Friday, 17 June 2011

Pianola roll - opportunity and threat

donkey sand-automata - it did have a keyboard

I went to the World of Mechanical Music  in Northleach, a village in the Cotswolds.  This is a completely amazing little place full of the most astonishing mechanical music machines.  A tour involves being played ( and sometimes playing yourself) music on pretty well every form of machine for playing music that works by winding or pedaling.  My highlight was being played a direct paper recording by Rachmaninoff - sitting watching the keys of the piano move it felt like the man was sitting there playing with invisible and very large hands just for me.

This little museum is also a workshop for repairs, I think the back room probably has gnomes...probably a direct time-vortex link to the North Pole.  They also sell old unwanted pianola rolls for one pound each.  I came away with a handful, and gave them to my embroidery group in lieu of Christmas cards.  Since then, each month when we meet, we find out if anyone has started a work making use of the pianola roll, each time we ruefully shake our heads.
front edge of roll - attaches to winding mechanism

I intended to make an automaton of a piano player with the paper from my pianola roll.  Anyone who has seen any of my stitchery will know precision is not my strong point, but I love automata and had always wanted to make some.  I bought two paper automata kits so that I could learn how they worked.  One had a donkey that played a keyboard, operated by sand falling through a hopper.  I made it, rather roughly, but by now I have lost a few of the bits.  The second one is a set of fingers that move as you wind the handle. I had all sorts of plans but as the exhibition date looms I am reducing the scale of my aspirations.

Yesterday I finally unrolled my pianola roll and discovered it was about three times the length of my house!  After a bit of agonising I cut a section of paper out of the middle to have something to work with, to get the feel of how the paper works, can it take stitch, how does it fold.  I also tamped talcum powder through the holes with a cotton-wool pad onto dark soft paper, considering it's use as a stencil.
very very long!

Pianola rolls have holes that provide information.  These holes determine which keys are played.  In effect they are no different than a knitting pattern or a computer programme.  I looked at the holes, the added lines of colour whose purpose I don't know, and decided to start with a direct copy using cross stitch.  I have a piece of cream even-weave, some threads, and a piece of work that I can work on easily, a bit every day.
pianola roll detail

The rolls come in neat cardboard boxes with supports for the ends of the rolls. These are beautiful in themselves. The ends of the rolls area a variety of materials, but the Bakelite ones are, again, lovely things in their own right.  any aspect or part of these rolls could be the starting point for the work.

I was at Malvern Theatre last night, and noticed that they hang long banners from poles in their high ceiling.  Immediately I could see a piece of work with nine long embroidered and manipulated pieces of the piano roll.  Will I be brave enough to suggest this?  I'll work more on my roll - then perhaps after our September show in Ledbury suggest it to the group.

This is such a long (both in time and physicality) piece of work that I am going to use this blog as a sketchbook to describe the processes I go through, rather than waiting to write about a finished piece.  I am hoping this will help me clarify my ideas and remember what I have planned to do.

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