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Digital Futures....?


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I was given to understand by someone in the know that the heart of the unique Musicom system was developed by Tony Koorlander. I knew of Copeman Hart and some other organ builders using the system, but are you really sure the system relies on the Bradford technology?

 

Hi

 

I actually said the same basic technology. Musicom, as far as I know, licensed the Bradford system and developed it - and use their own voicing software.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Guest Barry Williams
Hi

 

I actually said the same basic technology. Musicom, as far as I know, licensed the Bradford system and developed it - and use their own voicing software.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

I have obtained further information. At one time there was a 'Bradford Computing 'Organ 'Building Company Ltd' , (this may have been the company bought by Makin 'Organs' Ltd,) and there have also been several businesses using the term 'Bradford Computing' in the name, whether a business name, a partnership or a limited company. All of these appear to have been suppliers and installers, presumably under licence, of the 'Bradford' technology that was invented by Dr Peter Commerford and of which, I think, he stills owns the patent. This is the 'same basic technology' to which Tony refers above. The principle used in the manufacture is still the same, a composite tone, even when 'sound sampled'. Makin 'Organs' Ltd certainly produced a variant of the Bradford system at one time, amusingly designated by one of their (very able) staff as a 'Bradkin'!

 

There have been modifications of the original system, principally in two variants, but the underlying methodology remains the same, with the original defects, albeit slightly less noticeable. The system is ingenious but very complex. I have been told that 'Bradford' systems can only be serviced by a specialist engineer, unlike the sound sampled systems which use very straightforward technology.

 

Whilst there are certainly circumstances in which electronic instruments are most useful, for example in open air rallies or for home practice, there can be no doubt that pipes are always the best.

 

Our hosts are most tolerant of these posts about pipeless machines on their Board. For my part I feel slightly guilty about prolonging the discussion. I have no hesitation about discussing home practice instruments, for not everyone can afford a pipe organ at home or has the space to accommodate pipes, but pipe organs in churches, schools, etc are our hosts' business.

 

I conclude this note with reference to the advice given to me, when I was about twenty three years of age, by the late Mr Noel Mander MBE, for whom I had (and still have) the greatest respect. I asked him about building a very small practice organ for home, (not wanting to have to pay significant sums to a local church for the use of their not very good organ.) He advised me to get an electronic until I could afford a pipe organ, pointing out that one and a half stops, one on the manual and one on the pedal - all I could then afford, was really not economic, there being a basic cost to the chest, console, blower, etc that diminished proportionately as one had more ranks of pipes. I followed that wise advice and was very glad indeed to have been given such wisdom at an early stage; I could have spent money then and possibly been disappointed.

 

Barry Williams

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there can be no doubt that pipes are always the best.

 

Whatever people think about the Bradford system, sampling, or whatever, as Barry says, nothing beats real pipes. Even one rank of decent flute pipes is endlessly more rewarding than the largest and best digital organ. I often find I tire very quickly of the sound of electronic organs, but never of good pipework.

 

Jonathan

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Guest Barry Williams
Whatever people think about the Bradford system, sampling, or whatever, as Barry says, nothing beats real pipes. Even one rank of decent flute pipes is endlessly more rewarding than the largest and best digital organ. I often find I tire very quickly of the sound of electronic organs, but never of good pipework.

 

Jonathan

 

Yes, I agree. But just one rank, even of very good pipes, is not necessarily the best practice organ. Three ranks - actually just over three and a half ranks, with very careful disposition, can give a superb practice organ for the cost of a new electronic instrument. Interestingly, a one time supplier of 'Bradford' instrument actually sold such pipe organs, many years ago. I played one in a church and found it rather successful, though not nearly as imaginative as Mr Noel Mander's essays with a few ranks.

 

Barry Williams

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Yes, I agree. But just one rank, even of very good pipes, is not necessarily the best practice organ. Three ranks - actually just over three and a half ranks, with very careful disposition, can give a superb practice organ for the cost of a new electronic instrument. Interestingly, a one time supplier of 'Bradford' instrument actually sold such pipe organs, many years ago. I played one in a church and found it rather successful, though not nearly as imaginative as Mr Noel Mander's essays with a few ranks.

 

Barry Williams

 

I was just suggesting that most things are possible. I agree that three and a half ranks gives a very versatile and satisfying instrument.

 

Jonathan

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Guest Barry Williams

All of this leads me to comment that it takes more skill to voice just a few ranks, especially if they are extended, than a large organ. It took June and me years to consider the stop list and specification (not the same thing!) of our house organ.

 

We would probably have had some manual extension had it not been for the influence (on my wife) of a very well-known and able organ builder.....................!

 

Extension is an excellent method of acheving a tiny but flexible house organ in a small space and with limited funds.

 

Even so, electronics have their uses in the home, not the least of which is having head phones.

 

Barry Williams

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Even so, electronics have their uses in the home, not the least of which is having head phones.

 

Barry Williams

 

I have said this here before but my playing has improved vastly since I aquired mine - the headphones are a huge advantage in a terraced house and with others to consider and although by no means top of the range I have (so far) not got bored with any of the noises it makes. I personally would find (for example) a stopped flute and a dulciana too limiting (however much they were extended) - which is all I would be able to get into the space available unless I had a box type continuo organ.

 

AJJ

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Guest Barry Williams
I have said this here before but my playing has improved vastly since I aquired mine - the headphones are a huge advantage in a terraced house and with others to consider and although by no means top of the range I have (so far) not got bored with any of the noises it makes. I personally would find (for example) a stopped flute and a dulciana too limiting (however much they were extended) - which is all I would be able to get into the space available unless I had a box type continuo organ.

 

AJJ

 

Precisely, which is where these machines come into their own.

 

A surprising number of professional players have them, but keep rather quiet about it!

 

Barry Williams

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I played a toaster last night: a comprehensive 3-manual instrument in a prestigious public school in the South West. I would have loved it as a school boy - bowel-shattering 32s; shimmering strings, chiffy flutes, a 'cathedral' console; even a Tuba. These days, I wonder what possible educational use it could serve... Ah, 'console management' I thought (I'm a glass-half-full kinda guy)... until the organ simply conked out for half a second every time a pressed a general piston! I thought it was me at first, perhaps hitting the toe piston at a funny angle. But, no, every diminuendo or crescendo in Widor's 5th was marred by a microscopic black hole in the texture, while the organ decided what to do with its power supply, play the notes or change the stops.

 

Why?

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I played a toaster last night: a comprehensive 3-manual instrument in a prestigious public school in the South West. I would have loved it as a school boy - bowel-shattering 32s; shimmering strings, chiffy flutes, a 'cathedral' console; even a Tuba. These days, I wonder what possible educational use it could serve... Ah, 'console management' I thought (I'm a glass-half-full kinda guy)... until the organ simply conked out for half a second every time a pressed a general piston! I thought it was me at first, perhaps hitting the toe piston at a funny angle. But, no, every diminuendo or crescendo in Widor's 5th was marred by a microscopic black hole in the texture, while the organ decided what to do with its power supply, play the notes or change the stops.

 

Why?

 

Things like this happen to electronic wizardry connected to pipes also!

 

AJJ :unsure:

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I played a toaster last night: a comprehensive 3-manual instrument in a prestigious public school in the South West. I would have loved it as a school boy - bowel-shattering 32s; shimmering strings, chiffy flutes, a 'cathedral' console; even a Tuba. These days, I wonder what possible educational use it could serve... Ah, 'console management' I thought (I'm a glass-half-full kinda guy)... until the organ simply conked out for half a second every time a pressed a general piston! I thought it was me at first, perhaps hitting the toe piston at a funny angle. But, no, every diminuendo or crescendo in Widor's 5th was marred by a microscopic black hole in the texture, while the organ decided what to do with its power supply, play the notes or change the stops.

 

Why?

Is this in a place starting with T? If it is, there was considerable angst over this instrument and the pipe organ it 'replaced'. (The word 'prestigious' slightly put me off the scent!)

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Well, our hosts havegenerously allowed the continuation of this discussion thus far so I'll pose a question I've not seen addressed before.

 

If I understand correctly, the biggest limiting factor with digital electronic organs is the quality of the speakers. Sampling pipes (assuming you go down that route rather than the Bradford approach) shouldn't be difficult. After all, you only need to sample once and can reuse the sample many times. You can use the most expensive, sophisticated microphone available should you wish. It's a one-time investment.

 

The digital "innards" shouldn't be a problem either. Given that sound quality hasn't advanced greatly in say the past five years, yet processing power is improving all the time, there surely must be a point, and I'd be surprised if we hadn-t already reached it, when further advances in processing power or RAM don't lead to improvements in sound because there's nothing left to improve. After all, if you sample at say 256kb/s and then at 512kb/s, the difference requires a faster processor but as the human ear cannot distinguish the improvement, there's no point going for the higher spec. At what point will (did?) standard PC technology be sufficient to drive a large digital toaster?

 

Onto the meat of my question. If the sampling and procesing are now as good as they can get, that leaves speakers as the weak point in the chain. Wha can be done to improve speakers further? In an extreme case, given that speakers normally take up a fraction of the space of pipes and each speaker conveys the equivalent of many pipes, what would happen if a digital organ was built in which every "pipe" had its own dedicated speaker, so that there wre several thousand tiny speakers, distributed across as wide an area as a pipe organ windchest. Has this ever been attempted? And how much different would it sound compared to having just a 5.1 speaker system say?

 

Bringing the discussion back to pipe organs once again, if Yamaha and others can very successfully emulate the touch sensitivity of a piano when making high-end digital pianos, I wonder when electronics will permit precise control over the opening of a pallet according to the velocity of key depression - essentially designing a tracker sensitivity (not simply "tracker touch") for an electric action. I can't believe it's not been tried before, so assuming it has, why hasn't it caught on?

 

Contabombarde

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Guest Barry Williams

You have a point, but it is a complex issue. Virtually all the speakers used are 'pressed' rather than 'cast', so they distort after a year or two, even when driven at low power. Similarly, even the expensive machines do not have active or powered cross-overs. The configurations of speakers are unimaginative, leading to redundancies of equipment and reduced musical effect. I could write so much more, but this is not an entirely appropriate forum for a lengthy discourse on the matter. (I am one of the principal culprits!)

 

As I have said so many times, the industry simply does not know how to use its own apparatus properly. The instruments installed in this country are amongst the worst - and this is without the non-existent tonal finishing and appalling tuning!

 

Although our hosts are indeed very tolerant of this subject, I do wonder whether we should limit the discussion to home practice instruments only, as a matter of courtesy.

 

Barry Williams

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You have a point, but it is a complex issue. Virtually all the speakers used are 'pressed' rather than 'cast', so they distort after a year or two, even when driven at low power. Similarly, even the expensive machines do not have active or powered cross-overs. Again, the configurations of speakers are unimaginative, leading to redundancies of equipment and reduced musical effect.

I think it is more complex than just the hardware. The main problem with an otherwise very fine new digital instrument I encountered at Easter was that it speaks at you rather than to you. It takes no advantage of the acoustic of the building or the reflected sound that is an inherent characteristic of a pipe organ and its case. Everything is effectively en chamade. A great deal of effort has gone into tailoring the individual attack of the notes, yet the way the sound waves build up and propagate within the building (what perhaps may be described as pre-verberation) seems to have been overlooked.

JC

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Although our hosts are indeed very tolerant of this subject, I do wonder whether we should limit the discussion to home practice instruments only, as a matter of courtesy.

Barry, you appear to have added this sentence after I posted my reply. I do not see anything discourteous to our hosts in pointing out the shortcomings of what is real and present competition. I am sure that they realise they have a strong body of support for the traditional approach within the membership of this forum.

JC

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Onto the meat of my question. If the sampling and procesing are now as good as they can get, that leaves speakers as the weak point in the chain.

 

I've always felt speakers to be the weak point. For example, my home practise organ sounds fairly good through the speakers, but magnificent with a decent pair of headphones. But often electronic organs have to cope with conditions in which even the best pipe organ would sound foul (a small living room, say, carpeted with curtains and a sofa, or a small non-reverbrant church).

 

Indeed, a couple of years ago we had to take my organ to a church to play for a funeral of a friend of mine, the blower of the pipe organ having given up the ghost. And, in a spacious church, I have to say that my toaster sounded very good indeed, even with internal speakers. And it drove a congregation of several hundred people successfully. A number of people came up to me afterwards to say that they thought it sounded better than the church's pipe organ and I rather agreed with them. This comes from a fellow who is a firm defender of pipes over electronics - me!

 

Bringing the discussion back to pipe organs once again, if Yamaha and others can very successfully emulate the touch sensitivity of a piano when making high-end digital pianos, I wonder when electronics will permit precise control over the opening of a pallet according to the velocity of key depression - essentially designing a tracker sensitivity (not simply "tracker touch") for an electric action. I can't believe it's not been tried before, so assuming it has, why hasn't it caught on?

 

I guess it's something to do with the costs to develop, and whether it's cost-effective. Perhaps the manufacturers think that with so many organists regularly playing on e.p. action it wouldn't be worth developing this for a "niche" market.

 

Pianos, of course, NEED to be touch sensitive.

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Guest Barry Williams
I think it is more complex than just the hardware. The main problem with an otherwise very fine new digital instrument I encountered at Easter was that it speaks at you rather than to you. It takes no advantage of the acoustic of the building or the reflected sound that is an inherent characteristic of a pipe organ and its case. Everything is effectively en chamade. A great deal of effort has gone into tailoring the individual attack of the notes, yet the way the sound waves build up and propagate within the building (what perhaps may be described as pre-verberation) seems to have been overlooked.

JC

 

This is yet another valid point. Pipe organ tone is invariably reflected - it emanates from the whole of the pipe. Electronic suppliers prefer to direct the speakers AT the listner, stating "that is how you hear your stereo". But your stereo carries ambiance as well - so they then de-tune and add artificial echo, which makes it even worse.

 

The defects of the installations are so great it would take a large book simply to describe errors of judgment that were known about in the 1930s for the most part and certainly by 1951 for the rest!

 

Barry Williams

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This is yet another valid point. Pipe organ tone is invariably reflected - it emanates from the whole of the pipe. Electronic suppliers prefer to direct the speakers AT the listner, stating "that is how you hear your stereo". But your stereo carries ambiance as well - so they then de-tune and add artificial echo, which makes it even worse.

 

The defects of the installations are so great it would take a large book simply to describe errors of judgment that were known about in the 1930s for the most part and certainly by 1951 for the rest!

 

Barry Williams

 

Hi

 

It's interesting that some of the American electronic organ installers are recommending "bouncing" the sound from walls, etc. rather than pointing the speakers direct at the audience. Obviously, that will only work in an at least reasonably reverberant room - otherwise the organ could sound muffled (although it's relatively easy to adjust for that).

 

Artificial reverb systems are available (at a price) - but in a large room, anything relying on just the organ speakers is doomed to sound artificial.

 

Part of the reason for the "artificial" sound of loads of artificial reverb is that the aural and visual senses no longer match - you get the opposite effect walking into a large but very "dead" TV studio.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Guest Barry Williams

The better installers have been using reflected sound for years. In one case I remember vividly, Peter Flatau did this with an old (early digital) two channel Allen in the late nineteen seventies. Using active cross-overs and multiple speakers aimed to produce reflected tone the result was a thousand times better than the rather crude original installation. It had the effect of a twelve channel system.

 

Used properly, reflected sound works well even in dull acoustics. The physics of this have been known and written about since the middle nineteen thirties - information that has passed the electronic 'organ' industry by - and even when it is mentioned they do not want to know. "Plug it in and run" is the usual approach. Even those who claim to do tonal finishing never get it right. Perhaps more importantly, the skills of tonal finishing can only be learned from a pipe organ voicer - self teaching is useless and it is not sufficient to be "a good player with a good ear".

 

When we had an electronic for home practice it was helpful to turn the artificial reverberation on, but to nil length. This gave a slight richness to the tone without making a vulgar tonal effect. There was no reverberation audible at all.

 

With pipes the tone emanates from all round, giving richness. This is the so-called 'chorus effect'.

 

Barry Williams

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Guest Cynic

I wonder how many here over-heard the Radio 4 morning service from Cardiff today.

 

I mention it because the organ as broadcast sounded so exceptionally electronic that this, for me, blows away the excuse that it is speaker technology that is at fault. The singers (variable in tuning though they were, especially the 'tops') came across exactly as real singers, while the organ failed to match this effect in any way. I was listening to them both on the same speakers.

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I wonder how many here over-heard the Radio 4 morning service from Cardiff today.

 

I mention it because the organ as broadcast sounded so exceptionally electronic that this, for me, blows away the excuse that it is speaker technology that is at fault. The singers (variable in tuning though they were, especially the 'tops') came across exactly as real singers, while the organ failed to match this effect in any way. I was listening to them both on the same speakers.

It was absolutely ghastly! It isn't just the speaker technology, but how you exploit it in an almost completely dead room. I can think of ways of improving it, but it isn't a topic for this board.

JC

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Guest Barry Williams

All of these comments relate directly to (and prove) the utter, complete and total inadequacies of the electronic industry to use their technology correctly, let alone adequately. The people who install the machines have no knowledge of what their systems can achieve. With very few exceptions indeed they lack the basic knowledge of acoustics that has been around since the nineteen thirties. None of them has pipe organ training in voicing and it shows, horrendously.

 

I do not agree with an extended discussion of electronic instruments in a pipe organ forum hosted by Mander Organs, so I shall refrain from further comment on this thread. This Board is about organs i.e. pipe organs and closely related matters.

 

I agree with Mr Carter's comments that it is not a matter for this Board and I hope that this will be the end of the matter.

 

Barry Williams

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All of these comments relate directly to (and prove) the utter, complete and total inadequacies of the electronic industry to use their technology correctly, let alone adequately. The people who install the machines have no knowledge of what their systems can achieve. With very few exceptions indeed they lack the basic knowledge of acoustics that has been around since the nineteen thirties. None of them has pipe organ training in voicing and it shows, horrendously.

 

I do not agree with an extended discussion of electronic instruments in a pipe organ forum hosted by Mander Organs, so I shall refrain from further comment on this thread. This Board is about organs i.e. pipe organs and closely related matters.

 

I agree with Mr Carter's comments that it is not a matter for this Board and I hope that this will be the end of the matter.

 

Barry Williams

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I would suggest that it is the decision of John Mander as to whether to allow contributions on electronic organs on his web site rather than that of Barry Williams.

If I wish to make comments about for example the Allen organ played by Carlo Curley in a forthcoming concert at Ally Pally then I shall do so with the permission of John Mander.

Barry has every opportunity to discuss the pipe organ and its advantages which he does almost on a daily basis, so give someone else a chance ! That is not to say that I disagree with him.

If we wish to hear Carlo in a venue which does not contain a pipe organ, what are we supposed to do ?

Colin Richell.

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Guest Barry Oakley
 ...None of them has pipe organ training in voicing and it shows, horrendously.Barry Williams
I stand to be labelled a digital organ enthusiast (which I’m not) but I must correct this rather sweeping statement. To say that these people have no worthwhile skills in pipe organ voicing is a nonsense. What about the pipe organ builders who also produce hybrids or stand-alone digital organs. I know of one such builder whose rebuild some years ago and containing some digital voices and a whole digital division, completely fooled an eminent cathedral organist (no names) who thought he was playing a straight instrument. Whilst good pipe organs should always be championed, mention of digital substitutes has always drawn paranoid outbursts from some quarters. As I have always believed, a decent bespoke digital organ is always to be preferred to a clapped-out pipe instrument or the abominable outpourings of happy-clappy music groups. 
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