Rest in Peace, Olde Tyme Automatic Player Pianos

The gradual, relentless digitization of everything takes a little longer to seep into the more obscure technological quarters. The latest outmoded gadget to fall? The analog player piano.

Old-style player pianos, which rely on rolls of dimpled paper tablature to cue a piano to play music, have been helping their owners cheat for the better part of two centuries. For 108 years or that, QRS Technologies was a leading manufacturer of the song rolls, the production of which has ceased as of this week.

Analog player pianos had a certain charm. You could watch them deliberately plunk out just about any tune like some kind of outsize music box, and the bare mechanics of the whole affair were as honest as they were tacky. QRS has apparently moved, with some success, to digital player pianos, which rely on servos and disks over braille and gears. The most profound difference, though, is one of identity: Where analog player pianos were a fascinating predecessor to MIDI synthesizers, digital pianos are MIDI synthesizers, something which Bob Berkman, the company's music director, seems to grasps, sadly:

“We’re still doing what we always did, which is to provide software for pianos that play themselves. It’s just the technology that has changed. But I would be lying to say [the halting of production] doesn’t sadden me.”

[Buffalo News]