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Solid State Switching


Guest Cynic
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Guest Cynic

Over the years we have all been told how wonderful these various systems from (various) specialist companies are. They certainly save an organ-builder a large amount of time! For all that, over the years I have heard of a number of places (some very illustrious) where there have been (to put it mildly) 'unexpected difficulties'.

 

Specific case: In a church near here a new system was fitted a few years ago. This unaccountably failed to work recently - nothing the organbuilder could do...alternatives were to send the whole system back to the specialist works or commission a new system. This was (to put it mildly) a disappointment to the church where the installation of this new switching represented a major investment not long ago. The system was apparently not under guarantee and obviously the organ-builder's time would also have to be paid for.

 

Again, quite unaccountably, it decided to start working again (after about a three week break) and after (but not during) an organ-builder's visit. To date no adequate explanation for this has come to light.

 

I heard only this week of two more installations where the organ-builders work could not be enjoyed because the specialist system failed.

 

For my own organ-bodging purposes, I have to say that I am less and less likely to commission a new system. My main reason is not because I am a cheap-skate (though I am) but the fact that if something goes wrong with conventional switching (so far) I have always managed to track the fault down and I can usually sort it out pretty quickly.

 

 

 

Views/opinions/experiences please!

 

 

Perhaps needing a new topic but connected with this:

Has anyone heard (as I have) that the new EU regulations about banning use of lead on PCBs and (general) soldering is going to make the function of future electric systems slightly less reliable too?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Moderator,

inadvertently, I have posted this topic in the wrong part of the forum. Any chance it might be switched to Nuts and Bolts? Many thanks,

P/C

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Guest Barry Williams

I have had two worrying experiences with the same make of solid state action. On these occasions (both were opening recitals,) the solid state failed in the hour before the recital and then again during the performance. In each case it was the unified piston system that failed.

 

That (otherwise very good) organ builder always uses the same make of solid state. It is reported that there have been regular failures, especially if any stops are still drawn when the organ is turned off.

 

The solid state system on our house organ is superb and has never given any problem whatsoever. (Thanks to Doug Levey of Solid State Logic at the time.)

 

Barry Williams

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Then there was the very embarrassing incident at the Bridgewater Hall when the organ's electronics packed up in front of a full house in the middle of the RCO Performer of the Year final, rendering the instrument silent. 2001 was it?

 

Jonathan Scott, the second of the three contestants, was about a third of the way through the Barber Toccata Festiva. The performers looked on, bemused, whilst various backstage staff appeared, prodded and poked the console, checked and re-checked the connectors, and finally managed to get it back on.

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Then there was the very embarrassing incident at the Bridgewater Hall when the organ's electronics packed up in front of a full house in the middle of the RCO Performer of the Year final, rendering the instrument silent. 2001 was it?

 

Jonathan Scott, the second of the three contestants, was about a third of the way through the Barber Toccata Festiva. The performers looked on, bemused, whilst various backstage staff appeared, prodded and poked the console, checked and re-checked the connectors, and finally managed to get it back on.

 

There was a recital by Carlo Curley on the Frobenius at Kingston, back shortly after it was installed, when the piston system went haywire, making completely random combinations, including the cymbelstern on every setting, even general cancel!

 

Jonathan

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Indeed. The organ in the Melbourne Town Hall, Australia. (Hill, Norman and Beard, 1929; rebuilt Schantz, 2001)

 

Before a concert that I was sharing with a brass band, and while the band was warming up I was doing a dry run through some of my registration changes. On making a change, the organ burst into life, with a registration that was not the same as the one selected, and with a cluster of random notes. Turning the organ off stopped the noise, but on restarting the organ, and again trying a dry run, the same problem resulted in an even louder sound. Fortunately, the concert went ahead without a problem.

 

A year or so later, during a masterclass, a poor guinea pig was only a few bars into Vierne 1, first movement, when the same problem occurred. I'm not sure that the student has recovered.

 

Having worked with legacy embedded systems, and having been responsible for programming some, the nature of the beast does concern me. Typically, a contractor is brought in to design hardware, perhaps a different contractor to produce software, and when the project is 'finished' they move on. Support in such cases is always going to be very difficult. Tracking down intermittent faults that occur once every few months is a job for an extremely well paid consultant, and even then is not always successful. Even in-house design work has problems as staff change, and because they are often unable to afford to pay someone who has the expertise to track down obscure hardware, let alone software, problems. As well, the very art of designing the hardware and software in a fail-safe system is typically not taught to CS or EE students, and there have been some very embarrassing cases of multi-million dollar designs for mission critical systems having to be scrapped because they did fail and fixing the problem was no longer an option.

 

How much more difficult is it then for a system that has to fit within the cost constrains of an organ? And, what is going to happen when a critical part fails and replacements are not available? Or the tools use to produce the firmware don't work on the latest computer systems? These do happen, leaving expensive systems unable to operate.

 

In the case of the Melbourne Town Hall, the rebuild is reported to have cost AUD 4.5 million (about 2.8 million euro), but there appears to be a decided lack of enthusiasm for encouraging the firm that rebuilt the organ to fix the problem.

 

I was aware, in the 1980s, there were problems with the electronics of the organ in the Sydney Opera House. I can remember the zylophone playing on every second note, even though I hadn't drawn the stop, for example.

 

The old engineering philosophy of KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) is valid. I prefer real pieces of wood connected my keys to my pallets!

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The old engineering philosophy of KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) is valid. I prefer real pieces of wood connected my keys to my pallets!

 

I agree, good mechanical action is reliable and generally problem free, although there can be issues even with a modern system, although often this can be caused with mixed actions, i.e. pneumatic motors operating couplers. The problem comes with combination systems, whilst in a small organ, composition pedals and hand registration is not only feasible but preferable, on larger instruments, and with the large scale romantic repertoire, electronics are extremely useful.

 

Jonathan

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Tracking down intermittent faults that occur once every few months is a job for an extremely well paid consultant, and even then is not always successful..............

 

The old engineering philosophy of KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) is valid. I prefer real pieces of wood connected my keys to my pallets!

 

Tracking down an intermittent fault is always tricky, as it can often be weeks before the fault reappears. Once a fault becomes hard and fast it’s usually much easier to fix. KISS is a good philosophy for life, why make things harder than they need to be? Some times it’s not possible to use wood (or carbon fibre) to connect the keys to the pallets.

 

:rolleyes:

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The old organ at a certain cathedral at which I was organist for a while had the annoying habit of playing the low d# on the pedal Trombone whenever middle G# on the choir was played - but only with the 2' flute on. Oh, and the fact that it only happened once in a blue moon made it even more perplexing! It had one of those stupid mobile consoles, which always caused problems just after it was moved!

 

Nobody ever fixed this one and the fault disappeared only when the entire instrument was consigned, belching and farting, (at least the trombone did) to the skip.

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