The original mixtape? Conjoined piano rolls

April 13, 2015
Conjoined Welte-Mignon roll

Compilations of musical works usually evoke images of audio cassettes, burned CDs, or playlists, but here at the Archive of Recorded Sound we’ve been uncovering compilations of a different flavor: conjoined piano rolls.

Creating conjoined rolls

Since piano rolls use thin paper, it’s easy to cut them apart then adhere them to a roll that’s already attached to a core. As a result the piano roll as a whole has a longer runtime. Listeners can hear pieces back-to-back, without needing to re-roll, remove, and replace the roll in the player piano’s mechanism. This could be perfect for dinner parties, where the host would like some background music, but doesn’t want to have to constantly switch out the rolls. Of course, the conjoined rolls must be the same size and from the same manufacturer in order to work.

Conjoined rolls at Stanford

Several Welte-Mignon rolls in the Player Piano Project’s Denis Condon Collection of Reproducing Pianos and Rolls are conjoined.  Denis Condon conjoined these rolls himself, which sets them apart from the rolls in the collection which are published compilations. I catalog each roll individually, but make notes in the library catalog about their previously conjoined status. After cataloging, these conjoined rolls go to the Stanford University Libraries Preservation Department to be separated and restored to their original setting as individually published rolls.

Identifying conjoined rolls

So far the conjoined rolls in our collection have handwritten notes indicating which rolls are attached, an additional label adhered to the front of the roll, or simply an unattached leader from another roll. Each conjoined roll is unrolled on an inspection table to examine which materials were used to make the join and to verify that there actually are additional rolls attached. If the labeling on the roll is unclear about which piece comes first, then the perforations are compared to either incipits found in thematic catalogs or a sound recording to make the identification.  

 This conjoined roll combines a Welte-Mignon roll cut in Germany (the red paper) and one cut in Poughkeepsie, New York (the cream paper). Handwriting on the roll indicates additional waltzes are included. A detached leader is included inside the container.

The German/New York roll on an inspection table. The rolls have been joined using tape.

Two labels on one leaderTwo labels affixed to one leader indicates this is a conjoined roll. Using the inspection table, ARS staff determine the order of works on the conjoined roll.

Handwritten notes on the leader help us identify which rolls have been conjoined by the collector.

Find more

Records for the piano rolls join the Stanford University Libraries catalog every day now!

Find: all records for the Denis Condon Collection of Reproducing Pianos and Rolls

Find: all previously conjoined rolls