put some of the other stamps and labels seen on rolls into a different context.
“So, it’s the original karaoke machine?”
A recent visitor on a tour to the Archive of Recorded Sound made this comment to me as I showed off the roll I was cataloging. On plain beige paper, at first it looked like a regular piano roll. A label at the beginning. Expression and performance data perforations appeared as I unrolled the roll. Then, at the side: words! You can imagine gathering around the piano to sing along with a group of friends at a party, just as Stanford undergrads may have done at the Stanford Student Union in 1915 or Encina Commons in 1926.
There are countless challenges in preserving obsolete media from breadth of formats to lack of documentation at the time of creation. With the history of recorded sound now spanning over one hundred years wide range of technologies utilized in this span, challenges abound for any individual working to capture the range of media in need of preservation. To accomplish this feat constant engagement is required to further understand the media, the way media is degrading, and best practices for preserving historic recordings that range from cylinders to digital multi-track recording sessions.
The Allen Ginsberg papers in the Department of Special Collections is truly the collection that keeps on giving. We here at the media lab have digitized a huge portion of the media (current count: 2000+ items), yet our interest in it remains high because of the sheer amount of gems hidden within. Even if we didn't enjoy Ginsberg, the vast amount of acquaintances he recorded from the 1950s until the 1990s would provide endless entertainment.
How do you know a publication date? For most books, simply look for the copyright or edition information at the beginning. For mass produced modern CDs, check the edge of the disc surface for the “p date”, or maybe it will be in the booklet inserted into the container. But what about piano rolls for reproducing and player pianos? Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound’s Player Piano Project faces this question. The publication date certainly isn’t stamped on the label, yet we need it.
Earlier this year, I reported on recent work the Archive of Recorded Sound (ARS) had undertaken to preserve video footage of Leon Theremin's visit to Stanford in 1991. In addition to participating in a symposium during his visit, hosted by the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA), Theremin was also the guest of honor at a concert held in Frost Amphitheater on September 27, 1991 during the Stanford Centennial Finale Weekend. The video footage preserved by the ARS earlier in the year unfortunately only included part of this notable concert. It was found to be missing some key performances, including an arrangement of Rachmaninov's Vocalise, featuring Theremin's daughter Natasha Theremin playing the vocal parts on her father's instrument, accompanied by Max Mathews conducting the orchestral parts with his radio batons. This footage was presumed lost...until now.