Stanford player piano research receives best paper award

December 5, 2019
Best Paper Award at the 20th International Society for Music Information Retrieval Conference

Stanford University researchers received the Best Paper Award at the 20th International Society for Music Information Retrieval Conference (ISMIR) on 4 November 2019 held in Delft, The Netherlands. ISMIR is the foremost organization promoting research and development of computer systems to access, organize, and represent music information. The award was presented to the authors Zhengshan “Kitty” Shi (Ph.D. candidate, Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA)); Music Department professors Craig Sapp, Kumaran Arul, Julius Smith (CCRMA); and Jerry McBride (Music Library and Archive of Recorded Sound). 

The paper describes the digitization process of a collection of historical Welte-Mignon piano roll recordings held in the Stanford University Piano Roll Archive (SUPRA), resulting in an initial dataset of 478 performances of pianists from the early twentieth century transcribed to MIDI files. The process involves scanning paper rolls to create digital image files and translating the pneumatic coding on the rolls including interpretive musical expression into MIDI files. The derivative files from each step of this process includes a high-resolution image of the roll; a “raw” MIDI file of the roll data; an “expressive” MIDI file that translates musical dynamics, accents, and pedaling into digital values; and an audio file rendering of the expressive MIDI file using a digital piano sample. The resulting audio files have the same sound of a recording played on an actual grand piano. The flexible and searchable database provides researchers digital access to the red Welte-Mignon rolls in SUPRA and is also available as “SUPRA-RW,” an initial dataset. Many of the roll scans and MIDI transcriptions of these important historical piano performances are being made available widely for the first time.

Anyone can view and download the image and MIDI files and can stream or download the audio files from the SUPRA research portal or library portal. The research was an outgrowth of the Player Piano Project, a collaborative endeavor between the Music Department and Stanford Libraries, which started in 2014 funded in part by an anonymous donor, to promote the study and research of the player piano. For more information about the project, contact the Project’s coordinators, Jerry McBride and Kumaran Arul.


Screenshot of SUPRA database page