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Digital Futures....?


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I am new to this as well, so please don't be too brutal.

 

I have been an organist for over 25 years and am a lover of the traditional instrument, but I am also a computer engineer and have not only played several digital organs but attempted to build one or two in my lifetime.

 

I think that the answer lies in the base technology; granted we can reproduce the sound of an organ in its steady state throug digital sampling, the proof of this is just to play a CD! Harry Nyquist was after all, correct.

 

There is also no doubt that the cost of the digital organ will continue to decline, as technology gets faster and cheaper. There is, I think, at least one piece of the puzzle missing: the pipe is dynamic, not static. Organ builders over the years have learned that by using metallurgy, wind pressure, pipe topology and construction they can not only vary the steady state and harmonic composition of a pipe, but also change the way in which it reaches that state, ie the 'chiff' in a soft flute or the gradual transition from wind to sound as a 32' pipe starts to resonate.

 

These nuances are difficult, if not impossible, to reproduce with sampling. Until such time as we can derive an accurate mathematical model of the acoustics of a pipe and emulate it in real time, then a true digital facsimile of a pipe will not be possible. I have been working on this problem for some time, if there is anyone out there that would like to help, please join in.

 

Cheers.

 

 

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

 

Forewarning! I know nothing much about music computing.

 

That said, I do understand a fundamental difference between the reproduction of recorded sound in digital format, and the replication of the same thing using "mix and match" sampled sounds.

 

Theoretically, it SHOULD be possible to create a sound comparable to a digital-recording, but this seems just too difficult to achieve perfectly when electronic digital-organs are considered.

 

For many years, the digital electronic-organ suffered from a certain sterility, and using something taken from the better analogue organs with their rotating speakers, a degree of "random motion" was introduced into the programming of digital-organs, which made a lasting and immediate improvement on what had gone before.

 

It's a while since I played a good digital-organ. I think the last one I had my paws on was Carlo Curley's "touring Allen", which in the individual registers, was very, very good. One could hear the transients and wind-noise on a single Diapason, as one might expect from sampled-sound. However, as the chorus built up and then the Mixtures added, that particular instrument began to sound increasingly artificial, but never really unmusical.

 

The latest generation of "high end" digitals seem to be an improvement on this, and the very best are, I feel, quite serious musical instruments in their own rights; not just a "substitute" for the real thing, but they are expensive.

 

Without mentioning specific brands, I am quite disappointed with a new UK digital installation in an RC church not far from me, which is so bland and so synthetic of tone, I think I would actually prefer an old analogue Johannus, which were among the best of their kind.

 

New technology, I feel, does not necessarily translate into better musical quality.

 

MM

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What about maintenance? I heard today about one 10-year-old toaster that has been on the blink for some months. Last Sunday it died completely during the last verse of the final hymn. Unfortunately for the church the builder is based up-country and won't send a rep to the area unless he has at least three calls to make. I don't suppose this goes for all firms (I've never had any such problems with Wyvern, though I've not had to call them in for several years now).

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Guest Barry Oakley
What about maintenance? I heard today about one 10-year-old toaster that has been on the blink for some months. Last Sunday it died completely during the last verse of the final hymn. Unfortunately for the church the builder is based up-country and won't send a rep to the area unless he has at least three calls to make. I don't suppose this goes for all firms (I've never had any such problems with Wyvern, though I've not had to call them in for several years now).

 

I suggest you find a local electronics engineer who is conversant with electrical musical instruments. You often find that the chap who is able to service and repair instruments such as Yamaha or from other well-known manufacturers of front-room organs can do the same for the likes of Makin, Viscount, Ahlborne, etc.

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

The latest generation of "high end" digitals seem to be an improvement on this, and the very best are, I feel, quite serious musical instruments in their own rights; not just a "substitute" for the real thing, but they are expensive.

 

I agree that the best are effective musical instruments in one sense - the sense of getting the job done to the satisfaction of player and audience. However, as they ultimately aim to imitate a different instrument (ie real pipes) I think this limits the ability of the digital instrument to evolve and develop as an instrument in its own right. A sampled organ could be made to imitate almost any sound - and it is therefore ultimately dependent on the parallel existence of pipe instruments, developing according to the technical and artistic limitations of that medium. Otherwise the digital instrument would merely copy historic pipe organs.

 

Of course it would now be technically possible for electronic organs to diverge from their "pipe-imitation" roots - and then we would presumably have the invention of many new tone colours, and different tonal structures - and I guess new repertoire may then need to develop to exploit this. (cf synthesizers or Ondes Martinot). This seems rather radical - analogous maybe with MM's mention in another thread of the need for a new theology and replacement of Cranmer with something more modern and relevant. I guess it will eventually happen, but I can't see where the necessary inspiration and creativity would come from at present.

 

==================Without mentioning specific brands, I am quite disappointed with a new UK digital installation in an RC church not far from me, which is so bland and so synthetic of tone, I think I would actually prefer an old analogue Johannus, which were among the best of their kind.

 

New technology, I feel, does not necessarily translate into better musical quality.

 

 

I think there are some recent technical developments which significantly improve the ability of digital organs to imitate pipes:

1. Availability of cheap memory - which means that vast amounts of sample data can be stored, and long samples.

2. Ability of some technologies to allow separate tone generation for each "pipe", including each "pipe" in each mixture rank - and also allowing separate tuning of each "pipe"

3. Ability of sampled organs to sound as good (or even better) than synthesized instruments (such as those produced by Copeman Hart and others), but at a much cheaper price (at least for the digital electronics - the console hardware etc will always cost money for good quality and longevity).

 

Also, as always, the use of a large number of audio channels and speakers is essential - and that does not come cheap. And the expertise required in setting up an instrument in the building is not trivial.

 

Finally - the quality of the data is absolutely important. And I believe there have been some high profile digital organs installed where, despite all else being fine, the data has not been up to scratch, and that has led to an artificial sound.

 

JJK

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I love the effect of a breathing, live musical instrument. I hate the affect of a badly adjusted, poorly speaking unreliable machine. So I'm all for a good electronic over a bad pipe organ (and boy have I endured some in my time ...)

 

I wholeheartedly support the efforts of anyone trying to make church music come alive ( all traditions).

 

However. the digital future is likely to be one in which the machine 'corrects' our playing - just like Office 'corrects' our spelling and grammar - forcing us into an articulation, structure and style that is not our own - but is Microsoft approved. Can you imagine the fun when a committee (RCO??) defines the 'rules' for style lie/stylus phantasticus etc and to which composers they do/don't apply? Consider Schumann/Mendelssohn/early Franck for example.

 

This means I have to support an analogue (human) future. And accept what Maurice F-G called 'churchmoniums'.

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The future of pipeless organs? I think it's called "Hauptwerk".

 

Check out these new demos:

 

http://www.organartmedia.de/Aix-Demos.html

 

http://www.organartmedia.com/downloads/Boe...Toccata-HW2.mp3

 

[1880 Ducroquet-Cavaille-coll, Aix Cathedral.]

 

http://www.milanaudio.com/audio/mp3/skinne...ce-heroique.mp3

 

[1928 EM Skinner, Chicago.]

 

The reverberations are those of the buildings, not artificially added.

 

You can, if you wish, play these and many other organs from a collapsible mobile console which would fit in the boot of your car (imagine the possibilities for concerts/services in buildings without organs!), or through any other MIDI-compatible keyboard(s) or digital organ console.

 

Best wishes,

 

Douglas.

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Guest Lee Blick

Thanks for those DHM. I think digital instrument have their own strength and weaknesses. Organists have been saying for decades electronic instruments are not as good as pipe ones. But more and more digital instruments are finding thier way into churches, schools, concert venues, cathedrals.

 

I am quite happy to play either digital or pipe organs. Whether one is better than the other is immaterial in my opinion, I think as organists we should try and the best out of the instruments we have at our disposal.

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When I began my studies with a professional photographer, on the first day he took me to the local market, bought a second hand camera for 30 shillings and there and then proceeded to shoot a couple of rolls of film. When developed, the pictures were superb. The reason for the exercise was to teach me that the scene and the person behind the lens mattered more than the equipment.

 

I have been working on the design of pipeless organs for over forty years and I regret I can hear many of the same shortcomings in the "hauptwerk" demos that I have been struggling with from the start. I'm sorry but I don't believe Hauptwerk is the breakthrough that some would wish us to believe, though I think it is a competent effort. Single notes with action noise, wind fluctuation and so on, can be reproduced to perfection, but in combination they still sound nothing like the real thing. Even the finest hi-fi system has never been able to reproduce the exact sound of a live string quartet in your living room.

 

But, that said, it's the music that really matters and any instrument in the hands of somebody who plays it with care and understanding will be able to bring pleasure to the listener. I would always choose pipes rather than loudspeakers, but if cash is short it is better to have a musical instrument rather than none.

 

JC

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A little 'case study':

As a Sixth-Former, I was organist here:

 

http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch...ec_index=N01152

 

According to the records, this instrument lasted a fairly long time with minimal work. I would guess that over those 70-80 years, some standard leather patching/small repairs went on, but the main point is that the first time the pipes had to come off the soundboards for a major overhaul was 90 years after installation.

 

I wonder how many electronics would have been needed over that time, and what the cost would have been. (Although this argument may become redundant if Moore's Law drops the price of processing power to the level where it is economic to replace an electronic every 10 years....)

 

A rolling programme of modest refurbishment, culminating with the 2003 action refurbishment, will enable this instrument to see me (and perhaps the Anglican Church) out, assuming it doesn't suffer some future calamity.

 

The key here is that the congregation (smallish country parish size) acknowledge the organ as one of the most valuable parts of the fabric. A pretty good village choir make weekly use of it. And most importantly, the initial material (1903 Walker...think 1966 Burgundy :angry:) is of the highest quality.

 

And looking at the specification, there are not many places an electronic could improve for the size of church. Perhaps a pedal trombone. Perhaps a smoother solo reed. Definitely not a great mixture, because the existing fifteenth seems to have magical properties.....! In fact the only improvement that could be made would be to strip out the existing nasty carpet to expose the chancel tiles.

 

Contrast this with a church not far away. A 2 manual, 4-rank (Diapason,String, Std. flute, trumpet....), 80's ish electric action extension organ, shoehorned into a west tower chamber best described as a pantry, with horrific illuminated stop switches which seem to have a mind of their own. One of the ranks is a trumpet. I don't know why, since the thing desperately cries for more foundation tone and fewer screaming, derived mutaions and bad reeds. When the sun shines on the back of the chamber, it really is possible to understand about those trumpets they mentioned in Revelations.

 

Don't know a vintage to describe this one, but sufficient to say that it is well corked. There has never been such a compelling case to rip an organ out, use the pipes for guttering, and install a modestly sized but high quality electronic, there being no suitable space in the church for a usefully sized organ chamber.

 

So to echo what someone else has said, the whole matter seems to be very subjective, and so it is difficult to generalise, with the caveat that obviously good work should be preserved or at least stored for the future if possible.

 

DWL.

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Single notes with action noise, wind fluctuation and so on, can be reproduced to perfection, but in combination they still sound nothing like the real thing.

One thing that helps is that Hauptwerk is designed to be able to drive many output channels (even via multiple computers) to keep divisions or smaller groups apart, which is known to improve fidelity in complex textures. It also models the effects of playing one rank on the wind of another, not just the unsteadiness of a single rank. Of course it's not perfect, but I believe it does contain some real advances in the designed of sampled organs.

 

Paul

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Guest Lee Blick

A major advantage of Hauptwerk is that the user can be in total control of the software and sound of the instrument. He can choose what he wants on his organ, and it can be altered at will. With a pipe organ you are stuck with the specification set. It is a useful tool to allow users to experiment with different tonal styles and temperaments, etc etc.

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According to the records, this instrument lasted a fairly long time with minimal work. I would guess that over those 70-80 years, some standard leather patching/small repairs went on, but the main point is that the first time the pipes had to come off the soundboards for a major overhaul was 90 years after installation.

 

I wonder how many electronics would have been needed over that time, and what the cost would have been. (Although this argument may become redundant if Moore's Law drops the price of processing power to the level where it is economic to replace an electronic every 10 years....)

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

I'm a little reluctant to get into this discussion of comparative economics for two reasons. Firstly, we are the guests of a pipe-organ builder, and secondly, I got it wrong the first time I tried to work all this out!

 

To be utterly blunt about my own knowledge-base, I'm not entirely sure what a decent, modest 2-manual instrument would cost to-day, but let's take £200,000 as a ballpark starting figure.

 

Similarly, I'm possibly out of touch with digital organ prices at the serious-end of the market, but I would have thought that £50,000 is probably about right for a church of modest proportions.

 

If the pipe-organ is kept simple, with tracker-action, then the chances are that it could live indefinitely with minimum maintenance, whereas the electronic would need to be renewed in some way every 20-25 years.

 

We can but only assume zero inflation on all this, at least as a "pound for pound" exercise, and with that in mind, one modest pipe-organ equals four effective digital instruments; in a time scale of perhaps 100 years of useful life.

 

Additional to the cost of a pipe-organ, would be cleaning, tuning and a possible refurbishment at some point, which would add a significant amount to the overall cost-per-century, but not a vast amount. I wonder if, in a zero inlfation world, that doesn't translate to around a further £50,000?

 

Of course, if the pipe-organ were to continue, as many do, in active service for a further century, then it would be safe to assume that the pipe-organ is actually more cost effective.

 

Of course, one has to add depreciation on capital, which would be fairly substantial on the amount involved in building a pipe-organ, and which may would possibly make the pipe-organ and the digital-organs just about neck and neck over the 200 year period.

 

What must be considered are the following:-

 

1) Can such a large capital sum as that required to build a pipe-organ be raised by many churches to-day?

 

2) Do clergy and congregations feel that this sort of initial expense is justified?

 

3) Is the future of churches guaranteed when so many have closed?

 

4) Do people have the discernement to know the difference between a pipe-organ and a digital one?

 

Of course, it isn't just a question of money. The world abounds with people who "know the price of everything, and the value of nothing".

 

As always, the procurement of a new pipe-organ represents an act of faith, but if people believe that a new pipe-organ is the worthier instrument of the two, then this should be the preferred option where it is possible.

 

MM

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When my old parish church looked at replacing their old organ (1980s) a toaster was considered. As I recall (probably badly knowing me) the toaster route was the cheaper one. Two digital organs were brought into the church and tried out. Members of the congregation were encouraged to attend and many did. All who were there thought they sounded fine until the old organ (well past its best) was played. From that point onwards it was decided that the extra money for a pipe organ was the way to go. :P

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A church in Winchester brought in an electronic substitute organ to replace the ailing - and not particularly fine* - pipe organ. The pipe organ remained in situ and was still playable - just. It is worth noting that after a few months, the pipe organ was still being used nearly all the time and the electronic was left to gather dust.

 

After a few years, the electronic organ was removed and the pipe organ still remains in use, struggling on with a nearly shot action and wind system.

 

I have heard an electronic organ and a pipe organ played as a comparison demostration. Despite the latest advances, even a small unit electric action organ knocked spots off the latest and greatest simulation organs.

 

* It was originally a rather fine organ but after a number of rebuilds, it has rather lost its way and has become very poor.

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A church in Winchester brought in an electronic substitute organ to replace the ailing - and not particularly fine - pipe organ.

 

After a few years, the electronic organ was removed and the pipe organ still remains in use, struggling on with a nearly shot action and wind system.

 

 

It seems a shame that the money spent on the little used electronic wasn’t used to better effect by bringing the pipe organ up to a better (in terms of action, wind supply) standard. :P

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yes, indeed. I'd have also done something about the rather inappropriate upperwork and reeds. In fact, the best thing to do iwould probably be to throw it all out and start again - perhaps saving a few of pipes from the original organ to form a core and inspiration for a new organ.

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
A church in Winchester brought in an electronic substitute organ to replace the ailing - and not particularly fine* - pipe organ. The pipe organ remained in situ and was still playable - just. It is worth noting that after a few months, the pipe organ was still being used nearly all the time and the electronic was left to gather dust.

 

After a few years, the electronic organ was removed and the pipe organ still remains in use, struggling on with a nearly shot action and wind system.

 

 

Folkestone Parish Church has a some what similar situation. A money-no-object four-manual Copeman Hart was purchased some 15+ years ago to replace an ailing three manual HN&B. The massive electronic is gathering dust. The HN&B is still going and still in use* - despite its last rebuild being in 1930-something. *I absolutely love it (tatty but gorgeous!) and included it on one of my little-tour CDs.

 

Sometimes, of course, (even in the UK, Pierre!) we do end up with two real pipe organs (usually because the second is intended to replace the first). Two such places are known to me:

1. St.Mary's Stafford, where a major four-manual H&H in arguably 'the wrong place' and of 'the wrong style' was supplemented by a new partly extended HN&B in an antique case. You will not be suprised to learn which instrument remains the preferred choice of players there.

2. St.Peter's College, Oxford, where a small Father Willis was left to collect dust behind a new Lammermuir 2-decker planned by the gifted Professor John Harper [formerly of Magdalen College and now University of North Wales, Bangor; also simultaneously part-time 'Director General' of the RSCM]. I wonder how long the Lammermuir will remain in place now that the Father Willis has been throughly spruced up?

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Folkestone Parish Church has a some what similar situation.  A money-no-object four-manual Copeman Hart was purchased some 15+ years ago to replace an ailing three manual HN&B.  The massive electronic is gathering dust.  The HN&B is still going and still in use* - despite its last rebuild being in 1930-something. *I absolutely love it (tatty but gorgeous!) and included it on one of my little-tour CDs.

 

Sometimes, of course, (even in the UK, Pierre!) we do end up with two real pipe organs (usually because the second is intended to replace the first). Two such places are known to me:

1. St.Mary's Stafford, where a major four-manual H&H in arguably 'the wrong place' and of 'the wrong style' was supplemented by a new partly extended HN&B in an antique case. You will not be suprised to learn which instrument remains the preferred choice of players there.

2. St.Peter's College, Oxford, where a small Father Willis was left to collect dust behind a new Lammermuir 2-decker planned by the gifted Professor John Harper [formerly of Magdalen College and now University of North Wales, Bangor; also simultaneously part-time 'Director General' of the RSCM]. I wonder how long the Lammermuir will remain in place now that the Father Willis has been throughly spruced up?

 

I may be wrong over this but wasn't the Lammermuir recently up for sale?

 

AJJ

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
I may be wrong over this but wasn't the Lammermuir recently up for sale?

 

AJJ

 

 

I didn't know that, but it makes so much sense that there is no suprise here!

 

I remember reading an enthralling article by Neil Richerby (of Lammermuir) a few years ago in one of the trade journals. In the course of this, he explained that his instruments were so carefully made that they needed no adjustment, and upon this firm conviction all his trackers, stickers etc. were always cut to absolute length (thereby allowing for no adjustment subsequently either by him or by anyone else).

 

This is surely a wildly optimistic policy which must have rebounded on him more than once by now. Something along the lines of 'Famous Last Words.'

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Guest Barry Oakley
I've heard some interesting, if rather unfortunate, stories about the Lammermuir organ at Petersfield. I have never heard it or played it at any stage so am unable to comment further.

 

The story of this organ's history can be found on NPOR:

http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch...ec_index=D02704

 

Several years ago at the opening recital of the then newly installed chapel organ at the University of Hull, an organist friend nudged me and said, "Are we listening to an organ?" Interesting to note that revoicing has taken place at Petersfield.

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Several years ago at the opening recital of the then newly installed chapel organ at the University of Hull, an organist friend nudged me and said, "Are we listening to an organ?" Interesting to note that revoicing has taken place at Petersfield.

 

I've played the Lammermuir at St Margaret's, Putney a few times and really enjoyed it. Is it an exception?

 

MJH

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