On Digitizing Historic Music Storage Media For Computational Analysis

paper, specified "long paper"
  1. 1. Richard Khulusi

    Image and Signal Processing Group, Computer Science, Leipzig University, Germany

  2. 2. Heike Fricke

    Research Center Digital Organology, Musical Instrument Museum, Leipzig University

  3. 3. David Fuhry

    Research Center Digital Organology, Musical Instrument Museum, Leipzig University

  4. 4. Vera Piontkowitz

    Research Center Digital Organology, Musical Instrument Museum, Leipzig University

  5. 5. Josef Focht

    Research Center Digital Organology, Musical Instrument Museum, Leipzig University

Work text
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Between 2018 and 2020, the digitization project TASTEN, funded by the German
government, digitized 3200 piano rolls for self-playing pianos preserved at the
Musical Instruments Museum at Leipzig University (MIMUL). A piano roll is a historic
music storage media (MSM) coding movement impulses through holes punched into
paper (Focht, 2020). When played, a pneumatic system uses this code to create
sounds at runtime.
For musicologists, such piano rolls are of high value. First, they are the only source of
musical performances by famous pianists in times preceding sound recording
technologies. Secondly, for researchers they offer a rich repository to study the
music-making practice and musical interpretation around 1900. We expand our prior
source catalogue to include their technical predecessors: Cardboard and metal plates,
which also use punched holes as code (Focht, 2021). They share the issue of being
fragile – after decades of usage and storage – making it important to digitize them
for preservation, also.

Related Work
We found a lack of publications dealing with challenges, issues, and processing of MSM in general. This may be due to most of such projects being on a small scale in
private settings (pianola.co.nz, 2021; IAMMP, 2021). Scientific publications are
presented by Debrunner (2013), who developed a scanner capable of reading
information directly from piano rolls and dealing with paper based distortion issues,
for a single format (Welte piano rolls). Shi et al. (2019) built an online database of almost 500 digitized
piano rolls offering representations including images, audios, and MIDI files, focusing
only on the same format.
No published scientific or private projects are to be found concerning metal or
cardboard plates and their digitization.

Figure 1: Pipeline of the digitizing of piano rolls and plates through different processing steps and manual input of a Musicologist

Digitizing MSM
While prior projects show great results in digitizing piano rolls, processes capable of
dealing with multiple formats of piano rolls and plates in general are non-existent.
Furthermore, digitizing is only the first step for musicologists. This data allows them
to answer research questions by reading and hearing the encoded works which are
difficult to impossible to read. Additionally, these processes allow for distant reading
analysis and comparative approaches.
We propose a workflow (Figure~1) capable of digitizing all 3,200 piano rolls of 30
different formats available in the MIMUL. Currently, work is done to include more
than 25 formats of 438 plates.
The workflow begins with a conservator-led cleaning process to protect the objects
and the researchers. Damages which would lead to the destruction of the object
were documented. Next, metadata like weight, measurements, format, title,
composer, and performer was extracted to be included in our research tool
musiXplora. For the actual digitizing, a scanning company was commissioned, for which we constructed an unwinding mechanism, making it possible to create a single
scan of the piano rolls (as 300dpi .tif images, resulting in up to 5.000x550.000 pixels and up to 5GB).
While the prior project (TASTEN – 2018-2020) generated scans of piano rolls, the
current DISKOS project focuses more deeply on musicologists’ research questions.
Examples would be “How did composers play their own compositions on the piano?”,
or “Can the computer use this digital knowledge to identify which pianist played a
piano roll of unknown origin?” Also, exploration and visual analysis of the objects can
be offered through distant reading visualization systems embedded in the

Technical Details
Starting with the preprocessing of the backlit images the actual process labels
connected components (musical notes) on the image and applies filtering to keep
only the components representing notes. Calculating the distance from each hole to
the edge of the medium and using mean shift clustering we can assign each note to
its respective track. We finally apply corrections to account for empty tracks and
distortions and calculate the position and width of each hole. Combining this
information with an expert created mapping of tracks to MIDI notes, we can then
generate a MIDI file accurately representing the information on the medium.
Relevance for Musicology
These files allow users to work interactively with the music and help musicologists in
their work with these sources. Furthermore, this offers an enhanced experience for
museum visitors, by making it possible to voice the digitized piano rolls and plates
using the digital representation of keyboard instruments created during TASTEN.
Hence, historic media can be experienced on historic instruments even if the physical
instruments would not have been interoperable.
For the musicologists, these results offer a way to open up previously unreadable
sources. Besides close reading approaches, the generated data allows for distant
reading (visualization) methodology and novel research questions like examining
which schools of interpretation and playing techniques are represented and how they
have spread between performers.
Further, these results are also important for educational and playful aspects like
listening to these historical virtuous interpretations without risking the media and

As we are in the first of three project years, some challenges still exist: The image
processing results are highly dependable on a suitable preprocessing, which differs
quite a lot even between different formats of the same media type. Metal plates in
particular are operated under pressure during playback. While the playback
instruments themselves are constructed to negate this deformation, a plain
photography of the media does not lead to correct results and needs a semi-manual
correction process. In general, we are content with our results for cardboard plates
and piano rolls of specific formats, but are aware of needed improvements.

Even with the best preservation techniques, most materials deteriorate from
humidity and stress through time. Hence, valuable information stored on analog
media is prone to damage and even loss. Such information includes original
recordings of famous virtuosos like Edvard Grieg, not only valuable as music
recording, but also important for musicologists interested in analyzing playing
techniques and differences between musical notation and interpretation by their
composers. To allow digital processing of such media, digitization is mandatory. We
present a pipeline taking image sources of circular and linear played storage media
and creating digital representations in form of MIDI files, which then can be analyzed,
further processed, edited, or even played through modern and historical instruments.


(2021): Saving the Music of Yesterday.
http://www.pianola.co.nz/public/index.php (Accessed: 01 January 2022)

Comaniciu, D., & Meer, P.
(2002). Mean shift: A robust approach toward feature space analysis.
IEEE Transactions on Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence
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Debrunner, D.
(2013). Von der Welte-Rolle zu parametrisierbaren Wiedergabe auf synthetischen Instrumenten und MIDI-fähigen Selbstspielklavieren.
In C. E. Hänggi & Köpp (Eds.), Recording the Soul of Music: Welte-Künstlerrollen für Orgel und Klavier als authentische Interpretationsdokumente.

Focht, J.
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Focht, J.
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Shi, Z., Sapp, C. S., Arul, K., McBride, J., & Smith III, J. O.
(2019). Supra: Digitizing the Stanford University Piano Roll Archive.
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Conference Info

In review

ADHO - 2022
"Responding to Asian Diversity"

Tokyo, Japan

July 25, 2022 - July 29, 2022

361 works by 945 authors indexed

Held in Tokyo and remote (hybrid) on account of COVID-19

Conference website: https://dh2022.adho.org/

Contributors: Scott B. Weingart, James Cummings

Series: ADHO (16)

Organizers: ADHO