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Guest Barry Williams

Noisy Underactions

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Guest Barry Williams

This afternoon my wife and I were listening to a radio broadcast from King's College Cambridge. The 'thump' of the underactions was very distracting. This often arises from the Swell Organ when there is a double set of under-actions, one for the flues and another for the higher pressure chorus reeds. The pistons were very noisy too.

 

Surely, these days, such unmusical intrusions can be avoided by organ builders, or is this the same as tracker action, where the unremitting clatter is deemed to be an acceptable historical accompaniment to music?

 

Barry Williams

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This afternoon my wife and I were listening to a radio broadcast from King's College Cambridge. The 'thump' of the underactions was very distracting. This often arises from the Swell Organ when there is a double set of under-actions, one for the flues and another for the higher pressure chorus reeds. The pistons were very noisy too.

 

Surely, these days, such unmusical intrusions can be avoided by organ builders, or is this the same as tracker action, where the unremitting clatter is deemed to be an acceptable historical accompaniment to music?

 

Barry Williams

 

I have a CD from Wells cathedral choir and one can hear the same.

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Guest Lee Blick

Noisy Underactions. That is what the vicar's wife suffers from.

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...is this the same as tracker action, where the unremitting clatter is deemed to be an acceptable historical accompaniment to music?

 

Barry Williams

 

I suggest you are playing the wrong actions!

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I guess action noise is pretty well inevitable on an instrument of this age, last overhauled in 1968. The noisiest action I have ever heard is the combination action at Marlow Parish Church, where it sounds as though a barn door is slammed with every piston push!

 

Much more annoying is the way the Beeb still clips the crescendos quite audibly - they have always done it (not just in organ concerts) and I can only assume it is a bad habit that dates from the earliest days of recording.

 

On a more positive note, they actually broadcast an ORGAN RECITAL!! Is this a much looked-for change of policy? David Goode's playing was clean and accurate, miles removed from some of the 'big names' I have heard fluffing recently. The organ sounded splendid in a well chosen and varied Easter programme. Well done to all involved.

 

(As an aside, the best two live performances I have heard for ages were both at the excellent 'Organ Workshop' in the Albert Hall shortly after the completion of the restoration - Clive Driskell Smith played the Allegro from Widor VI magnificently and Martin Baker gave an improvisation which knocked the spots off David Briggs' ramblings at the inaugural concert).

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On a more positive note, they actually broadcast an ORGAN RECITAL!! Is this a much looked-for change of policy? David Goode's playing was clean and accurate, miles removed from some of the 'big names' I have heard fluffing recently.
Rather proves the point made by Cynic recently: http://web16713.vs.netbenefit.co.uk/discus...ost&p=21629

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I can't say I have noticed any distracting action noise in the chapel itself - at least, not when sitting some distance from the organ. Perhaps it's a result of close microphone placement. Or possibly it's more to do with the psychology of hearing - is the ear more capable of ignoring the action noise when present in the building than it is when listening through loudspeakers?

 

The combination action at King's has always gone with a satisfying thud!, even in the early 70's, which wasn't long after the rebuild. I don't think that particular feature is anything to do with the age of the mechanism - it's just part of the charm of the great romantic slush-bucket.

 

Last time I page-turned at York Minster I noticed the action of the choir organ was very noisy. It was like someone was performing a clog dance just above my head. But again, it's not really noticeable on the floor of the Minster if you are east of the choir's stalls.

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The combination action at King's has always gone with a satisfying thud!, even in the early 70's, which wasn't long after the rebuild. I don't think that particular feature is anything to do with the age of the mechanism - it's just part of the charm of the great romantic slush-bucket.

 

Exeter was the same - but due to the fact that there was wind in the console (the combination system prior to 2001 was partly pneumatic). However, the action, which is now Solid-State, is presently considerably quieter. I had thought that the King's combination action had also been converted to Solid-State a few years ago - in which case, it really should not be that noisy.

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Exeter was the same - but due to the fact that there was wind in the console (the combination system prior to 2001 was partly pneumatic). However, the action, which is now Solid-State, is presently considerably quieter. I had thought that the King's combination action had also been converted to Solid-State a few years ago - in which case, it really should not be that noisy.

 

The soundboard drawstop actions can be noisy as well.

 

FF

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Guest Cynic
The combination action at King's has always gone with a satisfying thud!, even in the early 70's, which wasn't long after the rebuild. I don't think that particular feature is anything to do with the age of the mechanism - it's just part of the charm of the great romantic slush-bucket.

 

Last time I page-turned at York Minster I noticed the action of the choir organ was very noisy. It was like someone was performing a clog dance just above my head. But again, it's not really noticeable on the floor of the Minster if you are east of the choir's stalls.

 

1. For years, long after everyone else had gone onto drawstop solenoids, H&H kept to their electropneumatic stop actions. I believe it was deemed to be for reasons of reliability. H&H took/take such a pride in nothing ever going wrong. I know, for instance, that the Royal Festival Hall console was as bulky as it is because those drawstops also had/have a pneumatic element.

 

2. I'm not sure when your last visit to York Minster can have been. I played there recently, and cannot say that any of the action struck me as noisy. The Principal Pipe Organs rebuild must be getting on for ten years old now, surely, so I am a little puzzled.

 

 

As a philosophical thing, if I were offered a new totally silent action on each and every instrument I think I would reject it. Sometimes these sounds can be a little intrusive, but mostly it's all part of experiencing 'the real thing'. I certainly don't reject or fiddle with recording tracks just because there's some action noise. When you sit in a restaurant, you can expect to hear noises from the kitchen. Does this spoil your meal? No, it is proof that the whole show is not just down to a couple of skivvies behind the scenes shoving aluminium boxes into microwave ovens.

 

I remember one stop at Hereford Cathedral having action noise all its own - the Great 4' Flute. I assume this is because it must have been squeezed in with a little soundboard all to itself. That stop is the only instance where action noise has prompted me to make a different 'tonal' decision. Another classic time for actions to be noisy is where, for instance, one might couple a closed Full Swell to a few lighter stops on the Choir organ. To hear two soundboard actions going without enough noise to mask the action can be disconcerting.

 

I'm not into trains, but even so, we are talking (in a similar way) about massive, arcane and splendidly-engineered machinery. The fact that modern replacements can be silent does not stop me loving older models just the way they are.

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2. I'm not sure when your last visit to York Minster can have been. I played there recently, and cannot say that any of the action struck me as noisy. The Principal Pipe Organs rebuild must be getting on for ten years old now, surely, so I am a little puzzled.

 

I believe that it was completed in 1993.

 

Gloucester Cathedral has an interesting (and very useful) design feature with regard to the key action. If no speaking stops are drawn, it is possible to practise silently - no communication is made between the keys and the electro-magnetic action.

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Guest Cynic

 

Gloucester Cathedral has an interesting (and very useful) design feature with regard to the key action. If no speaking stops are drawn, it is possible to practise silently - no communication is made between the keys and the electro-magnetic action.

 

 

 

Aha - and played in this state there is nothing unmusical to listen to and you can hear all the swell equally well. B)

 

Why not switch it off for the same effect? I think you'll find that with an organ switched off, any non- tracker job has the same '(useful) design feature'. Practising with no stops out during a service is a slightly dangerous occupation. This has been partially covered on another topic.

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Guest spottedmetal
Surely, these days, such unmusical intrusions can be avoided by organ builders, or is this the same as tracker action, where the unremitting clatter is deemed to be an acceptable historical accompaniment to music?

Hi!

 

That's nothing compared to a concert to which I went a couple of weeks ago where on a 1980s vegan instrument its emaciated bones rattled to the extent of truly drowning the music on any passage of pedal virtuosity. No it was far from acceptable and we all laughed - yes - in the middle of serious Bach.

 

I thought that the trackers might all be banging against some common support bar but feeling behind the instrument after the recital I discovered 1/2 inch gaps at the end of the trackers. I offered to take a screwdriver on my next visit to inspect properly until I took fright at cardboard windpipes which looked all too easy to damage and possibly impossible to replace. Does anyone have a supply of 1 inch or so cardboard windpipes?

 

Best wishes,

 

Spottedmetal

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I thought that the trackers might all be banging against some common support bar but feeling behind the instrument after the recital I discovered 1/2 inch gaps at the end of the trackers. I offered to take a screwdriver on my next visit to inspect properly until I took fright at cardboard windpipes which looked all too easy to damage and possibly impossible to replace. Does anyone have a supply of 1 inch or so cardboard windpipes?

 

I suspect you have failed to notice the phosphor bronze wire emerging from the end of the wooden trackers.

 

"Cardboard windpipes" are an entirely standard feature of most organbuilding workshops; the few who resist and continue to make their conveyances of lead are few and far between.

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"Cardboard windpipes" are an entirely standard feature of most organbuilding workshops; the few who resist and continue to make their conveyances of lead are few and far between.

 

Well if this is so David, we are still one of the few and far between!

 

'Kopex' or other 'cardboard' types are definately not being used in any situation at HW&S on MY watch!

 

- I'll qualify that: on any NEW jobs.

 

If we take on an overhaul or a 'rebuild' where there is a ton of it, some of it might have to be kept due to too much stuff having been earlier queezed into too little space!

 

DW

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Guest spottedmetal
I suspect you have failed to notice the phosphor bronze wire emerging from the end of the wooden trackers.

 

Thanks for that - having got over the shock of modern (compostable) building techniques :blink: I'll dare to move the pedal organ and look. The wire ends might be hitting some common bar below - the racket was so much that to find a half inch slack was not a surprise.

 

Frustrating when one has a pedal department so in the way as to block access inspection.

 

Might we start a topic for prizes for the makers most guilty of causing difficult access problems?

 

Best wishes

 

Spottedmetal

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Thanks for that - having got over the shock of modern (compostable) building techniques :blink: I'll dare to move the pedal organ and look. The wire ends might be hitting some common bar below - the racket was so much that to find a half inch slack was not a surprise.

 

Frustrating when one has a pedal department so in the way as to block access inspection.

 

Might we start a topic for prizes for the makers most guilty of causing difficult access problems?

 

Best wishes

 

Spottedmetal

 

Move the pedal organ? Good luck! If fed from Kopex then probably just a few off notes.

 

Kopex has been around since the 1960's at least.

 

There are many potential sources of noise - wear in the rollerboards (especially where unbushed and made of aluminium) and other moving joints. Were there any slack in trackers it is unlikely that the notes would work at all as the nature of tracker action requires there to be tension between the key and the pallet. This noise has nothing necessarily to do with diet. I know of some thoroughly carnivorous tracker organs by people like Hill which make a dreadful racket. Ours is not the only age to try new and controversial techniques.

 

Apologies if this seems patronising, but worth bearing in mind. About 18 months ago I fixed a cypher on an organ I was due to give a concert on, and described in the tuning book exactly what I had done in an emergency so it could be undone if the fault was found to originate elsewhere. A few weeks ago I was back there to play again and found a note in the book from an irate tuner saying I should be had up for vandalism because this that and the other had been broken and took them all day to fix. Absolutely nothing to do with me whatsoever (more to do with someone dropping a screwdriver or misplacing a foot), but it does pay to be in a position where you can be certain of your facts when wishing to defend yourself against someone (a tuner) irritated that you may be taking paid work away from them; I took on the comments, and won because I was able to demonstrate some working knowledge of the mechanics. Be less well equipped and expect it to follow you around for many years to come.

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Might we start a topic for prizes for the makers most guilty of causing difficult access problems?

 

Best wishes

 

Spottedmetal

 

Hi

 

One of the silliest I've seen was on an organ by Norman & Beard. The basses of Gt OD2 are on an off-note chest, forming the organ front into a transept - and there were a lot of notes off - the tuner's assumed due to pneumatics needing attention. No great problem - except that to remove the face boards for access the entire Pedal 16ft Open Diapason wuld need to be taken out!

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Thanks for that - having got over the shock of modern (compostable) building techniques :unsure: I'll dare to move the pedal organ and look. The wire ends might be hitting some common bar below - the racket was so much that to find a half inch slack was not a surprise.

 

Frustrating when one has a pedal department so in the way as to block access inspection.

 

Might we start a topic for prizes for the makers most guilty of causing difficult access problems?

 

Best wishes

 

Spottedmetal

 

 

Difficult access is usually caused by trying to get too much into a limited space and more often that the designer has never been an organ tuner.

 

FF

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This afternoon my wife and I were listening to a radio broadcast from King's College Cambridge. The 'thump' of the underactions was very distracting. This often arises from the Swell Organ when there is a double set of under-actions, one for the flues and another for the higher pressure chorus reeds. The pistons were very noisy too.

 

Surely, these days, such unmusical intrusions can be avoided by organ builders, or is this the same as tracker action, where the unremitting clatter is deemed to be an acceptable historical accompaniment to music?

 

Barry Williams

I've went to Kings tonight to hear La Nativite played by Mr Cleobury. You could only just hear the thump of action during quiet solo passages on a single flute. Maybe the radio broadcast mics were in an odd place?

Having not been into Kings for a bit, it struck me how squat and dumpy the case looks from the choir. I know it was deepened many years back, but it just looked like someone had sat on it. Maybe my eyes were playing up in the dim light....

Regards, Oliver.

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Guest spottedmetal
Difficult access is usually caused by trying to get too much into a limited space and more often that the designer has never been an organ tuner.

Well . . . you'd be extremely shocked as the maker's a name that is difficult not to have heard of and I'm sure he's tuned. :rolleyes:

 

I've written to him and asked him if he has a sectional plan he can send or otherwise can give me tips from his personal knowledge. Meanwhile I'll tease the organist who hates his biggie and prefers the anorexic bones of his veggie . . .

 

We'll probably find that the instrument was moved from one place to another and therefore not quite in its original configuration.

 

Best wishes

 

David P

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