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Thread: Fotoplayer?

  1. #1
    pp Pianissimo Ben Madison's Avatar
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    Fotoplayer?

    Has anyone on this forum been at, seen or heard a fotoplayer? This thing looks cool!

  2. #2
    Administrator Admin's Avatar
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    These were use in silent picture days for accompaniment in smaller theatres. Basically, a player piano, percussions, and sfx mashup.

  3. #3
    pp Pianissimo Ben Madison's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Admin View Post
    These were use in silent picture days for accompaniment in smaller theatres. Basically, a player piano, percussions, and sfx mashup.
    They also came with a handful amount of ranks!

  4. #4
    mp Mezzo-Piano AllenAnalog's Avatar
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    I actually have several friends with photoplayers in their automatic musical instrument collections. In person they sound absolutely amazing but YT videos can give you good sense of what they were all about.

    The American Fotoplayer was a trademarked brand name for this type of instrument from the American Photoplayer Company. Wurlitzer was another big manufacturer of these instruments and there were many other smaller manufacturers.

    The photoplayer sat in the orchestra pit of the theater. It was appealing to theater owners because they could replace a costly human orchestra with a photoplayer operator when showing silent movies. One could say that this was a very early example of automation displacing workers and the musician unions were not happy about it.

    The core of a photoplayer is an upright piano with a normal 88-note keyboard. There are usually two paper roll spool frames so the operator could cue up a second roll while another roll was playing. A lever switches control of the instrument from one spool frame to the other so the music can be continuous. A few movies had a series of accompaniment rolls created just for that movie. When there wasn't a set of rolls for the movie, the operator could cue up two different moods of music on the two spool frames and switch between them.

    These units can play standard 88-note piano rolls along with the special Picturoll rolls that were made specifically for photoplayers to provide suitable accompaniment music and better sounds with the combination of piano and organ pipes.

    http://www.silentcinemasociety.org/picturoll/

    The piano and organ pipes could also be played from the piano keyboard so if the operator was a good keyboard player he could create music on the fly.

    Along with the piano are various percussion and sound effect devices, ranging from drums, wood block, triangle, etc. to sirens, horses hooves, horns and other noise makers that could create the sounds of what was being seen on the screen showing the silent movie. All of those are manually operated with pull cords, typewriter-style keys and foot pedals (in addition to the normal piano foot pedals). The larger percussions and organ pipes are housed in one or two side cabinets.

    As you went up the scale of the models (and also price and physical size) the first step was from one to two side cabinets and then those cabinets got wider to enclose more organ pipes, and things like orchestra bells chimes,etc. The Model 50 American Photoplayer was 21 feet wide with two huge side cabinets.

    The key to making these things sound good was the operator. While the basic music came off the rolls, it was up to the operator to embellish it with sound effects to reflect the action on the screen and switch the various ranks of organ pipes on and off.

    Whenever I'm feeling like life is too quiet, I turn to videos done by Joe Rinaudo on his smaller Fotoplayer with one side cabinet.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XN3Lvxn3BAU

    One priceless comment on this video: "I feel like I just found a lost episode of Looney Tunes!"

    Here is a link to the full program with the rather frantic opening scene followed by an explanation of how these instruments were used in the early days of silent films.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5nHjCWl_Xg

    Joe has other videos on his YT channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/cues80335/videos
    Last edited by AllenAnalog; 07-29-2017 at 07:02 PM.
    Larry

    Main: Allen RMWTHEA.3 with Rocky Mount piano, Allen 423-C + Gyro cabinet, Britson Opus OEM38, Saville Series IV Opus 209, Steinway AR Duo-Art, Mills Violano Virtuoso with MIDI, Moller Artiste organ roll player
    Lower Level: Hammond 9812H with roll player, Gulbransen Rialto, Roland E-200, Vintage Moog
    Shop: Mason&Hamlin AR Ampico piano, Allen ADC-5300-D with 18 speakers, 4 matching Allen tone cabinets (including 2 Gyros, but don't call me Gyro Gearloose!).

  5. #5
    pp Pianissimo Ben Madison's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AllenAnalog View Post
    I actually have several friends with photoplayers in their automatic musical instrument collections. In personThe American Fotoplayer was a trademarked brand name for this type of instrument from the American Photoplayer Company. Wurlitzer was another big manufacturer of these instruments and there were many other smaller manufacturers.

    The photoplayer sat in the orchestra pit of the theater. It was appealing to theater owners because they could replace a costly human orchestra with a photoplayer operator when showing silent movies. One could say that this was a very early example of automation displacing workers and the musician unions were not happy about it.

    The core of a photoplayer is an upright piano with a normal 88-note keyboard. There are usually two roll spool frames so the operator could cue up the next roll in the sequence while another roll was playing. A lever switches control of the instrument from one spool frame to the other so the music can be continuous. A few movies had a series of accompaniment rolls created just for that movie. These units play standard 88-note piano rolls. When there wasn't a set of rolls for the movie, the operator could cue up two different moods of music on the two spool frames and switch between them.

    The piano and organ pipes could also be played from the piano keyboard so if the operator was a good keyboard player he could create music on the fly.

    Along with the piano are various percussion and sound effect devices, ranging from drums, wood block, triangle, etc. to sirens, horses hooves, horns and other noise makers that could create the sounds of what was being seen on the screen showing the silent movie. All of those are manually operated with pull cords, typewriter-style keys and foot pedals (in addition to the normal piano foot pedals). The larger percussions and organ pipes are housed in one or two side cabinets.

    As you went up the scale of the models (and also price and physical size) the first step was from one to two side cabinets and then those cabinets got wider to enclose more organ pipes, and things like orchestra bells chimes,etc. The Model 50 American Photoplayer was 21 feet wide with two huge side cabinets.

    The key to making these things sound good was the operator. While the basic music came off the rolls, it was up to the operator to embellish it to reflect the action on the screen and switch the various ranks of organ pipes on and off.

    Whenever I'm feeling like life is too quiet, I turn to videos done by Joe Rinaudo on his smaller Fotoplayer with one side cabinet.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XN3Lvxn3BAU

    One priceless comment on this video: "I feel like I just found a lost episode of Looney Tunes!"

    Here is a link to the full program with the rather frantic opening scene followed by an explanation of how these instruments were used in the early days of silent films.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5nHjCWl_Xg

    Joe has other videos on his YT channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/cues80335/videos
    i know a guy whose grandfather did it for real. I saw video of one on YouTube and did a reading and find fascinating.

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