Here’s a little history for you.
When I was kicking off the W3C Audio Incubator Group in 2010,
which would spawn the Audio Working Group a year later, I knew that
the Web platform needed the ability to generate and process audio,
not just play back prerecorded audio streams. I didn’t know how the
technology worked (and I’m still fuzzy on it); I didn’t know all of
the use cases and requirements; I didn’t know the industry; I
didn’t know the culture; I didn’t know the people; and I certainly
didn’t know what the future held.
What I did know was that Flash was dying, and all the Web audio
projects that had relied on Flash would need a new platform. And I
knew that it was important that we somehow capture and encode this
important cultural expression. And I knew how to find passionate
people who knew all the things I didn’t, and I knew that if I gave
them a place to talk (and a little gentle coaching), they would
know how to make audio on the Web a reality. I wasn’t disappointed:
a demo of the
Audio Data API prototype by David Humphrey and Corban Brook rekindled my interest
in a Web audio API; Alistair
MacDonald led the initial effort as chair of the Audio Incubator
Group, providing context and connections for starting the
Rogers, who designed Apple’s Core Audio before moving to
Google, wrote the WebKit implementation and the early drafts of the
Web Audio API;
Olivier Thereaux and
Chris Lowis from BBC
picked up the the chair baton for the W3C Audio WG, later handing it
to the capable Joe Berkovitz
(Noteflight) and Matthew Paradis (BBC); and
Chris Wilson (Google) and Paul Adenot (Mozilla) stepped up as editors
of the Web Audio API spec when Chris Rogers moved along.
These are pretty obvious technologies for W3C to develop. But
the scope of the audio standardization work wasn’t always so clear.
There was a
vocal contingent among the interested parties that wanted us to
standardize a music notation format… like HTML for music.
But the metronome ticks on, and times change. MusicXML was
acquired by MakeMusic, a major music software vendor, and Michael
began to warm to the idea of his creation having a home at a
vendor-neutral standards body like W3C (with Joe
Berkovitz patiently encouraging him); at the same time,
(Steinberg) was developing SMuFL
(Standard Music Font Layout), and together they encouraged
their companies to bring their music standards under the care of a
W3C Community Group.
Thus, two weeks ago, we formed the Music Notation Community
Group, and already over 160 people have joined the group! Normally,
W3C staff doesn’t devote resources to Community Groups, but
Ivan Herman and I lent
our W3C experience to the transfer and group formation in our spare
time, because we saw the cultural value in having music
representation on the Web (though unlike all the other people
mentioned in this blog post, I’m sadly musically illiterate… “they
also serve who only standardize”). Michael, Daniel, and Joe are
co-chairing the group, and we’re looking forward to lively
Music and technical standards may seem like strange bedfellows,
but there’s a long tradition there. The New Yorker, in a piece on
HTML5 entitled “The Group
That Rules the Web” by Paul Ford, referenced a 1908 article in
Music Trade Review about player piano standards. In a
hauntingly familiar account, the face-to-face meeting of a
committee of industry leaders decided upon a
nine-to-the-inch perforation scale for player piano rolls
(think punch cards on scrolls). The rise and fall of the
player piano industry is a fascinating read, and should give us
perspective on how we build for eternity and for change.
Will MusicXML (or its successor) ever be natively supported by
browsers, so that we can see it, read it, and edit it without the
from the history of the even more critical MathML, which still is
not properly supported in browsers. But even if it is never
natively supported, there are good reasons to have a vendor-neutral
digital music notation format for the Web:
As your reward for reading this whole meandering post, here in
full is the news article on the historic and infamous Gathering of
the Player Men at Buffalo, for your edification and enjoyment, as
an image and a OCR transcription, for posterity.
Gathering of the Player Men at Buffalo.
First Meeting of Player Manufacturers Ever Held
in This Country—Discussions Anent the Number of Perforations to the
Inch for a Standard Roll—Meeting Called to Order by L. L.
Dowd—Addresses by Various Representatives Who Argue That Their
Position Is the Correct One—Motion to Lay the Matter Over to
Convention in Detroit Is Lost—Finally Votey’s Motion Agreeing Upon
Nine Perforations to the Inch Is Adopted.
(Special to The Review.)
Buffalo, N. Y., Dec. 10, 1908.
Pursuant to a call issued by the A. B. Chase Co., Norwalk, O.,
the piano player manufacturers and their representatives gathered
in this city to-day, with the object in view of settling the vexed
question of the scale to be used for the 88-note players. The
player trade was well represented at this first meeting, which may
be said to almost reach the dignity of a convention.
There is unquestionably a decided difference of opinion as to
the number of perforations required on the music roll to the inch.
There are some who hold that the 88-note roll should be no longer
than the present 65-note roll. Leading makers hold that
nine-to-the-inch must necessarily be the standard adopted, and the
advocates of the nine-to-the-inch won at this meeting.
The first meeting was held at the Hotel Iroquois, in this city,
and opened shortly after ten. The score of delegates present
constituted a truly representative gathering, the majority of the
leading manufacturers having someone to look after their interests
and express their opinions.
The following were present: Wm. J. Keeley, the Autopiano Co.,
New York; H. W. Metcalf, representing the Simplex Piano Co.,
Worcester, Mass.; the Wilcox & White Co., Meriden, Conn.; J.
W. Macy, the Baldwin Co., Cincinnati, O.; E. S. Votey, the Aeolian
Co., New York; R. A. Rodesch, the Rodesch Piano Co., Dixon, Ill.;
T. M. Pletcher, the Melville Clark Piano Co., Chicago; Gustave
Behning, the Behning Piano Co., New York; H. C. Frederici, the
Claviola Co. and the American Perforated Music Co., New York; J.
H. Dickinson, the Gulbransen-Dickinson Co., Chicago; Otto Higel,
Otto Higel Co., Toronto, Ont; D. W. Bayer, Chase & Baker Co.,
Buffalo, N. Y.; H. Keuchen, Shaw Piano Co., Baltimore. Md.; Chas.
G. Gross, Chas. M. Stieff, Baltimore, Md.; Paul E. F. Gottschalk,
Niagara Music Co., Buffalo, N. Y.; E. B. Bartlett, W. W. Kimball
Co., Chicago; P. B. Klitgh, Cable Company, Chicago; J. A. Stewart,
Farrand Co., Detroit, Mich.; L. L. Doud, A. B. Chase Co.,
Norwalk, 0.; J. H. Parnham, Hardman, Peck & Co., New York; and
J. H. Chase and Jacob Heyl, of the Chase & Baker Co., Buffalo,
The meeting was called to order by L. L. Doud, who briefly
pointed out the necessity of reaching some definite understanding
regarding the best form of music roll for 88-note players and the
number of perforations to the inch that would give best results
from the viewpoint of both manufacturer and public. Mr. Doud stated
that as the 88-note player was but in its infancy, now is the time
to adopt some standard music roll that will aid the purchaser in
obtaining the best results from a maximum number of rolls to select
from—in other words, that the purchaser be not confined to one
particular make of music roll and the natural limitations of such a
list. At present 6 and 9 perforations to the inch represent the
two extremes, the Aeolian Co.’s 12-to-the-inch roll being more in
the nature of an experiment.
The gentlemen present then selected Mr. Doud as chairman and Mr.
Chase as secretary, and then the representatives were called upon
to give their individual opinions and make suggestions, with the
good of the various manufacturers and the satisfaction of the
public, the real judge and jury, in mind.
T. M. Pletcher, representing the Melville Clark Piano Co., was
the first to speak, and said that in the opinion of his company the
six-to-the-inch perforations afforded greater possibilities from a
musical standpoint, in view of the greater quantity of air
controlled by the perforations. Mr. Pletcher added, however, that
his company were willing to abide by the sense of the convention,
and had, in fact, already turned out a number of player-pianos
using rolls with nine perforations to the inch.
R. A. Rodesch, who has adopted eight perforations to the inch,
then spoke on the subject of a standard roll, and held that such a
measurement as he used withstood climatic changes better than the
nine-to-the-inch roll, and thereby insured proper tracking. Mr.
Rodesch held, as did the majority of those present, that the double
tracker board, one adapted to 65-note rolls, was a necessity for
the present at least, affording protection to both dealer and
In setting forth the Cable Company’s stand, P. B. Klugh said
that the nine-to-the-inch scale had been adopted by that company
and they were not open to argument on the subject, as such a scale
had given entire satisfaction. Mr. Klugh offered as a solution of
the improper tracking question, the adoption of an adjustable end
to the roll, which when pressed against a loosely-rolled music roll
would force perforations into perfect alignment. He also gave it as
his opinion that the habit of twisting the roll as tightly as
possible before playing was a mistake, as when held tightly, proper
adjustment of the roll was impossible. Mr. Klugh stated that when
the purchaser understood the secret of this method of adjustment
the nine-to-the-inch roll would give entire satisfaction in every
J. H. Parnham also stated that Hardman, Peck & Co. had found
no trouble with rolls cut nine-to-the-inch, either before or after
Gustave Behning then informed the meeting that his company had
found the nine-to-the-inch scale so satisfactory that they had
begun to cut the 65-note music with smaller perforations and with
The meeting then adjourned until the afternoon.
The Afternoon Session.
The afternoon session was called to order at 2 p.m., and some
time was given over to a general discussion of the relative value
of the rolls having eight and nine perforations to the inch,
respectively. Mr. Rodesch offered for examination a number of
rolls cut on the eight-to-the-inch scale, which were compared with
one of nine shown by Mr. Votey.
The general discussion was here interrupted for the purpose of
considering whether or not to finally adopt the 88-note roll in
preference to the 85-note roll. Mr. Heyl, of the Chase & Baker
Co., spoke at length on the subject, stating that in Europe pianos
of seven-octave range, or 85 notes, cutting of the three treble
notes, were manufactured in considerable quantities and had a ready
sale. In support of the statement, however, that the 88-notes were
needed, Mr. Heyl offered the following figures: Out of 3,838
compositions cut by the Chase & Baker Co., 1,130 needed only
65 notes; 2,425, 78 notes; 2,542 needed 80 notes; 2,660 required 83
notes, and 3,676 could be cut in an 85-note range.
A motion was made and carried that the music be cut to the full
88 notes. It was also moved and carried that the rolls be made with
a standard width of 11¼ inches, leaving a margin in each side for
future development, it being acknowledged that any advance in
future would need the margin in its consummation.
Mr. Rodesch here proposed that the final settlement of the
perforation question be postponed until the annual meeting of the
National Manufacturers Association, to be held in Detroit next
June, that the matter could be more thoroughly studied, and several
of those present concurred with him in that opinion, but the
general sense of the body was that such a postponement would only
increase the feeling of uncertainty among both manufacturers and
dealers and cause additional trouble for those manufacturers who
were turning out players and music rolls that would not conform
with the standard agreed upon.
Mr. Votey then made a motion, which was unanimously carried, to
the effect that the matter be decided at once. A standing vote was
taken and twelve were found to favor the nine-to-the-inch scale,
with only six backing the eight-to-the-inch standard. Upon motion
the vote in favor of nine perforations as a standard scale was
Thus, with a little over four hours discussion, a question was
settled that has caused much worriment to the trade for over a year
past, and especially so within the last few months. With a standard
roll all manufacturers have a chance to do business, for a
purchaser can go anywhere and get any selection he desires to play,
and is not confined to one list, often restricted.
Mr. Votey, following the settlement of the perforation
standard, offered a suggestion, which was accepted, to the effect
that the manufacturers adopt for the 88-note music rolls the spool
about being used by the Aeolian Co. The new spool has clutches
inserted in the ends instead of pins, and attachments are furnished
for inserting in the holders on the player, the other end being
arranged to fit the clutches placed within the ends of the spool.
This new spool, Mr. Votey claims, makes proper tracking a simple
proposition, as the roll can be held tightly and accurately, a
difficult feat where the pin is used, especially if it is driven
into a spool made of cross-grained wood. The spool is also fitted
with an adjustable end which may be pressed against the music roll
in such a way as to force the perforations into alignment. While
this adjustable end is patented, the Aeolian Co. have not, nor
will not, patent the clutch, offering it for the free use of other
manufacturers. The individual manufacturers, too, may invent an
adjustable end that will not conflict with the patented article,
but give the same result.
The question of price also came up before the meeting, and while
no action was taken, it was strongly suggested that while the field
was a new one, manufacturers should insure both themselves and the
dealer a fair and liberal profit while the opportunity offers. Mr.
Votey here stated that the Aeolian Co. would sell their 88-note
rolls at the same price as the 65-note, believing that in large
quantities they can be made nearly as cheaply. This company are
also considering the making of player-pianos with only one tracker,
that for 88-note rolls.
J. H. Dickinson, of the Gulbransen-Dickinson Co., suggested that
the player-piano and music roll manufacturers present effect a
permanent organization for meeting at stated times and discussing
such questions as interest the meetings. As most of the firms
represented were members of the National Manufacturers Association,
Mr. Dickinson’s suggestion was not acted upon.
At the close of the convention of player-piano and music roll
manufacturers, Paul E. V. Gottschalk, general manager of the
Niagara Music Co., Buffalo, presented each one present with a music
roll bearing “The Convention March,” composed by Paul R. Godeska,
and “Dedicated to the Convention of Player-Piano Manufacturers,
held at the Iroquois Hotel, Buffalo, N. Y., December 10, 1908.”
The roll was in a handsome box decorated with holly and made a