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Re-engineering The Organ

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In the "modular" organ stakes, John Compton was light-years ahead of his competitors, and the quality second to none.

You write as though there was something worthwhile about the idea of the modular organ.

 

But if it weren't for the "developments" of particularly H-J and JC there wouldn't have been such a fertile ground for the ideas of organ-reform to be planted. If British organ builders had carried on building Hills and Bevingtons and Lewises and Father Willises we have have had organs with integrity that the generation above me would have been satisfied with in the 1950s and 60s. The rot set in with the engineers. IMHO.

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You write as though there was something worthwhile about the idea of the modular organ.

 

But if it weren't for the "developments" of particularly H-J and JC there wouldn't have been such a fertile ground for the ideas of organ-reform to be planted. If British organ builders had carried on building Hills and Bevingtons and Lewises and Father Willises we have have had organs with integrity that the generation above me would have been satisfied with in the 1950s and 60s. The rot set in with the engineers. IMHO.

 

 

=============================

 

You are confusing the terminology of the "Unit Organ" with that of "Modular Construction;" the latter a possible method of organ-building which, if not entirely new, would actually replace the necessity for bespoke hand-craftmaship with a "nuts and bolts approach" using as many standardised components as possible. It is a feature of modern car-building, where the parts bin is often shared substantially from one model to the next; hence the fact that Leyland/Daf trucks use Rover heater knobs, which also happen to be shared by Honda!!

 

To certain extent, this applies now, in that whole key-boards, stickers,bushes, roller-boards, felts, pedal-boards, swell-pedals, thumb-pistons, toe-pistons (etc etc) are fairly simple and quite often identical component parts. Many of these components can be bought off-the-shelf from supply-houses, and as many organ-builders share the same sources, the replication of parts actually crosses national and international boundaries to some extent.

 

The "Unit Organ" with its individual chests and electric-action was a natural candidate for a degree of mass-production, and John Compton very wisely went down that route, due to the enormous order-book the company had to fulfil. It is also true to say that the Compton company was by far the biggest organ-building "works," rather than a collection of sheds or an old converted Co-Op shop. Within those premises was a proper engineering-plant, in addition to the usual things found in other organ-building workshops, and to all intents and purposes, every Compton was truly a "factory organ."

 

Assuming that an organ-builder can tell a good piece of timber from a piece of "Formica" faced chipboard, and assuming that they don't buy inferior materials or component parts, the core skill of organ craftsmanship is in the making of windchests, and (when they are made on the premises rather than bought in) organ-pipes.

 

What interests me is the possibility that a great deal of traditional hand-crafting could be dispensed with if engineering design replaced it; and yet I am still referring to tracker-action as we would understand it, and one which would still be performing exactly the same function as a traditional wind-chest, albeit in a different way.

 

Consider a wooden wind-chest for a moment, which is constructed from a fairly "elastic" material, wood. As we all know, even well seasoned wood will only take so much before it warps or splits, and even the best made windchests demonstrate a slight degree of leakage even when everything is true, flat and of a piece. As Pierre pointed out, Walcker had so many problems in Russia with conventional wind-chests, they developed a new type of chest which would prove more reliable in harsh conditions. It is possible the reason why so many American organs use Roosevelt or Pitman chests, but of course, the "unit organ" factor is also an important consideration when discussing American instruments.

 

Now, a conventional slider-chest incorporates a time-tested, but relatively crude double valving arrangement, where pressurised wind is first allowed into a channel, and then blocked-off or not (as the case may be) by whatever sliders are in the off or on position. Very large wind-chests need to incorporate a great deal of internal strength and rigidity for all this valving to work properly and reliably, but in essence, it is still a single "module" repeated 61 times one way, and maybe 10 to 20 times the other way, depending on the number of stops.....that's 610 to 1220 things to go wrong in a serious drought!! Obviously, there are differences in actual dimensions, depending upon the physical space and winding requirements of a particular rank or multiple ranks of pipes, as in say, a Mixture: so it isn't entirely straightforward.

 

However, to cut back to the chase, each hole of every slider, and each hole in every top-board; each channel, each pallet and each tracker and spring, are doing exactly the same job as the next one, and the one beyond, and the one beyond that. There is therefore a certain replication of duty, if not entirely a replication of physical dimensions.

 

Now thinking purely vertically for a moment, we have a primary valve in the form of a pallet, which permits wind to escape from a pressurised chamber, which then charges another chamber above it. (Let's call this the primary valve machine, for the sake of expediency). I can personally see no reason why, as piece of engineering design, this could not be a quite a straightforward, and entirely seperate primary valve unit bolted to the structure above. That said, I cannot personally see a better way of doing it than the traditional pallet-valve, which not only works smoothly and reliably, but also provides the right degree of resitance in the form of key-pluck.

 

Turning out attention to the sliders, (our Secondary Valve Machine) these could be virtually eliminated by the use of simple sleeve valves; all of which (61 of them) could be connected to a single activating rod, and perhaps set in the upper-boards vertically, for ease of construction and subequent access. In fact, every sleeve valve (or perhaps rotary valve) could be of identical size and contruction (maybe a selection of standard sizes); the main variation being in the port-size at the outflow leading to the seperately constructed toe-boards on which the pipes would sit; that paeticular component bolted to the secondary valve machine.

 

Now I don't know enough about materials science to be able to suggest the ideal materials, but one thing I do know, and that is the fact that the only critical parts would be the actual valves themselves and the seals which would have to be placed between each seperate module. However, what it would eliminate is the laborius process of carving up bits of wood, then hand planing and sanding them, which takes up so much time and energy. Instead, the critical valving would be the function of precision engineered components, which would be unaffected by the sort of movement associated with wood. Even better, if the wooden components could be replaced with stable laminates, or other more sophisticated materials.

 

There is a further advantage, in that the seperate modules could be made in such a way that they themselves could be bolted together (using a through-bolt contruction) side-by-side, and dropped into a suitable channel or even mounted on some sort of chassis. Thus, a windchest of virtually any size could be added to, or modified without recourse to extensive and very expensive man-hours; one module added, or a replacement one slotted in where a change of specification would be desirable.

 

Of course, you would probably all be doing me a favour if you suggested that I was barking-mad, but I'm afraid that after years of thinking about this, I would suggest that even the finest craftsmanship now represents both clumsy design and rather crude engineering.

 

MM

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It is a feature of modern car-building

Cars? Don't talk to me about cars! Mine wasn't running properly. I took it to our garage. The man hooked it up to his computer. "Oh dear," he said, "our computer won't talk to your car's computer; you'll have to take it to someone who's got one who will. There's only two of those in town." So off we went to one of them. The man plugged his computer in, read the print-out and quoted us £1,000 "at least" to put it right - and charged us £35-odd for the privilege. Off we went and spoke to the man with the other computer. He nodded knowingly: "Oh, I wouldn't trust computers," he said. "It could be that, or it could just as easily be this. Price will be about the same though." Personally I suspect they were both wrong and that the computer itself was on the blink.

 

In the old days our mechanic would have just lifted the bonnet, scratched his chin, tweaked a few things with his spanner and bare hands and cured the problem in a trice.

 

Modern technology? Pah! B)

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Turning out attention to the sliders, (our Secondary Valve Machine) these could be virtually eliminated by the use of simple sleeve valves; all of which (61 of them) could be connected to a single activating rod, and perhaps set in the upper-boards vertically, for ease of construction and subequent access. In fact, every sleeve valve (or perhaps rotary valve) could be of identical size and contruction (maybe a selection of standard sizes); the main variation being in the port-size at the outflow leading to the seperately constructed toe-boards on which the pipes would sit; that paeticular component bolted to the secondary valve machine.

 

 

MM

 

This sounds all rather complicatesd. The great advantage of the slider is that is one piece, operated by one mechanism. Rotary or sleeve valves may work, but I can't see that the engineering expertise involved in making them would be readily and affordably available to the Organ building industry, and in any case, unless I've misunderstood the nature of a sleeve valve, it is only a variant of the traditional slider anyway. A slider is, after all, simply a string of valves all on one long board.

 

The more individual pieces of mechanism you have, the more there is to go wrong. A bit like a car - the more pistons the engine has, the easier it is for things to go out of adjustment, and with it the need for more maintenance.

 

I'm also sorry to say that I don't follow your maths. 10 stops and 61 notes is 71 things to go wrong, not 610. It is a great tribute to the bar and slider chest that it is as reliable and long lasting as it is, especially in view of how seldom they are given major attention. Try leaving your car for 30 years without a major service!

 

Regards to all

 

John

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You write as though there was something worthwhile about the idea of the modular organ.

 

But if it weren't for the "developments" of particularly H-J and JC there wouldn't have been such a fertile ground for the ideas of organ-reform to be planted. If British organ builders had carried on building Hills and Bevingtons and Lewises and Father Willises we have have had organs with integrity that the generation above me would have been satisfied with in the 1950s and 60s. The rot set in with the engineers. IMHO.

 

Precisely.

 

You are confusing the terminology of the "Unit Organ" with that of "Modular Construction;" the latter a possible method of organ-building which, if not entirely new, would actually replace the necessity for bespoke hand-craftmaship with a "nuts and bolts approach" using as many standardised components as possible.

 

No, he's not. Bespoke hand-craftsmanship is the only thing differentiates one organ from another.

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=============================

Now I don't know enough about materials science to be able to suggest the ideal materials...

I am beginning to think you don't know enough about organ building, and seriously don't understand your determination to have us all playing standardised bolted-together organs which cannot cope with any special circumstances (which there always are) and which require no artistry or talent to make a success. It's not what you do, it's the way that you do it.

 

If HJ and Compton were so great, where are they now? What instruments there are of Compton's are being nursed along at great expense (see HTH, Downside, Bournemouth Pavilion - all would be in rack and ruin were it not for the personal enthusiasm and ministration of one or two individuals). How old are they? Multiply that age by 2 or 3 and you will find mechanical organs which work perfectly of that age, and are likely to go on doing so, save for a few 'consumables' like leather.

 

Now tell me what good engineering is. Is it making something dazzlingly and brilliantly new, or is it making something that works? Which organs, therefore, represent the best engineering - the ones which still work 2 or 3 hundred years later, or the ones which have been basically knackered since the age of 40 or 50 save for an enthusiast with some gaffer tape holding them together? In some circumstances, someone might be able to scrape the half a million quid together for a major rebuild, which will get another 40 to 50 years service before the gaffer tape comes out again.

 

However, what it would eliminate is the laborius process of carving up bits of wood, then hand planing and sanding them, which takes up so much time and energy.

 

It probably takes five minutes to drill holes in a slider once they have been marked, again quite a quick process. You could make all the sliders on a 15-stop soundboard in a morning, and have them graphited by lunchtime. What you are suggesting in its place would take days and days and days, you wouldn't be able to test it until the organ was in place (with sliders, you can look and see that the holes are in the right place), and my money is on it going wrong constantly and frequently requiring every pipe to be lifted out in order to effect one small and simple repair, perhaps to just one note.

 

Personally, I don't care how long it takes to carve up a bit of wood and plane it; if it's going to work for 200 years, then it's worth it.

 

I would suggest that even the finest craftsmanship now represents both clumsy design and rather crude engineering.

 

This is the most preposterous statement I have ever seen in print, and I find it curiously depressing that anyone could be so short-sighted and ill-informed to think that.

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As a former "oily rag", I know my place, so won't enter the argument. However, anything that helps to make the genuine pipe organ more affordable must be worth considering.

 

VH, I sympathise with you about your car; I know the feeling well. Then I think back to my lovely old Austin 10 and the need to take hot water bottles and rugs when setting off on a winter journey and decide that modern cars do have some advantages.

JC

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Guest Barry Oakley

If HJ and Compton were so great, where are they now? What instruments there are of Compton's are being nursed along at great expense (see HTH, Downside, Bournemouth Pavilion - all would be in rack and ruin were it not for the personal enthusiasm and ministration of one or two individuals). How old are they? Multiply that age by 2 or 3 and you will find mechanical organs which work perfectly of that age, and are likely to go on doing so, save for a few 'consumables' like leather.

 

It’s been my experience over the past 30 or 40 years of involvement and discussion with organ builders (UK., USA., France and Holland), that almost without exception they spoke of John Compton as being much ahead of his time. And, of course, he did learn his craft from some revered names in the business.

 

HTH (presume this means Holy Trinity, Hull) is a great testimony to John Compton. OK, it’s now not without some wind leaks and a few stops are off, etc., but it’s not been touched for nigh on 70 years and yet still sounds pretty exquisite as Paul Derrett (Cynic) can testify. And I also understand that some of the leatherwork attributable to Forster & Andrews in their 19th century part of the organ is still functioning as intended. To have not renewed such leatherwork in the 1937/38 rebuild must have been an astute piece of judgement on Compton’s part. In the time that Holy Trinity’s Compton has gone untouched, many organs have undergone at least a couple of rebuilds. So much for “where is John Compton now?”

 

I cannot speak of Downside, and can only refer to the organ in Hull City Hall during and after the Compton rebuild in the early 1950’s which I had the privilege (albeit as a schoolboy) of observing at the time. Organists whose judgement I trust tell me that Compton (essentially Jimmy Taylor at the time) positively transformed the original 1911 Forster & Andrews and made it the superb instrument it is today. Problems are starting to appear now (56 years on) with some of the Compton leatherwork which is now being progressively renewed. But if 56 years seems shortlived it must be remembered that the quality of post-war organ leathers were not of a particularly high quality.

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HTH (presume this means Holy Trinity, Hull) is a great testimony to John Compton. OK, it’s now not without some wind leaks and a few stops are off, etc., but it’s not been touched for nigh on 70 years and yet still sounds pretty exquisite as Paul Derrett (Cynic) can testify.

 

Nobody would doubt that Compton did some amazing work, had some brilliant ideas, and all the rest of it; that wasn't the point. The point was that HTH is only being kept going because of Paul Derrett spending hours and hours inside it, patching up, getting stops back on that have been silent for years, all that kind of thing. This is not unique to Compton. What about St Mary's Southampton - AJT's former residence - really amazing organ, but at 50-something years old it's teetering on the brink of collapse (as it has for some years, I understand) and in urgent need of £300,000 or so to get it working again.

 

We were speaking of making modular organs, and the perception that it would be cheaper. Perhaps to do in the first place it might be, marginally. From the nation's stock of 150-year-old tracker organs which have had maybe two or three cleanings in their lives, and are generally over-maintained, it ought to be self-evident that the longer term view is considerably different, and from that the conclusion would have to be that the notion of affordability has virtually nothing to do with initial outlay, and everything to do with providing something which will last beyond a generation or two before requiring half a mil to hold it together.

 

The best craftsmanship coming out today can confidently expect to last unlike any other instrument before - because, believe it or not, even some 'caveman' organs incorporate some modern materials, ideas and contrivances to enhance their performance and reliability, hand in hand with what is proven by several hundred years of tradition. That is where real progress is made, not in trying to re-invent the wheel.

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Since any organ is made up of 'actionwork', 'wind(ing)work and 'speaking/pipework', shouldn't we agree the organ is modular in it's very basic concept?

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Since any organ is made up of 'actionwork', 'wind(ing)work and 'speaking/pipework', shouldn't we agree the organ is modular in it's very basic concept?

 

modular in that it has modules, yes. Modular in the sense of mass produced plug'n'play modules, which is what I think folks are talking about, no.

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Cars? Don't talk to me about cars! Mine wasn't running properly. I took it to our garage. The man hooked it up to his computer. "Oh dear," he said, "our computer won't talk to your car's computer; you'll have to take it to someone who's got one who will. There's only two of those in town." So off we went to one of them. The man plugged his computer in, read the print-out and quoted us £1,000 "at least" to put it right - and charged us £35-odd for the privilege. Off we went and spoke to the man with the other computer. He nodded knowingly: "Oh, I wouldn't trust computers," he said. "It could be that, or it could just as easily be this. Price will be about the same though." Personally I suspect they were both wrong and that the computer itself was on the blink.

 

In the old days our mechanic would have just lifted the bonnet, scratched his chin, tweaked a few things with his spanner and bare hands and cured the problem in a trice.

 

Modern technology? Pah! :angry:

 

 

===========================

 

 

:):):):)

 

 

What you do dear Vox, is to go into Yahoo and sign up to a car-make "group."

 

You then learn about "fault codes" and how to get them displayed on the dashboard.

 

Then you stroll along to your dealer and say something like, "The ambient temperature sensor is playing up."

 

It's so easy when you know how!

 

MM

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I am beginning to think you don't know enough about organ building, and seriously don't understand your determination to have us all playing standardised bolted-together organs which cannot cope with any special circumstances (which there always are) and which require no artistry or talent to make a success. It's not what you do, it's the way that you do it.

 

If HJ and Compton were so great, where are they now? What instruments there are of Compton's are being nursed along at great expense (see HTH, Downside, Bournemouth Pavilion - all would be in rack and ruin were it not for the personal enthusiasm and ministration of one or two individuals). How old are they? Multiply that age by 2 or 3 and you will find mechanical organs which work perfectly of that age, and are likely to go on doing so, save for a few 'consumables' like leather.

 

Now tell me what good engineering is. Is it making something dazzlingly and brilliantly new, or is it making something that works? Which organs, therefore, represent the best engineering - the ones which still work 2 or 3 hundred years later, or the ones which have been basically knackered since the age of 40 or 50 save for an enthusiast with some gaffer tape holding them together? In some circumstances, someone might be able to scrape the half a million quid together for a major rebuild, which will get another 40 to 50 years service before the gaffer tape comes out again.

It probably takes five minutes to drill holes in a slider once they have been marked, again quite a quick process. You could make all the sliders on a 15-stop soundboard in a morning, and have them graphited by lunchtime. What you are suggesting in its place would take days and days and days, you wouldn't be able to test it until the organ was in place (with sliders, you can look and see that the holes are in the right place), and my money is on it going wrong constantly and frequently requiring every pipe to be lifted out in order to effect one small and simple repair, perhaps to just one note.

 

Personally, I don't care how long it takes to carve up a bit of wood and plane it; if it's going to work for 200 years, then it's worth it.

This is the most preposterous statement I have ever seen in print, and I find it curiously depressing that anyone could be so short-sighted and ill-informed to think that.

 

 

==============================

 

 

Well at least you haven't called me a madman!!!! :angry:

 

Now just hang on a moment! Why on earth are we comparing like with unlike?

Why are you referring to EP action organs, where I was referring to mechnical-action ones?

Why are you suggesting that I am proposing that all organs be the same?

Why do you think that the modular alternative could not last as long as what is made now?

 

Your assertion that sliders can be knocked together in a morning is a bit rich, to say the least. The drilling of holes is possibly the easiest part of the process, and you still have to make the table on which they run, and this is where the intensive labour occurs.

 

A sleeve-valve arrangement is doing exactly the same thing, but using a properly engineered module worked to very fine tolerances. Under the sort of low-stress situation found in organs, they could perhaps last a thousand years!

 

I stand by what I said, that organs are fairly crude pieces of engineering, but there may be a kind of elegance in the know-how which enables them to work reliably.....in fact, I know there to be.

 

It may help your case if you re-read what I actually wrote, rather than flying off at a tangent and being found making spurious statements which are quite enrelated to what I was writing about.

 

MM

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If HJ and Compton were so great, where are they now?

 

I think the Hope-Jones designed standard chest magnet, barely modified and still in production on both sides of the Atlantic, must surely be the ultimate modular primary valve action. Absolutely standard, easy to install, easy to replace, and very efficient.

 

Likewise Compton's compound magnet is another fantastic bit of modular organ technology, introducing an extra action stage without necessitating any extra work in construction of the chest or under-action. Again, they're still readily available, and being used.

 

MM is approaching this debate from a theoretical standpoint, and I'm sure he appreciates a beautifully craftsman-built tracker action as much as anyone else. Everything has a finite life-span, so it may well be that the few remaining Hope-Jones instruments are dead on their feet, and that various Comptons are being nursed along, but I have in my time played quite a large number of craftsmen-built tracker instruments in various rural locations that - although they still play after a fashion - are also dying on their feet after going on for 80-odd years without any real maintenance.

 

Incidentally, my experience of the Bournemouth Pavilion instrument is that, whilst back when I first came into contact with it in 1978 was in deplorable condition, it is now in excellent playing order - and still using not only all its original chests and pipework, but also the original Compton relays which still work perfectly well. The only change has been the installation of a multi-level piston capture system, as the (still existing) 1934 setter obviously only holds one set of piston settings.

 

Steve (a proud Compton owner!)

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Incidentally, my experience of the Bournemouth Pavilion instrument is that, whilst back when I first came into contact with it in 1978 was in deplorable condition, it is now in excellent playing order...

 

The Pavilion organ is kept alive by Christian Knighton and Tim Trenchard between them.

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MM is approaching this debate from a theoretical standpoint, and I'm sure he appreciates a beautifully craftsman-built tracker action as much as anyone else.

 

I'm not sure he does!

 

At least, not on the evidence of "I would suggest that even the finest craftsmanship now represents both clumsy design and rather crude engineering." Or that "the only tool a craftsman needs is a screw-driver and design kit." Or that "a master craftsman need hardly ever leave his office chair." These may not be the precise words, but they're pretty close, and must be extremely disheartening to those who take their work seriously.

 

Things go on being made as they are because it works! Modifications and tweaks happen to make them last longer or work better! If it ain't bust, don't fix it!

 

The very basic elements of an organ - that there is an action, wind, and pipes - are of course modular. Every single question beyond that - beginning even before the stoplist is drawn up - demands an assessment of the individual situation of the proposed organ down to every conceivable micro-detail. To find the answers to those technical, musical and aesthetic questions in a standard parts bin would seem to suggest you are either extremely fortunate, or are guilty of not having given sufficient thought to the problems you face, or that you and your customer are willing to accept a fairly large element of compromise in what you are doing.

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The Pavilion organ is kept alive by Christian Knighton and Tim Trenchard between them.

 

 

Err.. it's certainly maintained by them.

 

Chris and originally Derry Thompson, then Tim, undertook to completely re-build the organ in stages from 1978 onwards, and it is now in splendid condition.

 

They certainly maintain it, and repair any faults as they arise - but surely you'd want that for any organ? I'm sure you've mentioned that the Barker machines at Romsey need occasional adjustment when they get noisy. However, to suggest that the Pavilion organ is 'being kept alive' is just plain wrong. That it got into such a state in the first place is entirely down to a complete lack of spending on it by the council throughout the 1970s. It is now very much alive, and testimony to the thought and care that went into its design and building.

 

I'm not quite sure why you seem to be so defensive of the craft of hand building tracker organs, while being so dismissive of the results of a certain amount of factory technology. The two types of instruments are chalk and cheese and, after all, this debate is purely about the technology of the action and how it's realised, and indeed was originally, as far as I can tell, purely related to mechanical transmissions

 

The fact that - like it or not - several firms (run by very clever and astute people like J.I. Taylor) managed to build reliable actions using a factory and small-scale production line ideas, does not in any way detract from the work currently being done by people like Bill Drake.

 

S

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I'm not sure he does!

 

At least, not on the evidence of "I would suggest that even the finest craftsmanship now represents both clumsy design and rather crude engineering."

 

Yes, that might be slightly over-stating the case!

 

However, let me give you an example of what he means. I am very interested in clocks - specifically turret clocks. I have in my collection a nice clock built in 1816 which once adorned North Hyde Barracks in Hounslow. Apart from the frame castings it was entirely hand made by craftsmen in a workshop in Clerkenwell using technology which essentially hadn't really changed since the 14th century. Save for the pivots, nothing runs true. The wheel crossings are uneven, and if you don't put exactly the right nuts on exactly the right studs you can't bolt the whole thing together. Even the two - nominally identical - frame ends will only go on their own end!

 

Contrast this to another one I know well at Cardiff City Hall. Built in 1906 in a 'Steam Clock Factory' using the then very latest technology. Wheels were cast and machined, everything is beautifully engineered, similar parts (nuts and bolts) are entirely interchangable, and overall it projects the image af a fine piece of factory made precision engineering.

 

I am envious of the newer clock, but I still like mine, and - at the end of the day - they are both perfectly capable of telling the time :angry:

 

S

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Err.. it's certainly maintained by them.

 

Chris and originally Derry Thompson, then Tim, undertook to completely re-build the organ in stages from 1978 onwards, and it is now in splendid condition.

 

They certainly maintain it, and repair any faults as they arise - but surely you'd want that for any organ? I'm sure you've mentioned that the Barker machines at Romsey need occasional adjustment when they get noisy. However, to suggest that the Pavilion organ is 'being kept alive' is just plain wrong. That it got into such a state in the first place is entirely down to a complete lack of spending on it by the council throughout the 1970s. It is now very much alive, and testimony to the thought and care that went into its design and building.

 

I'm not quite sure why you seem to be so defensive of the craft of hand building tracker organs, while being so dismissive of the results of a certain amount of factory technology. The two types of instruments are chalk and cheese and, after all, this debate is purely about the technology of the action and how it's realised, and indeed was originally, as far as I can tell, purely related to mechanical transmissions

 

The fact that - like it or not - several firms (run by very clever and astute people like J.I. Taylor) managed to build reliable actions using a factory and small-scale production line ideas, does not in any way detract from the work currently being done by people like Bill Drake.

 

S

 

Well, my understanding must have been wrong then - a respected local organist who knows it, Christian and Tim very well has stated in writing several times (without evident contradiction) that it has had no major work since 1929 and is not in such good condition as you say. I have been trying to get to see it for some time. Meanwhile, I stand corrected.

 

The Barker machine at Romsey has not needed any tweaks at all in the two years I've been there - only the Swell action needs the occasional adjustment, as you might expect with a 30 foot run of trackers going through a narrow stone aperture (originally intended for pneumatic tubing) and at all kinds of funny angles. This has no relevance on the point, but since you mention it, I thought I'd put you in the picture.

 

I am defensive of the craft aspects because some people are stating that craftsmanship is irrelevant, outdated and pointless, and that we actually need a catalogue, fax machine and battery drill - on top of the quotes I gave in the last post, I recall something along the lines of "craftsmanship for its own sake" - and it's that which I object to so strongly. There is, quite obviously, an element of repetitiveness and 'production line' in every workshop, making stoppers and action parts and doing the many other repetetive tasks there are. I am keen to point out that there is a middle way, and that belief in craftsmanship and traditional values does not of itself mean the death of invention - far from it - I might even suggest that someone with total emotional involvement with a project is far more likely to come up with an innovative solution (and be prepared to invest time and resources into testing it) than someone flicking through a catalogue. That's at one level. At the next, with mechanical organs, you have to consider whether you can mass-produce a few thousand backfalls and put them in a parts bin somewhere, or whether you might like to give a little more thought than that to how a particular action is going to be geared to give the best touch and the least friction. The other danger, of course (and this is going to sound terribly snobbish, but it does happen) is that any old clot can order catalogues from KA and P&S and sling together an organ, and (as any fule kno) bad organs don't tend to be a great deal cheaper than good ones.

 

At the end of the day, it's all irrelevant, because (as we all know) there are very good and very bad organbuilders in each camp, and it stands to reason that only the best instruments will survive the test of time. I suspect, though, that the eye of history will look back on this generation, and some of us might be more than a little surprised at the sort of people who are regarded as the outstanding innovators and radicals.

 

I've banged on about it enough now, so I'm shutting up.

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Well, my understanding must have been wrong then - a respected local organist who knows it, Christian and Tim very well and states that it has had no major work since 1929 and is not in such good condition as you say. I have been trying to get to see it for some time. Meanwhile, I stand corrected.

 

I've had the pleasure of climbing up through the chambers with Christian. Every bit of it (except the relays and blower) has been out of there cleaned and overhauled, and the chambers themselves have also been cleaned and repainted.

 

I know a goodly number of the organists who play there regularly for the lunchtime theatre organ concerts, and many of them have spoken of it in glowing terms. It's certainly not an easy organ to play due to its position and the acoustics, but at least on the theatre organ circuit, it does not have a reputation for being in any way technically deficient.

 

You should go along to see it, the chamber layout is quite remarkable, and it is doubtful whether any other builder would have been able to "think out of the box" sufficiently to make it work in the way that Compton did. Also, do stop to look at the collection of recital programmes pasted to the walls of the relay room which show the weekly programmes played by Philip Dore and Percy Whitlock - you pass through Percy's dressing room to get to the relays. Ah yes - the blowers are down there too, you mustn't miss them. Two six stage Discus machines on a common drive. There was even originally a separate motor to drive the generator!

 

Take a look at Christian's website:

 

http://www.pavilionorganfund.org.uk/

 

S

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=========================

I wasn't thinking about console or case design, but purely the machinery within.

 

However, as BMW own the Rolls-Royce company, but not the name, which is owned by Volkswagen if I DON'T quite undertsand it properly, the German firm of Porsche Design (the same company as the car division) have certainly produced a rather splendid console, complete with evocative dials which look like something out of a Porsche 911.

 

Can anyone recall where it is, and if there is a link to it?

 

I was actually more concerned about both materials and actual design of organ-mechanisms, but as a starter, the use of plastic has certainly played in part in the winding system of many re-installed theatre-organs, where standard plastic drain-piping has been used, rather than metal or wooden trunking. With modern glues, it is possible to get all the pipes, angles, flanges and joints, cut them exactly to length, and produce a very cheap and effective system.

 

That's one good use for plastic.

 

One could, presumably, use Kevlar (the stuff Police Jackest are made from), which is an extremely tough plastic using long-chain molecules. This could probably be used for reservoirs, rather than wood and leather alternatives, which are so expensive to make. They would be almost indestructible, and incredibly strong.

 

Carbon-fibre has been used; not least by Mander Organs at Peachtree Road, Atlanta, for the tracker runs.

It is a material of incredible tensile strength, extreme lightness, rigidity, stability and longevity, and I stand to be corrected, but I think the detached console at Peachtree Road is some 60ft from the divided pipework, with the carbon-fibre action running under-floor.

 

Carbon-fibre is used extensively in Formula 1 motor-racing, with all the suspension arms and chassis made from this material. The fact that they can crash at 200mph and stay in one piece, says all there is to say about the strength of this material. The problem is the fact that it is a laminate material, which requires very precise laminate cutting and positioning, after which it is autoclaved and bonded. It is very expensive to produce for this reason, but due to the fact that it contains carbon-fibres, it has considerable musical properties of resonance; not unlike wood or metal, and could be used to make organ-pipes.....at a price!!!!

 

But what of windchest design and valving?

 

Surely, there MUST be something more sophisticated than the old bar and slider chest?

 

MM

 

The trouble is, you’re looking at what (engineering wise) currently exists, and applying modern solutions (carbon fibre, etc). If you started with a blank sheet of paper, I personally don’t believe you’d design and build “tracker” action. Again, starting with a blank sheet of paper, I don’t think you’d have more than three manuals, even if you had more than three divisions.

 

:angry:

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I'm not sure he does!

 

At least, not on the evidence of "I would suggest that even the finest craftsmanship now represents both clumsy design and rather crude engineering." Or that "the only tool a craftsman needs is a screw-driver and design kit." Or that "a master craftsman need hardly ever leave his office chair." These may not be the precise words, but they're pretty close, and must be extremely disheartening to those who take their work seriously.

 

Things go on being made as they are because it works! Modifications and tweaks happen to make them last longer or work better! If it ain't bust, don't fix it!

 

The very basic elements of an organ - that there is an action, wind, and pipes - are of course modular. Every single question beyond that - beginning even before the stoplist is drawn up - demands an assessment of the individual situation of the proposed organ down to every conceivable micro-detail. To find the answers to those technical, musical and aesthetic questions in a standard parts bin would seem to suggest you are either extremely fortunate, or are guilty of not having given sufficient thought to the problems you face, or that you and your customer are willing to accept a fairly large element of compromise in what you are doing.

 

 

==================================

 

To answer several points, I certainly can appreciate traditional craftsmanship, but as someone who spent some small time in engineering, and who has a brilliant engineer/matellurgist as a brother, I think it would be fair to suggest that I would regard good engineering design, well considered materials specifications and quality production as fine craftsmanship. Stephen Dutfield may like his clocks, and I know a lot about cars, so perhaps I could use a different analogy. I think it would be great fun to drive down the road in a vintage Daraque, with a hand-crafted wooden-body; followed by a mechanic on foot and a small cloud of blue-smoke. It would probably get me to the local shop, but possibly not the next one at the top of the hill. On the other hand, I could sit in a Porsche 959, turn the key, watch all the pretty lights fire up, the computer-electronics self-test and the engine growl into life. With ruthless efficiency, it would travel to half-a-million shops and probably never break-down; such is the quality of the design and the engineering. Backing up that reliability and efficiency is a lot of careful thought, a fair amount of exotic materials (including Titanium) and flawless precision engineering. A similar Ferrari may be more "hand crafted," but as a motor, the Porsche is the one to get if you want the best.

 

So how on earth can anyone justify "traditional craftsmanship" purely on the grounds of a romantic aesthetic?

 

The name of the game SHOULD be about the end result, because the musical personality of an organ is more or less restricted to the sound of the pipes, however the machinery functions leading up to it.

 

In a way, the Compton diversion has clouded the issue; not that I mind, because there is so much I admire about the "mind" of John Compton, and the fact that he brought his Birmingham school background to bear, where he would have been influenced by very gifted scientists and engineers. (He wasn't head-boy of a very academic school for nothing!)

 

To return to the "modular" theme, and the double-valve arrangement which it represents, most of the precision in making a traditional windchest really starts with good, basic design. (Call it traditional methods if you like). A windchest needs to be machanically strong to support a considerable amount of weight, and for things to work reliably, it needs to be torsionally rigid, and that requires that the stresses and movements of the wood are held in check by equal and opposite stresses working in a different direction. Wood has considerable tensile strength, but not a lot of torsional strength before it breaks. If there is one problem which afflicts windchests, then it is the problem of sticking sliders; perhaps suggesting that this is a critical area in design and construction. However, even the best traditional windchests, when exposed to extreme changes of humidity, can cause problems. To get around this, I recall the various fanfares which hearlded the introduction of laminate materials (plywood), synthetic seals (neoprene?) and plastic sliders (drilled Formica?). The mechanical-action organ I play is of this latter type, and it has certainly been very reliable over the past 32 years, even though the winding was always suspect until it was finally cured last year.

 

Now consider a slightly different solution to the work a slider does. If, instead of a drilled wooden-slider acting horizontally, we had a valve module comprising of a long circular bar through which holes are drilled, the act of turning bar 90 degrees would be identical to the valve-action effected by simply pushing it backwards or forwards In other words, we have change lateral movement into rotary movement; simply because we can. However, very long rods require considerable precision and are awkward to work with, so instead of one solid piece, the trick is to have 61 individual valves on a common shaft, andf a way of doing this is to have 61 small sleeve-valves, rotating along the same plane as that occupied by a wooden-slider. However, that brings its own problems, because access would be difficult, just as it is with a traditonal wooden-slider. So the work-around is to have the same valves working vertically; set into the windchest in specific "ports," which could be drawn out individually FROM ABOVE. The actual horizontal slider component would then simply be an actuating rod attached to all the rotary valves, which could placed almost anywhere adjacent to the valves themselves. Multiple sleeve-valves, under the conditions in which organs are kept, would last virtually forever and be almost 100% trouble-free; especially of they were components set into small, dedicated modules attached to the windchest. In fact, the modules, like pieces of plumbing, could probably be housed in plastic mouldings, and would probably be every bit as reliable as lumps of wood. My own plastic plumbing is now 40 years old, and it hasn't drowned me or scalded me to death yet!

 

So do please tell me why people think that "tradition" is necessarily better than "design" and "innovation," especially when the latter can do the job of the former in the same way, but with better access, cheaper production and probably far greater reliability.

 

Maybe it's just me!

 

MM

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==================================

I know a lot about cars, so perhaps I could use a different analogy. I think it would be great fun to drive down the road in a vintage Daraque, with a hand-crafted wooden-body;

 

I know a lot about cars too and I think you mean Daracq. :angry:

 

Actually, pretty though they are, they're bloody awful cars.

 

I think that the Craftsmanship v Technology argument can't be used to explain why some of us prefer to do things 'traditionally' while others like to poke fun at that view: the romantic engagement with the past which is a part of human psychology isn't able to be explained (and shouldn't be ridiculed).

 

David Wyld.

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==================================

 

So do please tell me why people think that "tradition" is necessarily better than "design" and "innovation," especially when the latter can do the job of the former in the same way, but with better access, cheaper production and probably far greater reliability.

 

Maybe it's just me!

 

MM

 

 

In their time, many “traditional” engineering solutions were cutting edge; they were the “design” and “innovation” of their period.

 

It’s hard to define better. Is it cheaper, improved reliability, better access, etc? It’s often down to personal preference.

 

Personally, I’m all for embracing technology.

 

:angry:

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"So do please tell me why people think that "tradition" is necessarily better than "design" and "innovation," especially when the latter can do the job of the former in the same way, but with better access, cheaper production and probably far greater reliability."

(Quote)

 

Good lord!

 

We are not isolated "geniuses", but a tiny piece in a long chain of generations.

What we know, and can, we ow to the previous generation's work, and are due

to transmit the stuff to the next one.

The awfull 20th Century has lend the Mankind to think "we're arrived", and to believe

70% of all inventions were ours.

Fatal error......As the disastrous 20th century History demonstrates.

 

As far as organs are concerned, every, I mean every masterpiece we know of

were built by people with both feet deeply grounded into a tradition, never isolated

"geniuses". There are no "Geniuses", rather arrogant people who "pull all things towards

themselves".

 

-Were Cavaillé-Coll thinkable without Jordi Bosch, Isnard, etc?

 

-Were Schulze thinkable without Silbermann?

 

(I could go on somewhat)

 

Pierre

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