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Re-engineering The Organ

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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).

"The romantic engagement with the past" might be equally or to some extent involved in the respect held by some for Hope-Jones or John Compton too. In other words, a love of science, engineering and progress might not be completely "rational".

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"The romantic engagement with the past" might be equally or to some extent involved in the respect held by some for Hope-Jones or John Compton too. In other words, a love of science, engineering and progress might not be completely "rational".

 

I said I wouldn't come back on this, but never mind. 'Romantic engagement with the past' is a very small portion of the story; music and instrument grow together not just in tonal ways, but also technical ones. Witness the moments in Bach where he has written (or placed rests, in implication) notes which were not available to him, and the same in Beethoven's piano sonatas. Or, indeed, the way perceived limitations are exploited - the magical effects of 'early organ' winding on 'early music' ornamentation, for example.

 

For me the crux of the argument is that the music and the instrument being used to reproduce it should not be artificially divorced - neither from each other, nor from their respective traditions and traceable 'family trees' of growth and development. To abruptly make decisions about instrument construction which are approached purely from an engineering or commercial perspective (rather than a musical one) does exactly this, and has been the start of enough blind alleys in our instrument's history that we ought to know better by now.

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I said I wouldn't come back on this, but never mind. 'Romantic engagement with the past' is a very small portion of the story; music and instrument grow together not just in tonal ways, but also technical ones. Witness the moments in Bach where he has written (or placed rests, in implication) notes which were not available to him, and the same in Beethoven's piano sonatas. Or, indeed, the way perceived limitations are exploited - the magical effects of 'early organ' winding on 'early music' ornamentation, for example.

 

For me the crux of the argument is that the music and the instrument being used to reproduce it should not be artificially divorced - neither from each other, nor from their respective traditions and traceable 'family trees' of growth and development. To abruptly make decisions about instrument construction which are approached purely from an engineering or commercial perspective (rather than a musical one) does exactly this, and has been the start of enough blind alleys in our instrument's history that we ought to know better by now.

 

But the organ, as an instrument, continues to morph. I should imagine that when swell boxes, pedal boards, pneumatic action, etc were introduced, there were many that hated “these new fangled inventions”. If we don’t embrace new technology, don’t we cap the growth of the instrument?

 

If an organ builder built a superb sounding instrument with a brilliant console that had just the right “touch”, would it really matter what technology was employed behind the scenes?

 

:angry:

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"I should imagine that when swell boxes, pedal boards, pneumatic action, etc were introduced, there were many that hated “these new fangled inventions”"

(Quote)

 

Indeed, it always was so. 1892 went Paul Walcker to Sauer, because of a terrible dispute

about the pneumatic action with his brothers.

There were many such cases, some people being more innovative, and others conservative.

These are human inclinations, so they existed from "Day one" of the Mankind.

 

Technology, Art, Craft, Musical idea, Organ structure, the culture the builder lives in,

make a whole. You cannot decide you will build pipes after say Schweinefleisch 1766,

and voice them accordingly, and then use a completely new technology to make them

speak !

Of course this has been done. See Walter Senior Holtkamp's organs for instance:

Would-be-partially- Schnitgers with electro-pneumatic actions and pipes "in the open".

Had digital action existed then, he would have used it.

Now such organs are already historic, very precious ones, and I guess it won't be long

before their sound will be appreciated again, as a style by itself, not as "Schnitgers".

 

So such a mish-mash is already old-fashioned and we must look towards something else,

really new.

But new ideas have to be rooted within a tradition or they won't last; Holtkamp obviously

had roots in the post-romantic U.S. one, to which he added influencies from abroad

(Orgelbewegung). But his design, voicing, actions, windchests all were american post-romantic.

 

To even grasp an idea of what a musical organ-tone could be, one needs to have quite a lot

of notions in his head: an educated ear, musical knowledge, experience...So you never

really start from scratch.

Even such things like electric guitars (Agnus Dei, qui tollis Peccata Mundi...) weren't designed

from nowhere, but from the "true", acoustic guitar.

 

Pierre

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

 

 

Bugger!

 

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

 

This is true. I rode in one once....nay....walked alongside one once up a hill. Shook my eyeballs out of their sockets, it did!

 

 

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).

 

:D:P:D:P:D:P

 

MM

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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

 

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

 

 

The 20th Century has not all been disatrous by any means. Possibly more people have been saved by advanced medicine than those killed in wars; but I digress.

 

I'm not sure that I agree that there are not people of genius....I think I knew one....Prof Sir Fred Hoyle. After all, this was the man who was summoned to Yale University in a hurry, and on entering a lecture-theatre, he waas confronted by a huge blackboard across one wall, on which were written algebraic symbols and numbers. Fred gazed at it for 1.5 miunutes, and declared, "It looks to me like you've discovered a black-hole."

 

It's really all about communication rather than tradition, and that is the nature of true knowledge.

 

There was that wonderful moment, went the physicist Ferme met with Einstein on a bridge overlooking a garden pool. They stopped, smiled and could not exchange anything at all, due to the fact that Einstein spoke no Italian, and Ferme spoke no German.

 

Instead, in a moment of desperation, Ferme gaxed down at the pool and pointed at the Koy Carp, saying, "Fisch!"

 

Einstein peered down, and replied, "Ja! Fisch!"

 

With that, the two greatest contemporary scientific minds of the age went their seperate ways.

 

So contrary to what people tell you, it's WHAT you know rather than WHO you know.

 

MM

 

 

 

"The romantic engagement with the past" might be equally or to some extent involved in the respect held by some for Hope-Jones or John Compton too. In other words, a love of science, engineering and progress might not be completely "rational".

 

 

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

 

I think think is absolutely right on the button, because if there was one thing which John Compton encapsulated, it was the spirit of the age, which carved music up into its theoretical parts. Hence Compton's fascination with electronic Sine Wave Synthesis, Polyphones, 32ft Cornets and theoretical tone-building in his pipe-organs.

 

I don't think any other organ-builder could actually build an organ which, outside the swell-box, contained very few pipes and yet sounded remarkably like an instrument ten times the size.

 

Wakefield Cathedral is a wonderful example of his "smoke and mirrors" approach, and whilst many who built organs like this may have been con-men, the term "master illusionist" seems to be a more appropriate description for what John Compton achieved.

 

MM

 

 

 

I said I wouldn't come back on this, but never mind. 'Romantic engagement with the past' is a very small portion of the story; music and instrument grow together not just in tonal ways, but also technical ones. Witness the moments in Bach where he has written (or placed rests, in implication) notes which were not available to him, and the same in Beethoven's piano sonatas. Or, indeed, the way perceived limitations are exploited - the magical effects of 'early organ' winding on 'early music' ornamentation, for example.

 

For me the crux of the argument is that the music and the instrument being used to reproduce it should not be artificially divorced - neither from each other, nor from their respective traditions and traceable 'family trees' of growth and development. To abruptly make decisions about instrument construction which are approached purely from an engineering or commercial perspective (rather than a musical one) does exactly this, and has been the start of enough blind alleys in our instrument's history that we ought to know better by now.

 

 

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

 

 

Good God! We're only talking about air valves. Let's not be too dramatic about it.

 

MM

 

But the organ, as an instrument, continues to morph. I should imagine that when swell boxes, pedal boards, pneumatic action, etc were introduced, there were many that hated “these new fangled inventions”. If we don’t embrace new technology, don’t we cap the growth of the instrument?

 

If an organ builder built a superb sounding instrument with a brilliant console that had just the right “touch”, would it really matter what technology was employed behind the scenes?

 

:)

 

 

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

 

 

Exactly! I think we should have a vote on the Muso patent modular mechanical organ-action. (To set the record straight, replace all previous references to "plastic" with the word "ceramic")

 

Now then, who's for hydraulically operated Swell Boxes?

 

:D

 

MM

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"It's really all about communication rather than tradition, and that is the nature of true knowledge."

(Quote)

 

So far, so good.

And what do we communicate without a tradition? Guesses?

 

 

"Possibly more people have been saved by advanced medicine than those killed in wars;"

(Quote).

 

Well, the numbers are there, though. WWII, 20,000,000....In Europe only!!!

And would we have had this "advanced medicine" without the previous centuries

doctor's experiments with their sawns etc ? Was today's chirurgy possible without

"cork-screwer"-like first trepanation trials (yes and....Errors :) )

 

Belgian humor apart, what means "tradition"? Simply, that a complex instrument

like an organ you cannot reinvent alone, it needs the full brain power (without

having been submitted to trepanation trials) of several generations.

You first go in apprenticeship by a builder. Whatever your ideas, if he uses

slider chests and tracker action, you will first build after that manner, because

you won't have the time to design something else before some years and

experience.

 

And what is knowledge ?

As far as so complex, rich and varied thing as the organ is concerned, I am inclined

to think any knowledge begins by realizing the endless deepness of our ignorance,

since any question you find an answer for opens immediately ten new questions,

even more difficult ones.

 

Pierre

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But the organ, as an instrument, continues to morph. I should imagine that when swell boxes, pedal boards, pneumatic action, etc were introduced, there were many that hated “these new fangled inventions”. If we don’t embrace new technology, don’t we cap the growth of the instrument?

 

I quite agree. I always have, and have frequently said so, if you look back. But I have also backed it up with the statement that such changes have been in response to a problem or weakness, and not just reinvention of the wheel because we can. Funnily enough, I did include (but deleted, because I thought it weakened the argument) a paragraph which went something like this -

 

Since the beginning of the organ's history, builders around the world with enquiring minds have sought better ways of doing things and, where those changes have been proven beneficial, they have been incorporated globally and refined by others. You can rest assured that this process continues to the present day and for long as we have organ builders with enquiring minds, totally comitted to and involved in their work and wishing to improve their craft, it will ever more be so.

 

The modern-day mechanical organ can reasonably claim to be a product of four centuries, incorporating major features conceived and improved across that time, and therefore is a highly refined piece of engineering - at least, in as much as virtually every component has been proven across ten generations or so, and been added to by modern thoughts. I am still seeking some justification for your remarks "I would suggest that even the finest craftsmanship now represents both clumsy design and rather crude engineering."

 

Good God! We're only talking about air valves. Let's not be too dramatic about it.

 

MM

 

So why do you keep proposing we should scrap something simple, developed and honed and optimised across centuries, and which works extremely well - for something which will be said to have been a success when it has equalled it?

 

I've got sick and tired of this now, so go on, have the last word...

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I quite agree. I always have, and have frequently said so, if you look back. But I have also backed it up with the statement that such changes have been in response to a problem or weakness, and not just reinvention of the wheel because we can. Funnily enough, I did include (but deleted, because I thought it weakened the argument) a paragraph which went something like this -

 

Since the beginning of the organ's history, builders around the world with enquiring minds have sought better ways of doing things and, where those changes have been proven beneficial, they have been incorporated globally and refined by others. You can rest assured that this process continues to the present day and for long as we have organ builders with enquiring minds, totally comitted to and involved in their work and wishing to improve their craft, it will ever more be so.

 

The modern-day mechanical organ can reasonably claim to be a product of four centuries, incorporating major features conceived and improved across that time, and therefore is a highly refined piece of engineering - at least, in as much as virtually every component has been proven across ten generations or so, and been added to by modern thoughts. I am still seeking some justification for your remarks "I would suggest that even the finest craftsmanship now represents both clumsy design and rather crude engineering."

So why do you keep proposing we should scrap something simple, developed and honed and optimised across centuries, and which works extremely well - for something which will be said to have been a success when it has equalled it?

 

I've got sick and tired of this now, so go on, have the last word...

 

 

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

 

 

Well I don't know about having the last word, but in pure engineering terms, almost ALL of the major problems associated with a "traditional" instrument are centred around the windchests; whether that be sticking notes, leakage, cracking, splitting, warping, running, pallet leather hardening etc etc. (I suppose we could also include termite infestation, woodworm and death-watch beetle.....but I am being unkind).

 

Working around a problem is not really good engineering, because the problem is there from the start, and this idea that "tradition" amounts to honing and perfecting is, I'm afraid, well short of the truth.

 

The fact is, the materials are a bit iffy for the job, the relaibilty is prone to going off the rails, the expense of manufacture is very high and the technology is, quite frankly, "almost" renassance (if not quite medieval).

 

Would we build a suspension bridge with wood and string these days; even though that has been done many times over the centuries?

 

The thing that strikles me about the "traditional" argument, is the fact that it is a perculiarly parochial outlook. Were those on this board to build an organ for a new opera house in the Atacama Desert or Death Valley, or perhaps for a new concert hall in either Malaya or the Amazon rain-forest, they would really have to think again about the materials they used. That would be the only sensible approach, and that would be engineering design in action.

 

I can understand tradition, and I can respect workmanship and craft industry, but what I cannot understand is the idea that anything which challenges that is somehow misplaced at best, or malicious at worst.

 

I set out a theoretical challenge, and thus far, only Pierre Lauwers has actually highlighted a special problem which Walcker experienced and worked-around as an engineering revision of the instrument. (I didn't actually know that and found it very interesting).

 

The whole thinking behind "modular" construction, was to eliminate the inherent design-problems and material shortcomings associated with increasingly precious materials, and to think outside the box of conventional craft.

 

We never know, but as time goes on, this may become a critical factor in organ-building, because at the rate good timber is being used up, it will probably be the price which dictates the alternative, and in setting out (as best I could in words) the idea of a "modular" method of construction, using quite different materials coupled to precision engineering, I have actually anticipated that possibility.

 

I bet the Porsch Design studio people, (most of them British incidentally), would have a field-day with organ design! The trouble is, they would have a field-day with the prices also, even if their actions carried a 300 year guarantee and unlimited playing-time!

 

MM

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Again, MM....

 

Walcker could not have adressed his problem if:

 

1)- He had not be able to build good slider-chests, so that he could

realize the problem was in the design (without telescopic joints etc!), not his skills.

 

2)- He had not both feets in a tradition that went back to Casparini tinkering with italian-found

spring chests in Görlitz, designing so the ancestor of the Kegellade.

 

 

Nobody knows yet how long our modern bridges will last. Suffice to say the concrete 1960's ones

upon the belgian motorways all threaten to fall apart by now, because they are completely rotten

from inside. (Their replacement would cost about 10 years belgian BNP so nobody dare speak about it);

when are you paying a visit? :)

They were built to last for centuries of course...

 

I shall let you the last word, too.

 

Pierre

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Again, MM....

 

Walcker could not have adressed his problem if:

 

1)- He had not be able to build good slider-chests, so that he could

realize the problem was in the design (without telescopic joints etc!), not his skills.

 

2)- He had not both feets in a tradition that went back to Casparini tinkering with italian-found

spring chests in Görlitz, designing so the ancestor of the Kegellade.

Nobody knows yet how long our modern bridges will last. Suffice to say the concrete 1960's ones

upon the belgian motorways all threaten to fall apart by now, because they are completely rotten

from inside. (Their replacement would cost about 10 years belgian BNP so nobody dare speak about it);

when are you paying a visit? :)

They were built to last for centuries of course...

 

I shall let you the last word, too.

 

Pierre

 

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

 

 

 

Well it serves Belgium right for not employing Scottish bridge-engineers.

 

What about "The new Austrian Tunneling Method" through the alps? It's not new and it's not Austrian.

 

The Scots had it half a century before.

 

I happen to know a bit about bridges (not the harmonic type), and if you think Belgium has a problem, then look at what they did to re-inforce the Severn Bridge. They doubled its strength FROM INSIDE, and never once did the traffic stop!

 

Proper engineers , you see.

 

Anyway, I think Walcker could have done a far better job if they'd studied textile-engineering and machinery, because those guys were the rocket-scientists of their day, and became quite expert with pneumatics.

 

MM

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Greetings,

 

I am wholly in agreement with the reasoning behind your thread MM, and later today, after I am finished working on the "sacrilegious" unit organ that I am installing for my Church, I will bring forth and post my philistine, overweight, cavalier, oil-loving, war-mongering American perspective on this issue.

 

- Nathan

 

"How can it be called a soundboard if it doesn't make any sound?"

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Guest Barry Oakley
"How can it be called a soundboard if it doesn't make any sound?"

 

I suppose a bit like a diving board because it does not dive.

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I happen to know a bit about bridges...

 

Earlier on, I put something rather sarcastic in response to this, by way of a parting shot, which I am now removing because it was rather ungracious.

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Earlier on, I put something rather sarcastic in response to this, by way of a parting shot, which I am now removing because it was rather ungracious.

 

 

Then I shall try to explain the same idea in another way.

 

Why did not the belgians employ scottish engineers to build/overhaul their bridges?

 

Because both belgians and scottish have somewhat tough heads; and so did the

discussion happen:

 

-Engineer: the bridge we shall make like this and that.

 

-The (flemish) architect: fine, but mind you, we must change this and that because

here we drive on the right side of the road.

 

-Engineer: NO. The cars to be driven on the correct, left side of the road.

 

-Architect: NO. The cars to be driven on the right side.

 

-Engineer: NO. The cars to be driven on the left side.

 

-Architect: NO. The cars to be driven on the right side.

 

 

.......And so on. The discussion started in 1970 ans is still going on.

 

Pierre

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Greetings,

 

I am wholly in agreement with the reasoning behind your thread MM, and later today, after I am finished working on the "sacrilegious" unit organ that I am installing for my Church, I will bring forth and post my philistine, overweight, cavalier, oil-loving, war-mongering American perspective on this issue.

 

- Nathan

 

"How can it be called a soundboard if it doesn't make any sound?"

 

 

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

 

 

Well thank heavens someone can understand what it is that I am trying to say.

 

Which gives me a whole new idea......the contribution made by organ-builders to textile engineering, and the contributions made by textile engineering to organ-action design.

 

It could probably fill a modest book.

 

:)

 

MM

 

 

 

 

 

 

I suppose a bit like a diving board because it does not dive.

 

 

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

 

 

Oh yes they can!

 

My dearest friend Hilda Thunderthighs snapped one clean in half, and she was only tentatively testing the fulcrum adjustment.

 

The smaller children, at the shallow-end, were swept out onto the street on the crest of the resulting tsunami.

 

MM

 

 

Earlier on, I put something rather sarcastic in response to this, by way of a parting shot, which I am now removing because it was rather ungracious.

 

 

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

 

 

I only something about bridges because I had to do a project about them once. I got quite into them at the time.

 

Now if Brunel had built organs......................

 

:D

 

MM

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Now if Brunel had built organs......................

 

:)

 

MM

 

He’d probably have changed the pitch on the grounds that it was easier on the ear.

 

;) :angry: :lol:

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Guest Patrick Coleman
Now if Brunel had built organs......................

 

:lol:

 

MM

 

If Brunel had built organs they would either have disintegrated on the spot or still be going without any need of maintenance now or in 200 years' time!

:angry:

 

...and those that remained would be both functional and beautiful.

 

Of course, Brunel was such a perfectionist that he ran himself into the ground. For all their failings, perhaps Hope-Jones and Compton could count in that category...

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This is become tedious:

 

If trhere is a better way of doing it, try it - with you own money (as those of us who do it, do it) and see how THAT ends up - I hesitate to mention PERFLEX!

 

A Guarantee, of course, is what it says.

 

Willis!

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Guest Lee Blick
My dearest friend Hilda Thunderthighs snapped one clean in half, and she was only tentatively testing the fulcrum adjustment

 

...was this peddling the bass of Widor's tocatta in barefeet?

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This is become tedious:

 

If trhere is a better way of doing it, try it - with you own money (as those of us who do it, do it) and see how THAT ends up - I hesitate to mention PERFLEX!

 

A Guarantee, of course, is what it says.

 

Willis!

 

 

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

 

I don't know what Perflex has got to do with it.

 

I would hesitate to mention hall effect sensors, but an awful lot of people are using them!

 

I bet they live to regret it, even if the guarantee runs out before their demise.

 

MM

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

 

I don't know what Perflex has got to do with it.

 

I would hesitate to mention hall effect sensors, but an awful lot of people are using them!

 

I bet they live to regret it, even if the guarantee runs out before their demise.

 

MM

Do you have a basis for this assertion? We've got 25 year guarantees on ours and i don't recall any maker of old fasioned wiper contacts offering that much when pressed.

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Do you have a basis for this assertion? We've got 25 year guarantees on ours and i don't recall any maker of old fasioned wiper contacts offering that much when pressed.

 

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

 

 

I don't have any specific basis other than my experience of hall-effect generators in motor-vehicles, which can be very troublesome, to say the least with the passage of time. Maybe I have tared them all with the same brush, but I've come across so many sensors which collapse due to magnets breaking down, and refusing to produce a steady signal, or any at all for that matter.

 

I would be delighted to think that I may be wrong........please tell me I am, and I may revise my stance.

 

The trouble is, I'm very conservative, and really do think tracker is the best approach to almost everything which is key-action related.

 

MM

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

I don't have any specific basis other than my experience of hall-effect generators in motor-vehicles, which can be very troublesome, to say the least with the passage of time. Maybe I have tared them all with the same brush, but I've come across so many sensors which collapse due to magnets breaking down, and refusing to produce a steady signal, or any at all for that matter.

 

I would be delighted to think that I may be wrong........please tell me I am, and I may revise my stance.

 

The trouble is, I'm very conservative, and really do think tracker is the best approach to almost everything which is key-action related.

 

MM

 

 

Simple mechanical engineering is usually the best solution to any given problem, as long as it’s feasible. The organ at St Paul’s couldn’t exist in a pure mechanical form. With many cathedrals adding nave divisions, there is a need for non-mechanical actions. Surely the best thing to do would be to use tracker action when feasible, and embrace technology when tracker action isn’t?

 

:angry:

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