Recording of pianola rolls being mechanically played. "Artist" = original performer?

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Short version of question:
A release of pianola rolls being mechanically played. Does “Artist” = original performer of performance which was coded into the piano roll?

Long version:
On post # 248 of

vinyl LP “Legendary Masters of the Piano” released in ~1963 is 25 recordings of a Welte “Vorsetzer” mechanical player, on a Steinway, using playing rolls having been made from electrical recordings of the piano key and pedal usages in performances by Mahler, Grieg, Ravel, Debussy, … around 1910.

Is the artist for such a recording the mechanical player or the original performer (who wasn’t present for the ~1962 recording.)

(I am thinking that: The original performer is the artist. In the same way that a Sony Explode loud-speaker would not be the artist if I re-recorded a Count Basie recording being played through a Sony Xplode loud-speaker - Count Basie would remain the artist. That a recording and reproduction of piano mechanical behaviors should be treated in the same manner as a recording of microphone diaphragm behaviors and the playing back of that recording through a loud-speaker. (aka “tympanic” reproduction"). )

If re-performance rings your bells check out A Brief History of Re-performance

or vist the Federation Bells electro-mechanical carillion near ther Yarra River in Melbourne Australia.

What about a recording of a midi file being played by a computer? I can see that the music has a composer. But who is the performer? (I have a image of an elephant being trained to push a button. If the button activates the playback of a midi file, is that elephant the performer?)

Relationship for modern electronic (DAW) artists

Also NES cartridges.

My opinion: The original pianola roll itself when added as a release is definitely a performance by the original artist. (Though a lot of the time the release will be credited to the composer due to classical style)

The “re-performance” would count as some form of a remastering, I think. Though maybe it would sound and essentially be different enough to count as a new recording anyway. (It’s not exactly a remix though either…)

I think I would count the pianola roll itself as well as any recorded playback of it, all as separate recordings.


Like modules (soundtracker) or like electronic music artists. You just use composer or arranger (for covers) as track artist. I don’t see what issue it makes that we don’t have a performer. :slight_smile:
We have the programmed relationship, if needed.


There’s a slight difference with piano rolls in that they actually are sometimes/often genuinely recordings – the holes were punched by someone playing a piano.


I see, but I only quoted the last part about computer music. :slight_smile:
Piano rolls is something else indeed, that I don’t discuss. :blush:


Per CSG, the artist for the track is the composer.

From the description of how those were made on Wikipedia, it sounds perfectly reasonable to treat them as a recording—so you could add an advanced relationship to put the performer there. Wikipedia also describes that the dynamics was done by someone by hand, so you could add that person (if you can find out who) on there as well (as programmer).

Probably also add an annotation explaining the release.


And for the Recording, it’s the performer:

(The Track is what is on the Release, the Recording is an abstraction up and can be linked to multiple Tracks and have different artist credit and title from any of these.)


@ Hawke
You display a healthy interest in getting pianola rolls into MB. :grinning:

I was thinking that working to get others to enter data into MB is a good use of my time. :smiling_imp:

When I saw this

I went to thinking that (outside my own music collection) if I’m not scripting (which I don’t), or promoting, then I’m whistling in the wind.

How might we get the excellent Jerry L McBride, Head Librarian; Music Library, Head Librarian; Archive of Recorded Sound at Stanford University Libraries to consider putting his data into MB db?

(Call me lazy.)

If you like recordings of pianola rolls I’ve bashed The Condon Collection series into some sort of shape at



Of course, this does not preclude the person operating the equipment from getting engineering, etc. credits.

If the roll is seen as a recording, an opinion which I can agree on, this brings up the question whether it and the new recording are actually the same „recording“ in the MB sense. See also:


My 2 cents: it sounds to me like such a piano roll could be re-performed on multiple different pianos, resulting in quite a different sound. That makes it more than just a recording.
If it’s classical music, the CSG does make that slightly easier to deal with, but I would then perhaps see the original piano player more as a conductor role (with indeed a “programmed” AR), with the machine and/or its engineer as performers.

Oh and if you play back a recording through some equipment and record that result, I would say you are that recording’s artist - it’s just an extreme form of sampling (similar to how several pieces of modern art take existing everyday objects and impart meaning by placement/orientation/…).


Sampling requires some kind of artistic intervention though, while just having a machine play something pre-recorded and recording the result involves none. The difference in sound is due to the used equipment, but the timing is only the result of the original performer. The person who records the piano rolls years later is not really involved in the process.


A vinyl record can be played on multiple different turntable setups, resulting in different sound (the type of pick, what membrane outputs the final vibrations, and probably at least a dozen things in between). It’s still a single recording on the vinyl.


Agreed - and the pianola roll itself is a recording in that sense. Here it’s about recording the result of playing it back. If you played a vinyl album on 3 different setups and recorded the result, that would be 3 different recordings (all based on/sampling/re-performing the original recording).

As for “simply recording” not involving artistic intervention: I would say the selection of equipment, positioning of the recording devices, acoustic setup of the room used for the recording, all rise to at least the same level of artistic intervention as applies to some modern visual art pieces. Although there the main thing tends towards artistic intent rather than artistic intervention). I suppose the same would apply here - if the re-performance itself had artistic intent, the re-performer should be credited as the artist; otherwise the original performer/artist applies.


I guess you could also argue that this is somewhat similar to a remix. It’s still the original Recording Artist being attributed as Artist, but the remixer (or, in this case, re-recorder) would be linked in the ARs.