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Colin Pykett

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About Colin Pykett

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  1. As might be apparent from some earlier posts and writings elsewhere, I'm deeply interested in temperament myself, though would not like to be seen to be too strongly wedded to either equal temperament on the one hand or unequal temperaments on the other. It isn't a monochrome situation, at least to me, as both camps have their pros and cons. But having said that, I feel some quite basic practical issues get swept under the carpet in the white heat of the debate, not only on this forum but just about everywhere. The first issue I'll mention is to do with history and how ET came to be so dominant (ha, ha ... ). A major factor which caused ET to emerge as a force to be reckoned with out of the increasingly sophisticated mathematical and musical developments of the post-Renaissance era was simply because lutes, viols and similar instruments such as guitars were fretted. These had to be tuned in ET - no ifs or buts. Why? Because with fretted instruments, the pitch of a note produced by a stopped string must obviously be the same as that of an adjacent open string which is supposed to be tuned to the same note. Otherwise the instrument would be out of tune with itself and would be useless for musical purposes. The only temperament which can satisfy this practical criterion over all possible intervals and melodic sequences involving more than a single string is ET (maybe think about it for a bit if you're unsure ... ). A way round this for unequally-tuned string instruments is to make the frets curved rather than straight, but these are about as common as keyboard instruments with split sharps or many more than 12 semitones to the octave, so we can safely ignore them here. Consequently, with today's interests in early music in which lutes and viols figure prominently, together with the importance of classical and (much more importantly from a mass audience viewpoint) electric guitar, it is unthinkable that the other instruments which are often required to form ensembles with them can be tuned other than to ET either. Then there is that 'instrument' called the human voice. Consider someone, or a choir, singing the following sequence of notes: C, up a 5th to G, then down a 4th to D, then up a 5th to A, then down a 4th to E, then down a 3rd back to C. If all these intervals were to be perfect (i.e. if played simultaneously there would be no beat), the two Cs will be out of tune by over a fifth of a semitone (the Syntonic comma, to use the conventional arcane argot)! This is sometimes called Huygens's Paradox, though it wasn't paradoxical to him because he understood the maths behind it. This note sequence is not unique, incidentally, as the problem can arise with others. But continuing with this example for now, suppose also that the voice(s) start off in tune with an organ, say, which then leaves them unaccompanied until the final C when it comes in again. Bang - the tuning discrepancy will be embarrassingly awful, because the organ's two Cs will obviously be the same whereas those of the singers will not. In practice the only reason this does not happen (well, hopefully not very often ... ) is because good singers have a strong enough musical memory of the exact pitches they should be singing when unaccompanied. One reason for the development of this acoustic memory is that they have grown up in a largely ET culture and musical environment. But if the organ accompanying them were to be tuned to some unequal temperament, the singers and their conductor would need to have the most exquisitely acute ears regarding pitch to avoid being publicly humiliated. There are lots of similar practical issues similar to these which need to be taken into account when choice of temperament is up for discussion, but I've already probably said more than enough so will leave it there for now.
  2. I'm sure this must be right - digital technology forges onwards relentlessly in all other fields, so it would be surprising if this doesn't apply to hearing aids. My recent NHS ones do not have a delay or latency that I can detect as such, but only indirectly in that they seem to add a sort of spaciousness to the sound similar to that which one gets from digital reverberation units which also add delays (but deliberately in that case of course - that's how they work, basically by simulating room echoes and thus delays). However I haven't come anywhere near a point where I'd think of shoving them in a drawer, but nevertheless am a bit picky as to the situations when I put them on, such as when watching TV. Wearing them in the street verges on the intolerable owing to traffic noise etc, and even when doing the dishes I have to turn the volume down as otherwise the clashing and clattering is almost painful, not that my wife allows that as an excuse not to do it ... However I've more or less stopped using them for music even though they have a 'music' setting, preferring instead to rely on analogue tone controls or graphic equalisers as mentioned previously on this thread. I think one needs to give oneself a considerable learning period measured in months to find out how best they can help - and I'm sure each individual's preferences will be different. But whatever their shortcomings, personally I wouldn't be without them. Just my two pennies' worth.
  3. It's good that we can explore different schools of organ building at first hand when offshore firms are retained to install their products here. But it is also good to recall that we have our own quite distinctive traditions going back centuries, and to forget that would be a travesty. To select just one instrument, because I have studied its sounds in great detail over 40 years, I would mention the large and beautiful Rushworth and Dreaper romantic organ not far from Pershore at Malvern Priory, fastidiously and sympathetically rebuilt by Nicholson's in 2004 with scarcely any tonal alterations. I recorded its sounds when making what would be called today a 'sample set' way back in 1979, thanks to the courtesy of the then DoM Richard Dacey. Then, it had been tonally reset a couple of years earlier by Rushworth's to more or less its original state in 1927, even though the money was not there to do other jobs such as major work on the action and winding system (not remedied until 2004, and how the thing managed to limp along in the meantime I do not know). 40 years later I am still exploring its beauties, such as the various flute stops (there are 8 and 4 foot flutes on each of the four manuals, all different). As an example, those on the Solo organ are more 'orchestral' in character than most of the others, and the way this was achieved by the voicer was to encourage their even-numbered harmonics to be stronger relative to the odds compared with the other flutes elsewhere. Then there is the glory of having 3 diapasons on the Great, meaning that you can't really criticise the largest one for being too fat when you can just select one of the others! And the way they combine amongst themselves is endlessly fascinating. Then, too, there are the 16/8/4 reeds on Great and Swell, whose contrasts were obviously so well thought out and implemented by someone with golden ears. And I haven't even mentioned the rather fluty mixtures with their somewhat unusual 19th century-style compositions (which I am grateful to Andrew Caskie at Nicholson's for helping me to unravel - quite difficult when all you have are audio recordings to go on!). And the range of beautiful quiet strings and colour reeds - I could go on boring you all for ever ... I realise not everyone gets switched on by organs like this, but picking up on a point made by Martin above who reminded us that organs are usually meant to accompany worship, well, you can certainly do that at Malvern - and then some. Now that 40 years have elapsed since I recorded that pipework, means for making digital reconstructions of the sounds have become commonplace in the guise of the virtual pipe organ (unheard of in 1979), and although perhaps I should not mention it here, I have simulated the Malvern organ in this way at home. This has enabled me to continue exploring its subtleties from an aural and musical standpoint, rather than just from the physics of its sounds. I just hope that we do not allow our own heritage, defined by landmark instruments such as that at Malvern, to become lost or forgotten by whatever changes in fashion might take place in the future.
  4. It looks as though this might be one of those organs which rely on flue choruses carried to high pitches to achieve power and projection, but without the alternative range of dynamics and colour available from a palette of other stops including warmer unisons and quiet reeds. If this is so, and merely expressing a personal opinion, I find that the power and projection are indeed likely to be there but the effect can become (to me) aurally wearisome and a little boring after a while. One of the first instruments of this type I encountered in this country was a long time ago when the Marcussen arrived at St Mary's, Nottingham. Still lauded as a landmark instrument, it might nevertheless be significant that they installed a digital a few years ago on which they seemed to rely heavily when I last took stock of the situation. There's nothing wrong in having more than one instrument in a church of course, especially a large one, since they can be used to support different functions. But one wonders whether the digital at Pershore will actually be disposed of, or retained for use in situations for which the new one might be less than optimum?
  5. It doesn't seem off-topic to me, and I entirely agree. I've done exactly the same with my digital organ here at home with an array of 15-channel graphic equalisers, one equaliser for each audio channel. Since each equaliser incorporates two independent units (because they are stereo devices), one only has to buy half the number of units as channels that one wants to equalise. Without my hearing aids it now enables me to hear half way up the top octave of a 15th stop, but with a much cleaner and less distorted sound than the 'music' program on my aids provides. And it's easy to bypass them and revert to a flat response just by pressing the 'bypass' button on each unit - useful when a younger visiting organist wants to play. An unanticipated spinoff is that youngsters such as visiting teenagers who are heavily into audio are blown away by the sight of all these GEs sitting on top of the organ console - I've mounted them in a small 19 inch equipment rack enclosed in an oak sleeve , rather like the professional audio gear one sees in the recording consoles and mixing desks in places such as the Abbey Road studios!
  6. Nor has there been mention of Poulenc's organ concerto.
  7. Referring to Angela Hewitt, I do not know whether the view expressed by David Pinnegar is a minority one though I nevertheless suspect it is. But for what it's worth, and like Phoneuma, I don't hold it myself. However there's nothing intrinsically wrong in expressing a reasonable opinion, and this forum like all others provides a channel for it. A downside of just sticking with one's opinions, though, is that it is then easy to write endlessly about anything under the sun merely on that basis, and the subject of tuning and temperament is one which is without doubt the worse for it. So, again just for what it's worth, most of the time I try to stick more closely to the facts rather than to confuse them with anecdote, speculation and subjective views. There is an excellent and closely argued essay entitled 'Does 'Well-Tempered' Mean 'Equal-Tempered' by Rudolf Rasch in the collection of 'Bach, Handel, Scarlatti - Tercentenary Essays' edited by the late Peter Williams which I find particularly compelling, and would commend it to anyone who feels they might learn something from his pen.
  8. Some nice points Owen - I like it! But in fact there are shortages of players of some instruments, notably the (ordinary) bassoon, not unconnected with its jokey image and narrow solo repertoire. So one imagines that this situation would be writ large for the subcontra bassoon which is the subject of this thread.
  9. Er, well, I seem to recall that someone once told me a guy called Saint-Saens did exactly that but I never believed him ... But seriously, S_L, I am grateful for your interesting and scholarly comments. And although my subjective opinions count for nothing, I also find the organ entry even in Cockaigne to be pretty stunning, regardless of the fact it's only 14 bars long. I miss it dreadfully when it's not there, in fact I won't pay for a concert ticket if no organist is billed. I also kicked myself once by carelessly buying a CD containing Cockaigne sans organ. But your comments regarding the commercial realities of the situation are well taken - those 14 bars must be pretty near the top of the list of the most expensive performer in the repertoire on a per-bar basis. However mention of money brings us back to the topic - how much has been spent developing these bizarre orchestral instruments (and there are many more besides those mentioned here)? And where has the money come from - physics and music departments in universities persuading governments to fund the R&D programmes from public funds perhaps - i.e. you and me, the unwilling taxpayers? (Wot, no, never. What an outrageous suggestion ... )
  10. I have never quite been able to fathom what sort of sound people (instrument designers and players) want from extreme bass orchestral wind instruments. Acoustically they are very different to organ pipes. Because a single tube of fixed dimensions is being asked to work over some relatively large frequency range, the timbre and power will vary considerably across that range. Also the player is often being asked to shove an impossible amount of air into the thing. Therefore, in the bass there is bound to be relatively little fundamental compared with the harmonics because the impedance match to the atmosphere, and hence power transfer, of a single tube of manageable dimensions reduces with decreasing frequency. It's just the same as why large-diameter loudspeakers are needed to radiate extreme bass. But with a rank of organ pipes one can optimise their scales so that the timbre and power remain subjectively more consistent across the rank - never perfectly of course because even with organ pipes there are practical limits to size, but it's an easier design situation than for orchestral instruments. Of course, the orchestral musician might argue that an ever-larger bassoon is just what the doctor ordered and that nobody in their right mind would consider the pipe organ as the exemplar of good acoustic design. That's fine if they then aren't disappointed by the necessarily buzzy results as they play ever lower notes, rather like one would get with an excessively large regal or vox humana stop. It's also disappointing (to me) that the beautiful sound of the chalumeau register of a clarinet gets lost in any of the excessively large experimental clarinets I've heard. The suppression of the even numbered harmonics relative to the odds characteristic of that register seems to disappear towards the bass, whose notes just become progressively more characterless as the even harmonic amplitudes start to rise again, destroying the tone in the process. Again, this is something that doesn't (or shouldn't!) happen across a clarinet-type organ stop of whatever pitch, since the pipes are all individually designed and voiced to suit the single pitch they have to radiate. The orchestra is sometimes deficient in bass, but I'm unconvinced that importing ever more bizarre and expensive large instruments will solve that problem for reasons of simple physics. The traditional approach has been to employ a pipe organ when necessary, and it grieves me when the instrument is omitted by some conductors who think works such as Gerontius, Cockaigne, Enigma and the Pomps and Circumstances can get away without it. Good old Elgar knew what he was about when it came to orchestration and mixing a good sound palette ...
  11. Very likely. There is a large and well known church in the south of England which has both, and they have timers. It is instructive to read them! And the tracker console does literally gather dust. It's a great pity, not only because of the obvious neglect of an asset which cost a great deal of money, but because its mechanical action was very good when first built (I would go so far as to say astonishingly good) for a large instrument. Having said that, its position is far from being attractive from the player's point of view in terms of hearing the instrument in a balanced manner, and in seeing what's going on in the building during a service. But if one opts for just a detached console, why not make it moveable and take advantage of the fact by wheeling it about frequently to exactly where one wants or needs it on any given occasion? Nowadays there is no need for any physical connection to the action - it can be wireless - so the only thing one needs to do is plug the console into the nearest mains socket to power the combination action and the other internal electronics. Even in pre-wireless days I have never been able to understand why detached consoles were so often more or less fixed in position owing to the connecting cable being confined to under-floor ducting or similar, leading to the problems outlined by Tony.
  12. Sometimes it can assist the projection and impact of a piece if one plays what people already know. If transcriptions are acceptable here, three of Grieg's pieces might be considered. 'Death of Ase' is marked andante doloroso, which at a pinch could therefore be read as adagio, although personally I feel it never really gets anywhere and it slightly bores me so I tend to play it faster - indeed, at a walking pace. However that's just my opinion, and it seems to go down well in my experience on the right occasions. Of his Two Elegiac Melodies, 'The Last Spring' (marked andante but often played slower) moves me beyond words. I find the other one, 'Wounded Heart', less intense somehow. It's marked allegretto espressivo but is also often played more slowly than that.
  13. The Magle forum seems to be alive and well. Yes, it is a useful and well-established one. Did you mean you can't register as a new user, or can't log in as an existing one? I've just tested whether I can log in and it was trouble free, for what it's worth.
  14. Here's the music hall song about an organ blower displaced by electricity which I alluded to above. Music and author unknown (at least to me) but c. 1920. Apparently it was supposed to have been sung in a west country accent (e.g. Somerset). It's an interesting perspective on social history that the church organ was still so much part of everyday life then that it could figure in a popular show. How things have changed. 1 When I blows the organ for our mister Morgan Who plays at our church every Sunday so grand! The wind in the bellows makes music like ‘cellos And fiddles and trumpets – it’s just like a band! 2 At weddings I pumps while the other chap thumps And the choir sings a hymn if they knows it. The organ’s a treat but without me it’s beat ‘Cos I am the fellow what blows it! 3 But now times are changing, at least that’s what they say For things are all done in a new-fangled way. And yesterday Vicar he says to me “Joe, At the end of the year I’m a-feared you must go!” 4 I asked him what for, and he said with a sigh, “’Cos the new organ’s blowed by electriciteye”. But p’r’aps when I’m gone all the folks will say “No, It don’t sound the same now without poor old Joe!”
  15. This sounds like a good solution, though I prefer to have my phone switched off during a service. But I should admit that my predilection for mechanical pocket watches is because I just like them, and sometimes they actually come in useful!
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