Piano roll wallpaper

Scenes from a book tour: this incredibly piano roll wallpaper, spotted in a bathroom at the Ace Hotel in Portland, where I had an extremely tasty coffee.

Piano Roll


  1. That is, indeed, incredibly piano roll. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite so piano roll. (I know that was pretty stupid. I couldn’t help myself)

  2. Wait, I know that song. You were relieving yourself to the Funeral March from Aida.

    Since it IS a diuretic, I suppose drinking coffee in the bathroom is a good idea. Sorry, that was incredibly piano roll of me.

  3. If I remember that place correctly, and I may not, you’ve got to try the deli a few doors up on the same block. I live in Vancouver now but I love London and NY delis and Portland has a great one on that block. Food that will make you smile as it tears your heart out, smothers it in fat and drops it back in barely beating.

  4. Oh yes and nice piano roll but I’m a bit sad it won’t be played again. Piano roll is an amazing record of someone’s playing. Better than a recording in some ways and a real piece of history.

    1. nemofazer: your image processing challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to produce an mp3 of the piano music on the rolls in the above picture.

      1. As a graphic designer with past training in piano design and construction and electronic music I’m ashamed I hadn’t thought of that myself. In fact my first sequencer was a Steinberg pro-16 running on a Commodore 64 which had an interface which looked exactly like a piano roll.

  5. A sad waste of piano rolls. It’s not like they’re making them anymore. Fats Waller is piano rolling in his grave.

  6. Maybe it’s not entirely rational, but it makes me sad to think that these were music, and… aren’t… anymore.
    Yeah, they were gathering dust somewhere, and nobody would pay anything for music in such an outdated format. It uses too many atoms per bit, it’s a long obsolete hardware platform, clumsy to use.
    It’s still the destruction of something that -could- be used as it was intended, and that makes me a little wistful.

  7. There’s a reason you don’t normally see wallpaper in a public toilet. Yuck.

  8. This is even lamer (and more inherent worth insulting) than useless decorative bowls make out of lps.

  9. I tend to agree that while I sorta like the concept as a design, I dislike the idea of using real piano rolls for this purpose — at least, if they’re anything but modern ones.

    Think of piano rolls as mechanical MIDI files.

    A few composers have experimented with cutting piano rolls for compositions that are just about unplayable by humans. Etude for machinery.

  10. No, they SERVED coffee in the northeast elevator. Cory DRANK the coffee in the bathroom.

  11. You had coffee at Stumptown, and peed at the Ace Hotel which is adjacent to Stumptown.

  12. This is incredibly cool. I thought it was an art installation till I scrolled down further (no pun intended). It is eerily like a dream I had some months ago involving old style computer punch cards.

  13. As an Ampico reproducing piano owner, I can tell you , a lot of rolls get to be unplayable over time. Edges get frayed, and long held notes, which are expressed as a series of closely punched holes, finally rip through and get folded and ripped. The little tab at the end is especially vulnerable (visible midway on the wall as a triangle). A well used but not scrupulously maintained set of rolls will be patched together with many decades worth of vintage cellophane tape, band-aids, duct tape, or whatever. So, they might as well be wallpaper when they are unplayable.
    Yes it’s true one major manufacturer shut down last year after printing up a big inventory, and another has inherited a lot of masters but hasn’t rebuilt the machinery to reproduce them properly. So there’s not a lot of novelty in roll making.

  14. Incredibly piano rolls aside, I’m incredibly glad that the picture is cropped at the bottom.

  15. I was an errand boy at my dad,s antique/thrift shop in the late 80s and we would get many piano rolls as donations. Other than as wallpaper, not much a person can do with the rolls without a player piano . Of course they do resemble old IBM punch cards. Neat!

  16. Certainly not a benchmark for any kind of trend.

    Thoroughly unattractive in every way.

    I can’t help but wonder why it was posted

  17. Damn Cory, I recognized that wallpaper without reading the submission, I was just there a month ago! Glad you liked Stumptown coffee!

  18. If you fed an old roll through a (sort of) scan drum could you capture the sound? Or has someone already done that? Or are the recordings not rare?
    ps: please explain the ‘piano’ joke.

  19. The Smythe and Trachtman sites have midi files that were created by scanning piano rolls. As those sites and jhhl notes, piano rolls do become unusable over time; scanning them is a decent way of preserving the information on them. I’m generally averse to the destruction of things like this, but if they’re not playable, I’m not sure that using them as wallpaper is that horrible.

  20. Those rolls look perfectly scan-able and possibly playable (at least, before they were put in the bathroom!)

    Anon #8, when you say “nobody would pay anything for music in such an outdated format. It uses too many atoms per bit, it’s a long obsolete hardware platform, clumsy to use.” you reveal your ignorance.

    Plenty of people have paid, and still pay for, piano rolls. Not only old ones, but new ones too. There are several new makers of piano rolls, and although they don’t exactly do a brisk business (most specialize in re-cutting old rolls, although many are open to cutting rolls of new music and/or new arrangements), they are still around. Modern roll makers include:

    Ampico Music Rolls:


    Artcraft Music Rolls:


    BluesTone Music Rolls:


    Heisigrollen (DE):


    Johnny’s Music Rolls (coin piano and orchestrion rolls):


    Keystone Music Rolls:


    Laguna Music Rolls (UK):


    Leedy Brothers Music Rolls:


    Meliora Music Rolls:


    Miner Company:


    Musikwerkstatt Monschau (DE) (ALL TYPES rolls):


    Piano Ticklers Music Rolls:


    Play-Rite Music Rolls (ALL TYPES rolls):


    Reliance Music Rolls (NZ):


    Roller Tunes Music Rolls:


    Schmidt’s Music Rolls (organette and reed organ rolls):


    Sierra Music Rolls (MANY TYPES rolls):


    Valley Forge Music Rolls (ALL TYPES rolls):


    You can help out with the roll scanning efforts (MANY rolls still have not been scanned) by checking out these excellent pages on roll scanning:




    you can also check out how to scan a piano roll with a regular flat bed scanner:


    to conclude: as great as MIDI is, and as handy a format as it is for listening to this music, archiving it, transcribing into sheet music, etc. etc., in my opinion it is mainly a stopgap measure to preserve the roll data until that roll is able to be recut on actual paper. Computer technology has changed so much in the past twenty years, with storage formats and capacities changing so drastically, that it just doesn’t make sense to keep this data only on such a transient format as a series of magnetic or static charges, or even pits on a disc. Note that these formats all require something as complex as a computer (large or small) to make sense of them! A simpler player piano can readily make sense of a roll and convert it to live music in real time!

    Better to use the scanner data to reproduce in its simpler and longer-lasting native format, if at all possible, since many of the instruments to play back the music still exist and are still being restored, and also many organizations such as AMICA (Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors’ Association), MBSI (Musical Box Society International) and Player Piano Group (Pianola Society), and Pianola Institute exist which can put people in touch with instrument owners, roll recutters, scholars, and enthusiasts.





    enjoy! be enlightented!
    Andrew Barrett

  21. Andrew (Anon 32) is correct, many people still pay for and collect/use old piano rolls. These rolls look as if they were entirely playable. I recently rescued 11 rolls (some rare) from the clutches of a crafts dealer who was marketing them as aged vintage paper. While my collecting might be considered to some as eccentric, I hold the belief that nothing sounds quite as good as a hundred-year-old restored player piano performing from roll; the first and only true recording medium capable of live playback. Playing a roll yourself allows you to be very musically creative, adding your own expression and inflection into the performance. It’s with a sad form of curiosity that I want to visit this bathroom to view which rolls these are. The word should be spread to digitally archive and scan rolls before “creating” with them. There are many archivists (including myself) that will gladly volunteer their time for free in order to save these rolls in order to protect American history.


Comments are closed.