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Mander Organs

Does Tracker-action Make For Better Performances?


MusingMuso

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So here's a wacky thought experiment. How about building a theatre organ with mechanical action? I'm sure that if pressed someone could build an instrument with suspended action and a chorus of Tibia Clausas instead of Prinzipal 16/8/4/2. But what on earth would it be like to play Chuganooga choo-choo?

 

Hi

 

Probably absolutely fine if the action was well designed. Obviously, the choruses would have to be made of individual ranks for each pitch - I guess individual rank extensions/duplexing could be done with tracker, but the complexity would be mind-boggling.

 

Tracker does not have to be heavy - and a well-designed tracker action will respond faster than any electro-pneumatic action. The small 4m St Martin organ in Girton College, Cambridge, is a case in point. I gather that the organ scholars often couple the manuals together to add a bit of extra weight when practicing to play elsewhere!

 

(Incidentally, I'm pretty sure that some of the early, pre-unit organ theatre pipe organs would have had tracker action - but have been designed for their role in the cinema.)

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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"a well-designed tracker action will respond faster than any electro-pneumatic action."

(Quote)

 

I am slightly uncomfortable with this sentence, first because it is physically impossible

(As Mr Skinner wrote, an EP action with Taschenlade or Pitman chest works faster

than any pipe itself), second, because when man experiments how the true, historic

tracker actions were made, and how they work, one realizes those mega-light, modern

actions, are bound to modern materials and/ or ditto design means and to neo-baroque,

foundation-less kind of specifications.

 

The tracker action, like any other, has its plus and its minuses, no more, nor less.

It is quite sure its fashion has been exagerrated in an ideological way during the

second half of the 20th century.

 

Pierre

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There is a quote from Jeanne Demessieux about the type of action that would suit playing Dupré's music best, and she stated that tracker action needed to be "very, very light"; the best type would be electric (by which, I gather, she meant e-p).

 

These "very, very light" and fast tracker actions, however, do exist; and maybe Mme Demessieux just couldn't know, because she tragically did not live to see the considerable progress in tracker action engineering since the 1960ies. I recently heard Dupré's Sketch op. 41, 1 (that staccato thing) on a 1989 tracker (this recording, nothing on youtube, alas) with the player going at breakneck speed -- faster indeed than John Scott on his, otherwise peerless, St Paul's recording. The only downside was that, on a tracker that basically was built in 1960 (1989 rebuild), the keyboard ended at g''', so that a few notes on the top end were missing.

 

Bottom line: As long as we are talking contemporary organbuilding, no tracker actions needs to be as clumsy as to exclude exciting bits of repertoire. On the other hand, some other very exciting bits, by composers such as Ligeti, Cage, Kagel, Yun etc., cannot be performed aptly on electric action instruments.

 

Best,

Friedrich

 

 

I don`t think there is a real case either for or against here regarding tracker action.

 

To use that hackneyed phrase its " horses for courses ".

 

As you correctly state some compositions technically are just not suitable for mechanical action. This seems to me to be a simple matter of fact based upon the limitations of mechanics.

 

Tracker action is certainly not a dinosaur. It should rather be regarded in similar terms to say, driving a Classic Car, preferably a Bentley. No synchromesh,no Bowden cables, no PAS,no heating - but what fun!!

 

There again,still making the comparison with cars; some people drive them in a better manner and with more results than others.

 

Tracker, pneumatic ( ! ) EP, Barker- whatever so long as it is well constructed and maintained it should remain a pleasure to play and I stress "pleasure " warts and all!

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"a well-designed tracker action will respond faster than any electro-pneumatic action."

(Quote)

 

I am slightly uncomfortable with this sentence, first because it is physically impossible

(As Mr Skinner wrote, an EP action with Taschenlade or Pitman chest works faster

than any pipe itself), second, because when man experiments how the true, historic

tracker actions were made, and how they work, one realizes those mega-light, modern

actions, are bound to modern materials and/ or ditto design means and to neo-baroque,

foundation-less kind of specifications.

 

The tracker action, like any other, has its plus and its minuses, no more, nor less.

It is quite sure its fashion has been exagerrated in an ideological way during the

second half of the 20th century.

 

Pierre

 

Hi

 

Simple physics (and a few moments thought) shows that the pneumatic relays in an EP action will take a finite time to respond - whilst a tracker action, by it's nature, has no inherent lag. pipe voicing is another issue.

 

Maybe I'm ultra-sensitive to timing delays, but the only EP action I've been really happy with was the Rye Wurlitzer, with action running on something in the region of 20" pressure (that was before the recent rebuild). This was helped by the fact that console was close to the pipe chamber.

 

I'm pretty sure that the St martin organ at Girton College doesn't use modern lightweight parts - these seem largely to have fallen out of favour in recent times.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Hi

 

Simple physics (and a few moments thought) shows that the pneumatic relays in an EP action will take a finite time to respond - whilst a tracker action, by it's nature, has no inherent lag. pipe voicing is another issue.

 

Maybe I'm ultra-sensitive to timing delays, but the only EP action I've been really happy with was the Rye Wurlitzer, with action running on something in the region of 20" pressure (that was before the recent rebuild). This was helped by the fact that console was close to the pipe chamber.

 

I'm pretty sure that the St martin organ at Girton College doesn't use modern lightweight parts - these seem largely to have fallen out of favour in recent times.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

A few thoughts to help here, as I think a tracker action and well designed pneumatic action will be as near identical in speed of response to a finger, limited only by the ability of that finger.

 

A pneumatic action is limited by resistances and pressures. The system is permanently full of air, it is not a vacuum. I know this is obvious but it's amazing how many people still think that the molecules of air have to travel from point A to point B before the action will work. Likewise with electrical current, the charge does not have to go from point A to point B. What will affect the system is the pressure of wind and the level of resistance. Pressure of wind is fairly obvious, but don't assume the pressure at the action reservoir which is what is normally quoted, is the same as at the soundboard and don't assume every soundboard is the same. Resistance is relative to tube and boring dimensions, smoothness of inner walls, flexibility of leather, position of wires within registers or borings, negative spring pressures and the electrical resistance in wires and magnets.

 

With mechanical action clearly a lot of these things are not relevant. However, the human finger is more limiting than the speed of air and electricity if they are working to their optimum, so I don't subscribe to the principle that pneumatic or electric actions are per se slower than mechanical. If you position three consoles in identical relationship to three soundboards and achieve the links electrically, pneumatically, and mechanically, you'll never hear a difference, so long as they have all been built properly. I would further wager to suggest that you can fire off a good electro pneumatic action with a machine more quickly than any finger can manage. Don't judge this by the speed of the pipe either. An action can go much quicker than a pipe can speak fully.

 

Also, again I know it's obvious, but is still easy to overlook, electrics and pneumatics allow for consoles to be put in all sorts of places which can trick the ear into thinking there's a delay whereas it's a relative matter of the speed of sound versus the speed of wind and electricity.

 

AJS

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A few thoughts to help here, as I think a tracker action and well designed pneumatic action will be as near identical in speed of response to a finger, limited only by the ability of that finger.

 

A pneumatic action is limited by resistances and pressures. The system is permanently full of air, it is not a vacuum. I know this is obvious but it's amazing how many people still think that the molecules of air have to travel from point A to point B before the action will work. Likewise with electrical current, the charge does not have to go from point A to point B. What will affect the system is the pressure of wind and the level of resistance. Pressure of wind is fairly obvious, but don't assume the pressure at the action reservoir which is what is normally quoted, is the same as at the soundboard and don't assume every soundboard is the same. Resistance is relative to tube and boring dimensions, smoothness of inner walls, flexibility of leather, position of wires within registers or borings, negative spring pressures and the electrical resistance in wires and magnets.

 

With mechanical action clearly a lot of these things are not relevant. However, the human finger is more limiting than the speed of air and electricity if they are working to their optimum, so I don't subscribe to the principle that pneumatic or electric actions are per se slower than mechanical. If you position three consoles in identical relationship to three soundboards and achieve the links electrically, pneumatically, and mechanically, you'll never hear a difference, so long as they have all been built properly. I would further wager to suggest that you can fire off a good electro pneumatic action with a machine more quickly than any finger can manage. Don't judge this by the speed of the pipe either. An action can go much quicker than a pipe can speak fully.

 

Also, again I know it's obvious, but is still easy to overlook, electrics and pneumatics allow for consoles to be put in all sorts of places which can trick the ear into thinking there's a delay whereas it's a relative matter of the speed of sound versus the speed of wind and electricity.

 

AJS

 

Hi

 

I'm well aware of the physics of the situation - including the inevitable time lag with detached consoles - and at one time I played a pneumatic action organ with an attached console weekly (one has to ask why pneumatics in that situation - but it was the "in thing" when the organ was built). Where that fell down was in:- 1) lack of "feel" in the action, and 2: repetition - fast trills tended to sound as 2 adjacent notes sounding together. I've seen/heard the same issues on other non-tracker organs.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Speaking as a mere consumer (i.e. player) I'm with Tony. I don't doubt that what Porthead says is true, but it is only so for new organs. It is not likely to be so valid further down the line when parts start to wear, central heating takes its toll, etc. The fact remains that for most organists tubular pneumatic action provides the least satisfactory playing experience.

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Hi

 

I'm well aware of the physics of the situation - including the inevitable time lag with detached consoles - and at one time I played a pneumatic action organ with an attached console weekly (one has to ask why pneumatics in that situation - but it was the "in thing" when the organ was built). Where that fell down was in:- 1) lack of "feel" in the action, and 2: repetition - fast trills tended to sound as 2 adjacent notes sounding together. I've seen/heard the same issues on other non-tracker organs.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

Well what I suspect you're describing here is bad/cheap organ building. I too have played and encountered electric/pneumatic actions with these symptoms. Most of them, although certainly not exclusively all are caused by issues with the keyboard - either depth of touch/firing point or type of key return mechanism or just the basic quality of the keyboard. Also, if the pneumatic portion of the action has been badly designed or poorly regulated then it will display the same symptoms. A poorly regulated or designed mechanical action will display similar symptoms, although rarely to the same degree. It's not a fault with the generic type of action, although there are better and worse designs, as there are for any type of action and I still wonder about the concept of low pressure exhaust pneumatics. It's more a matter of quality of parts, manufacture and maintenance.

 

AJS

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"repetition - fast trills tended to sound as 2 adjacent notes sounding together."

(Quote)

 

This is a typical maintenance problem Mr Michel Gaillard in France has specialized

in adressing !

Ask the one (s?) here who played pneumatic organs restored by him.

 

Pierre

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Guest Roffensis

I love a good tracker, great for Bach and repetition is good, unlike some other actions. Of course it depends how large the instrument is whether tracker is always feasible, but I know what I prefer.

 

R

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"repetition - fast trills tended to sound as 2 adjacent notes sounding together."

(Quote)

 

This is a typical maintenance problem Mr Michel Gaillard in France has specialized

in adressing !

Ask the one (s?) here who played pneumatic organs restored by him.

 

Pierre

 

Hi

 

That could well be the case on the particular instrument I mentioned (exhaust pneumatic action at pipe pressure - and by one of the poorer builders - no names, no pack drill!), but I've come across similar situations on several pneumatic and electro-pneumatic organs.

 

That said, part of the organist's art is to get the best out of whatever instrument they are faced with.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Guest Roffensis
That said, part of the organist's art is to get the best out of whatever instrument they are faced with.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

 

Which often translates as making the best of the instrument they are stuck with!!

 

R

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