The FPI off the Rails - Blenau Ffestiniog, Wales, May 1993.
From time to time, the Friends of the Pianola Institute undertake practical projects, such as bringing the pianola to the attention of the public by playing in unexpected locations. The photograph above records one of our visits to the Ffestiniog Railway in Wales, where we are to be seen pedalling on the station platform as visitors wait for the next steam train to Porthmadog. More pictures of this and similar events can be found on our Friends of the Institute Archive Photographs page.
The Pianola Institute Roll Perforating Machine
By contrast, our main current project is the Pianola Institute Roll Perforating Machine, acquired in 2001 from the estate of Harry and Sylvia Medcraft. Anthony Robinson has converted the machine to run from computer, and John Taylor has been keeping a weather eye on the mechanical side of things. One or two Friends of the Institute have already volunteered to help with the preparation of new music rolls, and there is room for more in the team. We are not a commercial enterprise, and at present we envisage one or two evenings a month.
General View of the former Medcraft Perforating Machine - Harrow, England, mid-1980s.
(Photo: Tom Jansen)
The development of this perforator cost the Medcrafts a great deal of time, money and effort over a period of some fifteen years. They were spurred into action because others told them they would never manage to build such a complex device, and because at the time the player piano world wanted copies of Duo-Art reproducing piano rolls. Harry therefore set about designing a machine that would read original Duo-Art rolls and simultaneously perforate new copies. In the picture above, from top to bottom, one can distinguish the blank paper rack, holding several large reels of fresh paper, the punch mechanism, with two flywheels on the mechanical ram, and further to the foreground the roll reader, for obatining the punch data from an original roll. Right at the front, the new copies can be seen issuing from the machine; they usually slid into a cardboard box, before being individually spooled up into roll form.
The Selector Solenoids and Punch Ram - Harrow, England, mid-1980s.
The former Aeolian Duo-Art Punching System - John F. Morse & Company, New York, 1956.
The perforating side of the arrangement was of reasonably standard design, and Harry had at his disposal copies of a specialised report on perforating machines made in 1956 for Max Kortlander of QRS Music Rolls, by John F. Morse and Company. The report had copious photographs and descriptions of three extant styles of roll punching equipment, namely, Duo-Art and Ampico machines which Morse had purchased from the Aeolian American Corporation at East Rochester, New York, and a double sized Imperial perforator, which could punch up to 32 copies of a roll in one operation, and which had belonged to QRS since its manufacture around 1914. Harry sensibly chose to incorporate a number of the best features from each machine into his overall design.
Sylvia and Harry Medcraft by their Perforating Machine - Harrow, England, mid-1980s.
A visit to the Medcrafts was not to be undertaken lightly. Since Sylvia and Harry had both retired long since, they had no need to observe office hours, and so their poor guests often left for home at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning, dreading the start of work the next day. The Medcrafts were free to get up around noon, and so worked through the night, which was the secret of their breathtaking achievements. Their enthusiasm and brightness was an inspiration to a whole generation of player piano enthusiasts, and it would be nice to think that the perforating machine will help to keep their memory alive.
The First Test Pattern in the Machine's New Home - Hither Green, England, 2005.
New Music Rolls
Thanks to a new co-operative spirit that has asserted itself in the world of player pianos, there is no real shortage of new music rolls, be they copies of existing material, or completely new music. You will find details of all these enterprises on our Musical Links page. We do not intend to produce large quantities of rolls, but we may be able to fill a few gaps in the Duo-Art catalogue, as well as re-issuing the Perforetur series mastered by Rex Lawson and Dan Wilson. Watch this website for further information as it occurs.