Piano roll scanner update

April 10, 2017
Jerry L McBride

It has been some time since there has been a report on the Player Piano Project, but there has been a great deal of activity toward the design and construction of a piano roll scanner. We are working with Anthony Robinson in England who is a player piano enthusiast and the designer of a roll scanner which we believe is one of the best scanners in operation to date. Anthony graciously and generously agreed to work with us to create a scanner that would handle scanning large numbers of rolls easily and efficiently.

Monica Caravias, a graduate student in mechanical engineering under the direction of Craig Milroy, worked with Anthony to develop a prototype scanner for the project. In developing the prototype, a number of enhancements and improvements were made to Anthony’s scanner, which he was building in England while the prototype was being developed at Stanford. A video of Anthony’s scanner shows how it works.

By fall of 2016, we were ready to move to phase two of the scanner project--from prototype to the design and construction of the final scanner. For this purpose, we have engaged Swope Design Solutions, a mechanical engineering and product design firm based in San Francisco, which specializes in consumer products, medical devices, and robotics. Swope Design is a highly innovative and creative company that has created everything from medical implants to kitchen accessories. Swope’s engineer, Robyn Nariyoshi, collaborated with Anthony to adapt his design to the needs of the Stanford project and has embarked on the construction phase of the hardware. Swope is also working on the computer software that will be used with the digital camera and for the user interface.

While work on the scanner hardware and software is in progress, Kitty Shi, a graduate student at the Computer Center for Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA), is working with Prof. Julius Smith on a program to translate the perforations in the piano rolls into MIDI so that it will be possible to hear the music from the scanned images.

The Stanford scanner is being designed to capture image files of the piano rolls in full color at 300 dpi. This will help to preserve the rolls, because researchers will be able to see all of the details of the perforations in the paper and also any printed or handwritten text on the rolls from the digital scans, reducing the necessity to consult the original rolls. It will also make it possible to punch rolls on new paper to play on the original instruments.

Future announcements will track the progress of the construction of the hardware and development of the software for the scanner.