Transcribing Music Rolls to Computer File

MMD author Wayne Stahnke donated a precision transcription of Ampico roll 57504A, Prelude in C-Sharp Minor, played by Sergei Rachmaninoff.  His article appears below and in MMDigest 970903 at

The compressed file (136 KB) contains these files:

filename   size    date

VIEW.EXE   153614  8-25-97 viewer and editor program
VIEW.INI      160  1-6-97  "preferences"
COURE.FONN  23408 12-31-91 display font for lyrics
57504A.WEB 106095 08-28-97 perforator data
57504A.ANN    410 01-30-99 annotation (text file)
57504A.BAR  12494 01-30-99 tracker bar data
57504A.MID 159157 01-30-99 BAR file stored as MIDI

Program "VIEW" runs under MS-DOS or the MS-Dos Prompt window of Windows 95/98.

Ampico 57504 Pattern Roll & "View"
by Wayne Stahnke (970903 MMDigest)

This note is intended for those contributors to the Digest who requested a copy of the pattern roll package I offered a few days ago.  By now, all of the packages have been sent and received.

In addition to the "View" program, the package contains the restored pattern roll for Ampico roll 57504, Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op. 3, No. 2, played by the composer.

In order to acquaint yourself with the concept of a pattern roll, I suggest one or more of the following exercises:

    (1) Ampico rolls of this period have 98 ports across the tracker bar, numbered 1 through 98 from bass to treble.  We know from the test roll (Ampico roll 61391) that there are exactly 356 rows per foot along the length of the roll.  Mark off a checkerboard of 98 by 356 squares on graph paper, each square representing one punch position.  Reconstruct the pattern roll by hand for the first foot (304.8 mm) of the production roll, using a magnifying glass and straightedge.  This is easier than it sounds, and should take less than an hour even for a person who has never attempted it before.  Be sure to reconstruct the number of "empty" rows in the white space exactly.  Watch out for bass and treble expression that appears to be in the same row, but is actually offset by one row.  When you are done, compare your reconstructed image with the one provided in the package, and resolve any differences.

    (2) The webbing, or bridging, was accomplished by using a special pattern, depending on the channel.  In the note field, this pattern is punch-skip-skip-punch.  Find the webbing patterns for all of the channels in the roll.

    (3) Immediately following the three octaves at the start (A, G#, C#) are three chords that span the stack division that falls between E and F above middle C.  The top note of these chords is intended to speak more loudly than the remaining notes.  This is accomplished by a special coding trick, characteristic of Ampico rolls of this period, that relies on locating a cancel in a particular row.  Examine five or ten examples of this coding trick, and (if you have the patience) write an article for the Digest about what it is and how it works.

    (4) A few years later, the Ampico coders gave up using this trick and started using a different one.  During this later period, Ampico roll 57504 was re-coded and the new trick was substituted.  The exercise is to locate a copy of this later roll, examine it, and provide an article to the Digest that compares and contrasts the two different approaches, along with a discussion of the reasons for the change.

There are many more possible exercises that naturally present themselves, and these will be obvious to the user.  I hope that one or more readers of the Digest will go to the trouble of providing detailed articles for the Digest explaining what they have learned about the practices of the Ampico roll coders.

Wayne Stahnke
03 Sep 1997 05:33:52 -0700

Editor's note:  Wayne has identified 3 different versions of Ampico 57504 which were issued by Ampico.  Unfortunately, two versions bear the same number!

"Version A" 57504A is the first issue, released in 1921, and it is found in most collections today.  Edgar Fairchild said that he did all the editing and expression coding.

"Version B" 57504A is quite rare; Wayne has located only two copies thus far, and he hopes the collectors can find more.  This version was issued about 1927, after Ampico abandoned the editing practice of adding note extensions, and so the music roll appears much more like a "live recording".  Besides the obvious absence of the note-extensions, this version can be identified by the Trigger Cancel hole in channel 0B at the start of the roll.

"Version X" of the song is included in jumbo roll 100075, issued in Nov. 1929, and it's different from the previous two versions!

-- Robbie Rhodes

31 Feb 1999, 21 January 2003