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General Pistons Vs Sequencers


gazman
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The discussion about the piston system on the St. Edmundsbury thread has got me musing about the various qualities of general pistons and sequencers.

 

I have always avoided sequencers (and even steppers) as I feel myself to be in less control should I press the "Next" piston in the wrong place, or should I forget to press it at all. I feel that, say, "Level 39, General 6" tells me exactly what to press, and gives me a point of reference should I find that I've made a mistake, rather than wondering what's gone wrong and whether to press the "Next" piston or the "Back" piston to get the combination I require.

 

When the organ at one of my churches was rebuilt back in 1998, the organ builders strongly encouraged me to have a sequencer fitted. They argued that, as I was using the organ then for weekly organ recitals, it would be of great utility to be able to programme combinations in on a sequencer, and that I was being a bit of a stick-in-the-mud by saying that I'd rather just programme combinations in on general pistons, and move between each of the levels.

 

Despite having given recitals on a number of large organs with sequencers, I've continued to stay away from sequencers because of my concern that it would be too easy to press the "Next" piston in the wrong place or to forget to press it and find myself completely lost. However, last month, I decided I'd break with my habit and join the 21st Century when I played at York Minster and to use the sequencer. Although I latch on to modern technology reasonably quickly, after five minutes of John Scott Whiteley trying to show me how the sequencer worked, I was still at a loss, and decided to play safe and to keep to general pistons again. :blink:

 

What do others on this forum think? Are sequencers generally more useful than generals (and, if so, in what way)? Or do they remove a certain amount of control from the performer?

 

I'd be interested in any views. Thanks.

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Absolutely no competition, generals every time. I've seen and heard too many things go wrong with sequencers, so even when I've got them, I always use generals. I have been to two 'high profile' recitals where something has gone wrong with these, and if it happens to the pros, its going to happen to the rest of us.

 

I'm not anti technology, lets face it, the generals themselves rely on technology, but not for me!

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Unless I'm buying a washing-machine, I do not appreciate automatic anything.

 

I've recited upon organs with 140+ stops, and I've never felt the need to rely on some sort of auto-pilot for the registration.

 

I even quite like the challenge of whirling one's arms around like an octopus on ampthetamines, and the most I would ever want, on the largest of instruments, would be general pistons. (After all, when arms are insufficient, it is usually possible to headbut stops, draw the Tuba with the teeth, kick them in like Simon Lindley once did at Leeds Town Hall, or use the elbows elegantly as Francis Jackson sometimes did....whatever happened to showmanship?)

 

However, I DO appreciate memory levels, which enable one to change to settings without causing the next "fatwa" among the organ-playing community.

 

Which reminds of the late Dr Thalben-Ball, who with an evil grin, naughtily left all the general pistons set in reverse-order after playing for a wedding at the City Temple, when Eric Thiman was the resident organist.

 

Call me old-fashioned if you will, but I'm the sort that prefers crash-gearboxes and clutches. I know where I am when I have to move a body part to achieve the sublime effect.

 

MM

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Steppers every time for me please: quick and easy to use, and you're pressing the same toe stud or thumb piston every time. An unfamiliar instrument littered with generals adds considerably to rehearsal time, since you have to practise finding the right piston. Sequencers on the other hand (i.e. independent of the generals) are a nightmare: complicated and prone to accidents.

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I have always avoided sequencers (and even steppers) as I feel myself to be in less control should I press the "Next" piston in the wrong place, or should I forget to press it at all. I feel that, say, "Level 39, General 6" tells me exactly what to press, and gives me a point of reference should I find that I've made a mistake, rather than wondering what's gone wrong and whether to press the "Next" piston or the "Back" piston to get the combination I require.

I'm with Ian on this one, the stepper piston (particularly the toe piston I find) makes life so much easier provided you've got the time to set up the generals as needed in the first place, but then if you haven't got the time you're stuck with the divisionals anyway.

 

I don't really understand Holz's view point above, if you're using the stepper system you've still got exactly the same reference points. If you forget to press the "Next" piston that would have given you "Level 39, General 6" for example, you've still got the option of pressing General 7 (instead of "Next") when you reach your next reference point.

 

I share with others the dislike of any system that requires you to sit down with the instruction book before you can use it!

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A slight digression, but I think I am right in saying that the refurbished Westminster Abbey organ console no longer has the individual general setter buttons above the solo manual (a common place for general pistons) - and not before time. Not a few came to grief with this strange layout...

 

A stepper is a useful enhancement to the provision of general pistons and memory levels, and is superior to a sequencer - especially the Taylor variety.

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I don't really understand Holz's view point above, if you're using the stepper system you've still got exactly the same reference points. If you forget to press the "Next" piston that would have given you "Level 39, General 6" for example, you've still got the option of pressing General 7 (instead of "Next") when you reach your next reference point.

 

Ok, I'll try and explain myself better! :(

 

When I mark a score "General 6" and then, perhaps, a few bars later "General 7", it's pretty obvious what's required.

 

If, say, I were just using a stepper and were to make a mistake and either not press the "Next" button when I should, or press it when I shouldn't, and not be quite aware of what's gone wrong, it's rather harder to rectify. At the next point at which the button needs pressing, should I press it once or twice? I would only know for a certainty if I'd also marked in the score the General I wanted to be on at that time, and would also have to read the number on the display in order to read what General I was presently on.

 

The other problem I've encountered with steppers is having the toe piston for the "Next" button where I would normally expect to find the toe piston for Gt-Ped which has quite a potential for disaster.

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Ok, I'll try and explain myself better! :)

 

When I mark a score "General 6" and then, perhaps, a few bars later "General 7", it's pretty obvious what's required.

 

If, say, I were just using a stepper and were to make a mistake and either not press the "Next" button when I should, or press it when I shouldn't, and not be quite aware of what's gone wrong, it's rather harder to rectify. At the next point at which the button needs pressing, should I press it once or twice? I would only know for a certainty if I'd also marked in the score the General I wanted to be on at that time, and would also have to read the number on the display in order to read what General I was presently on.

Ah, to qualify what I do: I mark a large friendly '+' sign on my score (or on the lovingly torn square of Post-it note) but write the general piston number beside it, then the memory level in superscript. I can then immediately check the digital display if something's gone wrong. I always ask my page turner to keep an eye on this too, just be sure. In 15-or-so years of encountering steppers, only once did I press 'next' twice by mistake. My assistant immediately spotted the error and leaped for the correct general. Annoyingly, this was in a somewhat high-profile Three Choirs Festival recital, although no-one seemed to notice the inappropriate sounds (well, it was on the Gloucester organ :( ) nor the panic-induced few bars of improvisation. I've never made that mistake since though!

 

I still think steppers are an invaluable aid to registering romantic and modern music on a large instrument. Some commentators have cautioned against the 'kaleidoscopic' style of playing that steppers can engender, but as in all things, bad taste and self indulgence can spoil things if not kept in check. I believe, if used tastefully, they can increased the expressive potential of our instrument; make it less machine-like; save a huge amount of rehearsal time; and allow the player truly to 'orchestrate' the music. They can also faciliate the most long-breathed and subtle crescendo and diminuendo (by using 'back') for improvisation. At Glos we always reserved two levels for such a crescendo.

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Guest spottedmetal
Some commentators have cautioned against the 'kaleidoscopic' style of playing that steppers can engender, but as in all things, bad taste and self indulgence can spoil things if not kept in check. I believe, if used tastefully, they can increased the expressive potential of our instrument; make it less machine-like; save a huge amount of rehearsal time; and allow the player truly to 'orchestrate' the music.

This goes for "expression pedals" too. I mistakenly commented on another thread that Carlo Curley's recordings on hybrid instruments suggested that hybridisation was brilliant. Someone asked me whether I could tell through my speakers - to which I replied that I could - so in my nightly sojourns recently I listened again. I can't understand the objections to the Trono organ - that appears to sound brilliant - but there were two American recordings - one an Allen pipe/digital hybrid and the other an Allen digital. The more I hear, the more I dislike Allens and certainly on the Californian hybrid, the Allen component was not tamed by a good pipe organ builder.

 

What's wrong? In particular the slushy strings which sound more like a synthesiser than anything relating to pipes and a console picture on the inside featuring uncountable numbers of expression pedals.

 

The extent of bad taste that this can lead to is exemplified at a charming church in the south of France

http://www.antibes.co.uk/cap/church.htm

with a terrible toaster. The old lady who I heard playing there constantly waggled her expression pedal. In this church, dedicated to the sea, sailors and fishermen, the effect was to induce an immediate bout of mal de mer.

 

Back on topic, the big old French organs didn't have all these gizmos and Vierne and Widor were quite happy at such consoles.

 

Best wishes

 

Spot

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I can't understand the objections to the Trono organ - that appears to sound brilliant

 

<snip!>

 

Back on topic, the big old French organs didn't have all these gizmos and Vierne and Widor were quite happy at such consoles.

 

Re. Trono - I think you might be in a very small minority praising it. A minority of one, even. Apparently the spec is way OTT for the building and is not a success, especially with real pipes next to the speakers. The electric bits had to be turned down in volume so they are rather a disappointment after reading the exciting names engraved on the stop knobs. One has to question the validity of this approach and application in this church, where a modest II/P would have been more than adequate. Something along the lines of the Edinburgh Canongate Frobenius could have been far more successful musically, just as versatile and probably cheaper.

 

Re. C-C consoles - have you ever used Ventil pedals? Frigging scary things... not the most comfortable of consoles, either - but certainly an experience!! They also have straight, flat pedal boards...

 

Re. Generals and Sequencers - I'm with Ian, Neil, etc - Generals with a stepper, please! Much easier to understand and, as people say, you can rescue mistakes by pressing the right General. Also, you can use generals for accompaiment and improvisation - situations a sequencer or stepper don't really lend themselves to. Flexibility and user friendliness are the keys!

 

I was interested in MM's comments of stops being set as "neutral" in composition pedals and piston routines... I used to use this on the old organ in our church to get more out of the 4 pistons per department. The pistons could be set at a board behind the music desk - but one needed a screwdriver to access it! With various clever combinations, I could get lots more out the pistons and it was all quite fun. It's difficult to achieve this on modern capture systems but it's a small price to pay.

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Guest spottedmetal
Re. Trono - I think you might be in a very small minority praising it. A minority of one, even. Apparently the spec is way OTT for the building and is not a success, especially with real pipes next to the speakers. The electric bits had to be turned down in volume so they are rather a disappointment after reading the exciting names engraved on the stop knobs. One has to question the validity of this approach and application in this church, where a modest II/P would have been more than adequate. Something along the lines of the Edinburgh Canongate Frobenius could have been far more successful musically, just as versatile and probably cheaper.
Thanks for this - yes, I'm sure you're right - but Carlo's recording on it is excellent, so it certainly worked to that extent. The bottom line is that there may be a difference between ecclesiastical requirements and repertoire performance instruments. If Trono was not a success, it's a shame. From my tonal experiments, I'm sure that good things are possible, but one needs clear concepts, rigorous attention to speakers and acoustic physics, a total banishing of anything containing a hard disc and most importantly the eradication of anything unorganistic.

 

Re. C-C consoles - have you ever used Ventil pedals? Frigging scary things... not the most comfortable of consoles, either - but certainly an experience!! They also have straight, flat pedal boards...
:( One can imagine! But the principle of departmental shut-offs works where the organ is large enough for such a luxury. Because I have not yet found space for complete console controls, Hugh Potton was using this technique to great effect yesterday.

 

The most terrifying thing I found was a crescendo pedal on a new organ with Venice. A slip of the foot from the swell pedal brought out all the stops - may this be an influence on pipe organs which is not carried over from toaster designs. It also leads to unmusicality and unimaginateveness as each change of sound is executed in the same sequence every time. It makes the instrument a mere noise machine of increasing loudness rather than a pallet of tonal colour. MM is quite right in his love of manual pulling.

 

Best wishes

 

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Ah, to qualify what I do: I mark a large friendly '+' sign on my score (or on the lovingly torn square of Post-it note) but write the general piston number beside it, then the memory level in superscript. I can then immediately check the digital display if something's gone wrong. I always ask my page turner to keep an eye on this too, just be sure.

I use a similar system, a big plus sign with a ring around it, generally between the staves, together with an indication of the memory level and general piston number, in the format memory/piston (eg. 39/6) above the system. You need some such system to tell you which piston to start from when you go back over a section during rehearsal, so I guess we all have our method of marking this.

 

I also agree with comments re. general crescendo pedals, which I hate. I believe these should always have an on-off switch that allows you to disable the darned thing to avoid accidents.

 

I'm surprised that so few consoles offer the option to save memory settings to removable storage, such as a USB memory stick. I would have thought this would be fairly cheap and would seem a very useful addition to me.

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Sorry, off topic, but can anyone direct me to information about the organ at Trönö. I have failed to find a specification and the Peter Collins site doesn't refer to it at all.

JC

 

This is a dangerous and heretical topic on this site :o:(:) but look here :P -link on bottm left

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I'm surprised that so few consoles offer the option to save memory settings to removable storage, such as a USB memory stick. I would have thought this would be fairly cheap and would seem a very useful addition to me.

I would have thought such a device would be of limited use, except to ensure nobody else over-wrote your settings.

 

You could hardly set up pistons on one organ and use them on another organ - finding organs with identical stop lists is hard enough, finding two with exactly the same piston system and layout as well even harder, then the format the pistons settings are saved and read from the usb has to be the same as well... then the stops on the different organs have to have the same effect... Pigs might fly!

 

So you could only use the piston settings you've saved on your USB stick on the organ they're set up on. So why would you bother taking the memory USB stick away? (Unless you're paranoid someone will delete them or you really don't want anyone else knowing what stops you use...)

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Guest spottedmetal
I'm surprised that so few consoles offer the option to save memory settings to removable storage, such as a USB memory stick. I would have thought this would be fairly cheap and would seem a very useful addition to me.
There is a problem with this. The more electronics are incorporated into pipe organs the more unreliable one would expect them to be, and the more short-lived, and the more unjustifiable on the longevity superiority of pipe-organs argument.

 

Thanks for posting that link on Trono - the scale issue is quite apparent from the photo.

 

The more action electronics are incorporated, the more absurd the resistance towards hybridisation will be seen to be.

 

However, the reality is that in the late 20th century we have suffered from the Easyjet effect: we are now more widely travelled - and with the gramophone, radio etc, wholly more aware of sounds from other places than any generation before us. This is the cause of our dissatisfaction with octopods which former generations could admire, and our neglect of the repertoire associated with periods of home-grown former generations. Coleridge-Taylor, Smart, Stanford and a clutch of other names come to mind.

 

As a result of this, the diversity of tonality which digital extensions can supply can add what we perceive to be inadequate in our pipes. But, and this is the But, one has to be entirely focussed on what one is trying to achieve in spirit, rather than simply importing every false stop under the sun. This is where so many electronic designs are rightly to be ridiculed, and why ill-considered digitals and hybridisations should be resisted.

 

There is another significant potential advantage of MIDI outputs for digital extensions: if well conceived, they can provide a backup for non-functionality of the pipe-department. The "hated organ" at my "gunpowder" son's school is increasingly dying as a result of wind leaks, providing increasing unreliability by the day. A MIDI facility going off to a couple of configurable sound-boxes, otherwise suitable for spicy extensions, would be much better value than the hired-in Allens which my son despises intensly.

 

But, however, isn't it a slippery slope into digitalisations . . . that is until queasiness sets in with most digital celestes. (I have only heard two decent ones)

 

In addition to being spoiled by the benefits of widespread communication, we are also spoiled with gadgetry. Perhaps the ancient needs for stop-pullers and pumpers were responsible in the old days for a wider exposure to organs, organ technique and the desire to learn the instrument?

 

Best wishes

 

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So you could only use the piston settings you've saved on your USB stick on the organ they're set up on. So why would you bother taking the memory USB stick away? (Unless you're paranoid someone will delete them or you really don't want anyone else knowing what stops you use...)

I think there was a case not so long ago of two eminent organists who were to give separate recitals (or separate parts of one recital) on a recently rebuilt organ in the UK. This had a floppy disk system. The system was such that all it could do was save the state of ALL the memories. So, recitalist one diligently set up their settings, saved them off. Recitalist two sets theirs on different channels, but didn't save them. Recitalist one came back, inserted said disk and overwrote everything., leaving recitalist two high and dry.

 

What kind of daft system is that? That kind of technology does nobody any favours but I fear such an experience is just grist to the mill for the Luddites! As with everything in life there are good systems and *coughs* "not so good" systems...

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Ah, to qualify what I do: I mark a large friendly '+' sign on my score (or on the lovingly torn square of Post-it note) but write the general piston number beside it, then the memory level in superscript. I can then immediately check the digital display if something's gone wrong.

 

Very sensible.

 

The only thing I wouldn't be happy about is the need to take my eye off the score to read the digital display if something went wrong.

 

Interesting to note that nobody yet has argued the case for sequencers (if there's a case for them, that is!) as they seemed "all the rage" just a while back.

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Guest spottedmetal
The only thing I wouldn't be happy about is the need to take my eye off the score to read the digital display if something went wrong.

Of course, the answer is to remember everything and not have a score . . . But I can't remember stuff that I've been playing for 30 years . . . :(

 

Best wishes

 

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I would have thought such a device would be of limited use, except to ensure nobody else over-wrote your settings.

 

You could hardly set up pistons on one organ and use them on another organ - finding organs with identical stop lists is hard enough, finding two with exactly the same piston system and layout as well even harder, then the format the pistons settings are saved and read from the usb has to be the same as well... then the stops on the different organs have to have the same effect... Pigs might fly!

 

So you could only use the piston settings you've saved on your USB stick on the organ they're set up on. So why would you bother taking the memory USB stick away? (Unless you're paranoid someone will delete them or you really don't want anyone else knowing what stops you use...)

Well, unless you've really got unlimited channels available, you can't leave all of your settings for different pieces and service music permanently in the system. So if you've spent some time programming in your settings for, say, the Elgar Sonata, it would be very handy to be able to save these away somewhere from whence they can be recalled when you next want to play it (on the same organ). Of course a hard disk somewhere inside the console could serve the same purpose and would offer a vast capacity, more than could possibly be required, so you're right in saying that there's no particular merit in saving the settings onto a removable medium.

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I'm surprised that so few consoles offer the option to save memory settings to removable storage, such as a USB memory stick. I would have thought this would be fairly cheap and would seem a very useful addition to me.

 

I think the Peterson ICS-4000 has this feature. Also with the playback system you can record pieces to a MIDI file and save it onto the memory stick, a similar sort of feature to the Notre-Dame organ.

 

JA

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What's wrong? In particular the slushy strings which sound more like a synthesiser than anything relating to pipes and a console picture on the inside featuring uncountable numbers of expression pedals.

 

 

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

 

 

I couldn't possibly know whether you are right or wrong, but a trip to America is something of an education in the string department.

 

Not only do you find whole string choruses with cornet mixtures, you find all sorts of variety in the strings. There are Gambas, Viole d'Orchestras, Viole Sorduns, Viola Pomposas, Geigens, Sharp Celestes, Flat Celestes, multi-rank Celestes....need I go on?

 

If you were to hear the string division of the organ we all know as "Wanamaker," you would soon realise that this "sea of string sound" is actually quite common, and when combined, the effect IS quite sickly in a rather beautiful way. So even real pipes can sound a bit like a Synthesised string-chorus, and on the bigger and better Allens I have played, the effect is quite close to the real thing.

 

On of the most astounding sounds I ever heard, was a rendition of the "Air on the G string" by Bach, using all the strings in chorus. If people care to go back and find that link to the "Pipedreams" programme entitled, "Bach on the wild side," it can be heard on that.

 

Some of the really big American organs can have as many as 40 ranks of strings!

 

It's not a sound which has ever really travelled out of America except in digital form, possibly because of the sheer expense of so many ranks of pipes. It's not even something found in great profusion on theatre-organs, but a few of the biggest have quite a lot of strings.

 

I suppose it's a case of, "You pays your money and you makes your choice."

 

 

MM

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Backups - yes, I can see the point...

 

I think having (virtually) unlimited levels of memory is not far off but in order for it to work, you'd need a better user interface to select levels of memory. THere's nothing more annoying than scrolling to level 183 level by level in a hurry as they're saying grace downstairs before you start the voluntary. How about some kind of folder system? Then players could have their own folder, protected in some way so no-one can delete or over-write the settings.

 

I can't understand why some builders don't provide masses of new levels of memory on a new organ as it's so cheap. I remember looking at a new Nicholson (2002?) which had but 2 levels of memory. Nicholsons said it was to keep the price down but to me it looked like spoiling the ship for a ha'penny's worth of tar. For a £210,000 organ, surely one can add another £50 somewhere (or what ever it costs) to up the spec to 1000 levels (or even 256 or 64) of memory, which could actually be of some use...

 

This is the USB stick I want for my organ's piston system:

http://shop.strato.de/epages/61445724.sf/e.../Shops/61445724

 

http://www.shipoffools.com/Gadgets/House/036.html - Hahaha!

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I'm all for a voice interface, personally.

 

Then again, I'm the kind of guy who would forgo tabs/drawstops for flat-panel displays mounted on the jambs offering touch screen access... Web access.. Check these fora/the cricket scores/book a restaurant during the sermon.. ah, the possibilities are endless ;)

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