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Posts posted by davidh

  1. I acquired a Tascam a while ago, and after reading the small paper 'get started' guide and the large download manual, it all seemed very complicated, so I started using it straight out of the box, and the results have always been very good. There are a lot of bells and whistles for those who like that sort of thing, but most of us can happily ignore them.

    Audacity is fairly easy, with most options best left alone. When I have wanted to analyse the detailed sounds of some pipes it is far from adequate, but I haven't found any better free software.

  2. Last year Folo Paril told me of the problems that he had synchronising with singers, given the distance and the finite speed of sound. He told me that his negative delay system hadn’t worked well as he had hoped. He now has a far better arrangement, a detached wireless console which allows him to sit almost among his choir.

    Folo is never satisfied, and now, listening to the organ where he can hear it better, he is aware that the pipes in the treble speak sooner than the ones in the bass. He thought  about the design of the pallets, aware that their perimeter was more important than their area and he increased their leverage to admit air more rapidly in the bass. He also played with the voicing and concluded that the physics of the system would always mean that a larger pipe would take longer to reach full speech.

    The only way to achieve simultaneity was to delay the treble pipes so that they began sounding at the same time as the ones in the bass. He accordingly added delays to the signals from the console, in proportion to the speaking delay of each pipe. Of course that means a slightly longer time before the notes are heard, but nothing like the delays that resulted from tubular pneumatic actions – and organists coped with them.

    Now he is not sure that he likes the sound of it. Perhaps the slightly different delays help us to distinguish between the different voices in contrapuntal music. Perhaps the ear is aware that in nature large things move more slowly than small ones. He is assembling a panel of psycho-acoustic experts and musicians to judge the effects of sychronising pipe speech.


    1. The designers of electronic instruments should not make all voices sound simulteously without considering whether this is really desirable.

    2. Televisions, DVD players and soundbars all perform a lot of processing, each with its own delay time. The standard remedy is to add extra delays to the fastest units so that sound and vision are in synchronisation. This is easily defeated by television stations which do not equalise the processing times of sound and video paths, but sometimes the fault is in the receiver - try changing channels and then change back again to clear the sound buffers.

  3. Colin Pykett recommended a Zoom recorder and he mentioned that similar devices are available from Tascam. I go on annual organ tours with the same group of people, a few of whom have very high-spec recorders, but several have Zooms and Tascams. I bought a Tascam DR-05, currently about £85, and had little time to play with it before the last trip, and certainly no time to work through the extensive options in the manual, so I just did the minimum amount of set-up, put it on a camera tripod and set it to record.


    I am very pleased with the results. It is easy to transfer them to a PC where they need little editing, other than cutting the pieces from a recital into separate tracks.

  4. Folo Paril told me of a problem that he has just solved. He often has to accompany the church’s favourite soprano, but, as he is high up in the organ loft and she is almost at the other end of the church, it is difficult to provide a sensitive and responsive accompaniment. There is a perceptible delay before the sounds of the organ reach her and the same delay before her voice is heard back in the organ loft.

    His first attempted solution was CCTV and the almost instaneous response of an old analogue system might have helped, but modern digital systems respond too slowly. Folo eliminated the return time from the singer by placing a radio microphone near the singer to relay her sound back to his headphones, but there was still the delay before the organ sound reached her.

    He then had a new idea. He has a digital reverberation system attached to the electronic organ on which he practices at home. His device is entirely digital. It stores sound samples in a circular buffer and the samples are read out with various delays and summed in various proportions to simulate a variety of different acoustics. Folo observed that by selecting only values close to a particular delay it is possible to create an echo effect with a delay expressed in microseconds as a number greater than zero. He has now modified the software in the device so that it will accept negative numbers and this produces a negative delay. Thus he hears the singer in perfect synchronisation with his playing.

    I told him that this contradicted the basic laws of physics. He passed me his Tascam sound recorder and sent me downstairs with the instruction that I should not press the start button until I heard his first note. I protested that the recording would omit much of the first second of his music, but he told me to try it. When we played it back there was a brief silence before his first note was heard clearly from the beginning. Somehow it had started recording before I pressed the start button. If readers doubt this, I urge them to experiment with a Tascam or similar recorder, and they will prove for themselves that these have the gift of prophecy, beginning to record two seconds before the record button is pressed.






    · A Tascam can buffer the sounds that it hears before it starts recording, and when the record button is pressed it will transfer the contents of the buffer to the output file before it starts adding new sounds. For this to work it has to be switched to ‘pre-record’ mode.

  5. Thank you for those suggestions. I'm sure that a modern continuo organ would be very effective, and its compact format would not be obtrusive. Is that format a recent invention, or were there much earlier instruments like these?


    The Lorenzo da Pavia organ, 3.20 m high, would not be so convenient - and there were to be two such organs. The illustrations of early instruments that I have seen are far from compact.


    What compass would be necessary? Without checking the whole score, I know that the bass goes down to at least DD, and while a chittarone might play the lower notes, there are occasions when only the organ is marked in the score.


    Why two organs? Perhaps to permit echo effects!


    Wonderful though Monteverdi is, his scores leave a lot of room for guesswork today.

  6. Monteverdi's opera Orfeo requires a large variety of accompanying instruments. Much of the score is melody + figured bass, with the continuo players left to realise the notes. Among the instruments are "two organs of wood" and a regal.


    Does anyone have any information of what these organs might have been, and perhaps even a link to an online source with an illustration of anything similar, please?


  7. Liverpool is a great tribute to organs in this country, BUT I personally find its been over recorded by all and sundry (incl me 4 times). I , as a "non player" have heard, that the voicers of organs, always voice the organ they are doing, as to be at the best sounding from a reasonable height, as heard by the people that play, or a congregation, so am I missing something about recording from great heights, or "flying" the microphone in the stratosphere, so as to avoid noise, etc.


    In many Dutch churches there are raised galleries for the notables. I assumed that they were to provided so that the occupants could see and hear the preacher better. Now I see that they were put in the "sweet spots" for the organ. I propose that UK churches with good organs should build similar galleries so that those musically inclined could share the best recording microphone position.

  8. I am very sad to hear of the death of John S Smith.

    My aunts, who were his neighbours, introduced me to him just after his father died and they thought that he would appreciate some company. At our first meeting in his home, about 1957, he played the adagio from BWV564 on his reed organ - and on that instrument it sounded very well. At that time I had only heard transcriptions, hymns and rather sentimental pieces on the organ, but John introduced me to Buxtehude and Couperin which sounded very strange until I quickly became hooked on "real" organ music.

    I went with him to Hove Town Hall just before their Willis was sold 1959 to Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School - and before the Town Hall burnt down. He played, among other pieces, Bach's Toccata and Fugue in F, BWV 540, and he let me play a hymn tune, so I was one of the last people to play that organ in its original home.

    I have encountered John on many occasions since then, nearly always at recitals. He eventually swapped his reed organ for an electronic, and started buying organ recordings. With both of these he was critical about sound quality, and waited until there was equipment that he could bear to listen to.

    He was always enthusiastic and encouraging, very well informed and willing to share his knowledge. I owe my passion for the organ to John. If it had not been for him, I don't know whether I would have ever known about the instrument's potential, and certainly I would not have become aware of it so early.

  9. At present there are no satisfactory substitutes for 32’ and 64’organ pipes, but they require a lot of space and a lot of money.


    Folo Paril recently suggested a new approach. It is well known that inhaling helium (now considered risky) raises the pitch of the voice. It follows that heavier gases will produce lower pitches from physical systems of identical size. He proposes organ pipes sounding in atmospheres of Xenon or Sulfur Hexafluoride. The speed of sound in air is 343m/s, in Xenon it is 169m/s and in SF6 it is 134m/s. He is currently researching other gases with even lower speeds of sound. Therefore substantially smaller pipes will be sufficient for the lower frequencies. He suggests that the 32’ and 64’ terminology should be retained, even though the pipes will no longer be those physical lengths.


    It is unreasonable to expect the audience to breath unusual gases, so the bass organ chambers will be enclosed in solid surrounds with fronts of gas-tight but acoustically transparent membranes. As the chambers will be be sealed, the gas can be recirculated through the blower. The heat gained by compression in the blower will be lost as the gas expands through the pipes, so low-energy thermal controllers will be sufficient to match the temperature in the enclosure to the surrounding air, avoiding mismatches of pitch.


    Mr Paril is prepared to licence his technology to builders, subject to the usual agreements on commercial confidentiality and the payment of large sums of money.

  10. A great loss to the musical world. His "Life of Bach" had the merits of being brief, scholarly, offering new hypotheses and very readable. For we organists there is nothing else comparable to his book "The Organ Works of Bach".


    I still remember with great pleasure a piece which he wrote for Early Music, about 40 years ago, entitled, "A toccata and fugue in D minor for organ by J. S. Bach" in which he questioned every part or the title. "Toccata AND FUGUE"; no other pieces of that time had that title, "Toccata" was enough as it would automatically end with a fugue", "In D minor"; there is a good case for arguing that the original key was a minor. "For organ"; it fits better on a violin. "By J. S. Bach"; there are no early manuscripts or attributions to JSB, the piece is crude by his standards, even as a student work, and there were some unusual harmonies (but then JSB often did unusual things).


    Whoever wrote it, there is a good case for asserting that it was originally for violin solo, and the limitations of the fugue were to make it playable on that instrument. In A minor it works well as several recordings have demonstrated.

  11. That seems like a fair price. Clavichord touch is very different from that of pianos and organs as the key is connected to the string for as long as it sounds, so finger pressure affects pitch, and even allows for "bebung" (vibrato). If a key is not depressed firmly it can chatter as the tangent hits the string. The positive aspect is that the player has far more control, but the downside is that it is much harder to learn the appropriate touch.


    Morley instruments are designed to make things easier for the pianist, but at the expensive of being less sensitive to touch than instruments which have been built along more traditional lines. The prospective purchaser needs to be aware that there is a trade-off.

  12. Forgive me if this has been posted previously, but the website http://allofbach.com/en/ is gradually cataloging performances of all of J.S.Bach's works, and among the music already available is quite a bit of organ music, not just video performances but background notes and introductory videos by the performers as well. It is a project of the Netherlands Bach Society. Well worth a look.

    See my post of 23rd August 2014



  13. True, but instrumentalists nowadays tend to use electronic tuners in order to obtain equal pitch unter all circumstances. Those do not react to changes in temperature.




    O tempora, o mores! Have they no ears? How can you tune a choir to sing at the same pitch as the organ?

  14. Also, as is well known, the pitch of a pipe organ shifts significantly with temperature, so unless the church is consistently heated to the same temperature, tuning, especially with brass & wooding, can become a big problem.


    Curious. Pitch changes with temperature, to a very small amount because thermal expansion makes the pipes longer, but to a much larger extent because the speed of sound in air changes. Surely the same factors will affect the tuning of the brass and woodwind instruments to a similar extent. Pianos and electronics (if present, heaven help us) won't move in the same way, and nor will the organ's reeds where the pitch is largely determined by the vibration of the reed, with the air column having a smaller contribution.

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