Let's all bury the MYTH of  "Hand  Played" music rolls!
INTERPRETIVE ARRANGEMENTS by ARTCRAFT Rolls versus commercially made rolls in factories of the past

Rolls are arranged and always were. Even if an artist played upon a keyboard, the released roll adheres to the formulae, stepping and other conventions of specific perforating equipment, not the tempo, striking or performance whims of a real keyboard artist.

The Imperial Industrial Co. - owned by Max Kortlander of the original QRS in Chicago - was situated in the Bronx of NY. I was there from 1960 to 1963, including a few years after Max passed away, but met him on several  occasions, preferring to cut my Master Rolls on a Leabarjan #5 perforator in Georgetown DC and then delivering them to the factory, via the Pennsylvania electric trains to the city.

    Here is the machinery they used when I was there, though QRS had earlier and later "arranging" setups, of course. J. Lawrence Cook, shown below, was the prolific arranger for the company.

QRS arranging piano

    You will note an upright piano in the picture. It was not used for keyboard playing but to "check the chords" and also to operate the punches on the perforator attached to it at the right. A foot pedal - as with a sewing machine - allowed the Master Roll to advance one step at a time, and there was a gauge (not shown) on the right of the piano which allowed "another measure" to be set once one had been completed. The roll was created measure-by-measure exactly like my Leabarjan machines, of which there are 4 in the ARTCRAFT Studio, dating from 1911 to 1922. (The Leabarjans were built until 1927 when production in Ohio ceased.)

    Cook spoke in terms of musical notation, as did the typical arrangers from the past, who also transcribed phonograph records for the sheet music market of the day. Rolls were often a spinoff of that work.

    The Master Roll shown here has SPOCKETS so cannot be played on a Player-Piano. The factory had a machine which converted/perforated a standard width music roll from the 2:1 stepping of the wide roll being made in this illustration.

    Unlike ARTCRAFT, where tape recorders and musical analysis have been in use since 1952, these factory rolls could not be heard until the released rolls were made - or the "converted" one described above.

    With my Leabarjan machines, I can crank the roll out (or make a test strip at the same time on top of the Master) and listen to the results, modifying them as I go along. The Interpretive Arranging system I developed in the early '50s involves overlap perforating, so the staccato and notes can be "clipped" down to 128th of a note (or punch). Commercial rolls like QRS had fixed stepping and a 32nd note was usually the maximum detail one could use in an arrangement. Thus, the factory rolls didn't sound like the artists (as some people claim) but mine do ... yet ... they are still arrangements which suggest specific artists, and I market the rolls on their sound. Phony logotypes and other decorative stampings or labels on the rolls aren't necessary for our rolls, produced in Maine. "ARTCRAFT Music does the talking!"

Leabarjan and tape deck

Some Leabarjan peforators have a stylus for reading/copying/arranging rolls by using an existing copy. Our old rolls are re-mastered in this fashion, usually with extra material and variations in the process.

Perforator with stylus

    When playing new or old music rolls, consider this: The roll is an ARRANGEMENT not a "recorded performance". Nobody "played" the released roll. Even during my short period with Imperial Industrial, their monthly flyers for QRS called me a "new young pianist" on the staff. Pretending that rolls were really played by artists was a marketing tool of the past - and it continues today.

    You should enjoy the roll. It's an arrangement and your personal involvement is required to make a memorable performance IF the roll is perforated to be challenging to the listener. Even the expression 'reproducing' rolls require tempo corrections after 2 minutes and many have hand levers for dynamics, so the human element is required there also.

    I am not criticizing how rolls were made in factories ... but hoping that this hoopla of "an artist recording" and "played by" will be discontinued by collectors in the 21st Century.

    Happy Listening - - whatever kind of rolls you play!

        -- L.Douglas Henderson | ARTCRAFT Music Rolls
Wiscasset, Maine 04578 USA
October 28, 2013