Blog topic: Music

SDR Deposit of the Week: Oral history interview with John Chowning

On September 2nd, 2015, I had the great privilege of conducting an oral history interview with John Chowning, Professor Emeritus at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). Chowning, a pioneer in the world of computer music, is perhaps best known as the inventor of Frequency Modulation (FM) synthesis. His discovery was eventually licensed to Yamaha who integrated it into a number of instruments, most importantly, the DX7, the world’s first mass-produced digital synthesizer, released in 1983. The DX7 is generally regarded as one of the most important musical instrument inventions of the past 50 years, and was widely adopted by artists across multiple genres in the 1980s. My interview with Chowning is now available via the Stanford Digital Repository (SDR). Chowning and I principally sat down to discuss Leon Theremin’s visit to Stanford in 1991, which Chowning organized and oversaw. Stanford University Libraries recently digitize video footage of this visit which included a day long symposium at CCRMA and an evening concert in Frost Amphiteatre at which Theremin, Max Mathews, and many other notable figures from the world of electronic and computer music at the time performed. However, Professor Chowning and I also discussed additional topics including Chowning's background in computer music, his history at Stanford and the inception of CCRMA, and his close personal and professional relationship with Max Mathews. 

Welte-Mignon at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition

November 30, 2015

The most visually striking part of a Welte-Mignon purple seal roll is its colorful leader. Seen below, it proudly displays the various awards that the company received from fairs and exhibitions around the world.

This includes the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE), held in San Francisco to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal and demonstrate San Francisco’s recovery from its 1906 earthquake. Held from February 20 - December 4, 1915, the fair welcomed over 18 million visitors in the current Marina District of San Francisco. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the PPIE, which the Bay Area celebrated with events and exhibits throughout 2015.

What was the role of Welte-Mignon at the PPIE? Did the company have its own exhibit? Could visitors watch the perforation of new rolls, learn about the recording process, or just enjoy a musical demonstration? 

A red piano roll sample

Piano Roll Scanner Project (PRSP)

Work on the Player Piano Project (PPP) continues at an impressive pace. Recent achievements include the completed cataloging, by Project cataloger Alyssa Hislop, of the Welte Mignon rolls in the Denis Condon Collection of Reproducing Pianos and Rolls, which can now be viewed in Searchworks; a full house at the project’s listening party last Friday; and most recently the launch of a subproject entitled the Piano Roll Scanner Project (PRSP). The PRSP formally marks the start of the digitization phase of the PPP. 

Richard J. Howe Mechanical Musical Instrument Literature Collection

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. 

Piano roll lending libraries

October 26, 2015

“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.

Beyond perforations: Welte-Mignon piano roll text and illustrations

October 2, 2015

“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.

Chopin's signature, from MLM 217 (detail)

Chopin comes of age

October 2, 2015
by Ray Heigemeir

View or download:

Piosnka litewska (Lithuanian song), op. 74, no. 16 [1830?]

Drei Ecossaises, op. 72, no. 3 (sketches) [1830?]

A song and piano sketches by Chopin share two sides of a single leaf, once belonging to Polish ethnologist and composer Oskar Kolberg (1814- 1890), and now residing in Stanford's Memorial Library of Music.  The Kolberg and Chopin families were neighbors, and Oskar followed Chopin at the Warsaw Lyceum, studying piano with one of Chopin’s teachers. Kolberg was a lifelong collector of music manuscripts, specifically Polish folk and national music, which he used in his scholarly endeavors.

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