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Westgate Morris

Off and On Unison Off

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Trained on trackers some years ago at university I am still stumped by the “Unison Off” I find on the choir and swell stop jam where I play. (A modest sized electro-penumatic.)


How do I use it? What is the musical purpose? I’m tempted to have my technician add an off-set chest and give me another stop. What do you think?


WM


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lol Douglas :lol:

 

Come to think of it I used Unison Off once to silence a solo division that was part of the choir manual. I could simply push in/pull out one stop instead of pulling a fist full. This is was big organ and I'm not sure why I didn't just set a piston.

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I find that the combination of Swell Unison Off, Swell Octave and Swell Contrafagotto 16 can give me a rather nice 8 foot cornopean. I suppose that similarly Swell Unison Off, Swell Sub-octave and Swell Harmonic Flute 4 would give me a strong Harmonic Flute 8 foot. That is, if I didn't simply want to just play up (or down) an octave.

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Interesting question...

 

My 2-manual digital has a 'floating' solo reed, so I almost always use this on the Swell with the Unison Off coupler on and Swell coupled to Great, so it sees quite a lot of use. However, this is unlikely to feature on a pipe organ.

 

You never know when it might be useful though...I have a piece by Denis Bedard which asks for 8' 4' 1 1/3' at one point (I can't currently recall which one). My organ doesn't have a 1 1/3 Larigot, so my solution was to use 16' 8' 2 2/3' on the Swell with the Octave and Unison Off Coupler - an unexpected use but a neat solution!

 

I would guess this stop's usefulness depends on how well-stocked your respective divisions are, and what possibilities exist for using stops at the octave/sub-octave (I really ought to use the Contra Fagotto combination suggested).

 

Of course, where pipes are concerned, there is also the problem that you may run out of pipes at the extremes of the keyboard...

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Unison Off is to be used when one desires the ultimate pianissimo effect :lol: .

 

Many instruments are wired-up so that this stop does nothing unless either the Sub Octave or Octave coupler is also drawn.

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I was interested to see this question posed (whatever is the use of a Unison Off?), as it has also stumped me for decades. The answers above seem to confirm that it's always possible to 'invent' a use for it if the question is asked, but otherwise how often is it really used - is it just a solution looking for a problem most of the time?

 

Exactly the same type of things illustrated above are done by organists trying my instruments when I pose the question to them - they come up with nothing more than a combination which can be obtained anyway, but which might (conceivably) place the hands in a more convenient playing position.

 

If it were that useful, why does it not appear on all divisions? (That's an issue which also applies to intra-divisional super and sub octave couplers!).

 

Having designed several consoles myself, I have never included a Unison Off in one for my own use. I am only too aware of how wasteful and expensive it is to include draw stops or stop keys that will be seldom or never used, especially if a motorised combination system (magnetically-operated moving stop controls) is employed.

 

CEP

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I don't see a lot of point in Unison Off stops since, as pointed out, most of the time you can achieve the same effect simply by playing up or down an octave. I can only think of a couple of situations where it may come into its own: when it is used as a ventil (in the manner Westgate Morris described) or for coupling through a transposed combination on one manual to a stop, or stops, on another - where the octave couplers etc continue to act through inter-manual coupling.

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Lacking a quiet 4' reed on the pedal organ, I find the solo unison off useful in coupling the horn or orch. oboe down, ie solo-ped, solo octave +unison off, horn. My short legs do not allow me to play an octave higher in order to reach the dusty extreme of the pedal top octave with ease! Also the Sw. 16' L. Bourdon + 8' L. gedacht + unison off + octave provide a useful 8 & 4 flute combination, there being no 4' flute on the swell.

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Thanks for all the replies so far. I agree with Vox "I don't see a lot of point in Unison Off stops since, as pointed out, most of the time you can achieve the same effect simply by playing up or down an octave."

 

In my modest sized instrument I think I can make a case to have a stop added and deal with playing up or down the octave. Now exactly what to add becomes the question. Perhaps I will post the specs under nuts and bolts and everyone can have a go at it.

 

WM

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I think that if you already have sub- and super- octave couplers the provision of a Unison Off is relatively trivial and in my opinion affords more possibilities than have been outlined above. For example there is neither a 16' flue nor a 2' flute on the Swell where I play regularly and an interesting combination can be made of 8' and 4' flutes with sub- super- *and* unison off giving 16' + 4' from the 8' and 8' and 2' from the 4' so 16', 8', 4', 2' with little chance of note-stealing and an effect that can't be produced simply by a different playing position.

 

I would vote *against* the situation described by PCND above where the Unison Off coupler only engages when the sub- or super- couplers are drawn. Not only does it preclude its use as a ventil but also causes acute embarrassment when the Solo Tuba and Unison Off are drawn and a note is played during the sermon at Sunday Evensong which *might* have happened in my presence at Guildford Cathedral some 35 years ago.

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Personally, I don't think there are enough unison offs! Examples of its use have already been specified above:

 

4' pedal reed (Bach, etc) = oboe / clarinet / vox humana plus octave and unison off

the 8' flute and 4' string combination specified by Alain (Jannequin Variations / Aria) can often only be obtained with 16' flute, 8' string, octave, unison off

a 19th can be obtained from a 12th, etc

a softer Swell 8' trumpet can be obtained from a 16' reed (this often works for Franck)

 

Although a combination such as those above can often be obtained through playing at a different octave, there are enough occasions when you want to couple it to a different manual whose stops are at the right pitch to make a Unison Off worth having. Examples of where I've wished for one where there isn't one:

 

at Bristol it would be very useful to couple the Solo 4' flute (which is enclosed, the 8' flute isn't) at 8' pitch into other 8' foundations

the 2 stops I would add like a shot to Cirencester PC are Swell and Solo Unison Offs - especially given the pedal divide facility

I've played an organ where the best balance of the middle section of Piece Heroique was left hand on 16' reed up an octave against right hand on 4' flute down an octave!

 

Yes, some of the time it is simply to place the hands in a more convenient playing position - why not? What's wrong with convenience?

 

Paul Walton

(Assistant, Bristol Cathedral)

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It's not unusual for inter-war organs to have an extra octave of treble pipes on selected stops for use with the Octave Coupler and Unison Off giving a full compass 8' stop from the 16'.

 

St Margaret's in Durham has a variation, in that the 16' Contra Oboe does have an extra octave of treble pipes but instead of a Unison Off, there's an "Octaves Alone" which gives the same effect, and a piston for "Oboe 8" which draws the Contra Oboe and Octaves Alone.

 

You don't often run out of notes when playing an octave up, but when you do, you do!

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It's not unusual for inter-war organs to have an extra octave of treble pipes on selected stops for use with the Octave Coupler and Unison Off giving a full compass 8' stop from the 16'.

 

And more recently, too. I believe an extra octave of pipes was added, for this purpose, to the Solo Bassoon 16' at York Minster in, I think, the 1990s.

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Going back to the original post, it would be mighty expensive to add another rank of pipes on a new chest, just to provide a different use for an existing stop-knob or tab.

 

A Unison Off can provide a good deal of flexibility if used with imagination. You can use it to silence a pre-drawn combination until needed, in the same way that Cavaille-Coll organs have ventils to each soundboard which must be engaged in order for the pipes to sound (in other words, Unison ON devices - I believe one American builder provided Unison On stops which had to be drawn before any sound came out).

 

Flipping a stop or combination up an octave is common practice and sometimes more convenient than playing in the higher octave. British organs occasionally have an extra octave at the top of certain solo stops (often 16' Clarinets or Oboes), and quite often a piston to give, say, "Oboe 8'". Harrisons' "Octaves Alone" stop was provided to facilitate this sort of thing (Down Cathedral is another example). North American organs often have extra notes for all stops except the highest pitched. Mine has 68 note soundboards for Great, Choir and Solo and 73 notes |(for some reason) for the Swell, with extra notes for all stops except the 2's (oddly enough the mixtures do have the extra notes). It's surprising how useful this is, even with a 61 note compass. One doesn't for example, have to worry about losing the top end in French toccatas, which tends to happen without the extra notes.

 

Taking the middle out of a combination involving octaves and subs by means of the Unison Off can be very useful, especially in |French music and when accompanying.

 

I've often said this before, but I find a complete set of octaves, subs and unisons, including inter-manual 16, 8, 4 couplers, tremendously useful. I am still discovering new ways to mix the stops, and I've been playing this organ almost every day for over eleven years, so my ideal is the American (or Willis) style of a complete range of couplers controlled by tilting tablets over the top manual. Draw-stops are cumbrous for this provision and stop-keys rather prone to misfire - it needs tilting tablets. Willis ones are more positive in their feel and action than North American styles.

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I think that if you already have sub- and super- octave couplers the provision of a Unison Off is relatively trivial and in my opinion affords more possibilities than have been outlined above. For example there is neither a 16' flue nor a 2' flute on the Swell where I play regularly and an interesting combination can be made of 8' and 4' flutes with sub- super- *and* unison off giving 16' + 4' from the 8' and 8' and 2' from the 4' so 16', 8', 4', 2' with little chance of note-stealing and an effect that can't be produced simply by a different playing position.

 

I would vote *against* the situation described by PCND above where the Unison Off coupler only engages when the sub- or super- couplers are drawn. Not only does it preclude its use as a ventil but also causes acute embarrassment when the Solo Tuba and Unison Off are drawn and a note is played during the sermon at Sunday Evensong which *might* have happened in my presence at Guildford Cathedral some 35 years ago.

 

This has happened on occasion. Sometimes lightning does strike twice (in the same place).

 

On the other hand - why would one actually do that during a sermon anyway? It is almost asking for trouble.

 

In the case of the Guildford organ, this must have been rather more recent than thirty-five years ago - the Unison Off couplers on this organ have only been re-wired as I described above in the last ten years. Prior to this, whilst inadvisable, such a move would have been relatively safe.

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... Yes, some of the time it is simply to place the hands in a more convenient playing position - why not? What's wrong with convenience?

 

Paul Walton

(Assistant, Bristol Cathedral)

 

Absolutely - and, why not? (to mis-quote Barry Norman - apparently).

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This has happened on occasion. Sometimes lightning does strike twice (in the same place).

 

On the other hand - why would one actually do that during a sermon anyway? It is almost asking for trouble.

 

In the case of the Guildford organ, this must have been rather more recent than thirty-five years ago - the Unison Off couplers on this organ have only been re-wired as I described above in the last ten years. Prior to this, whilst inadvisable, such a move would have been relatively safe.

Let's call it sophomoric high spirits. But it was definitely Guildford in the summer of 1979 and the preacher thought it was the last trump. If it actually happened.

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Let's call it sophomoric high spirits. But it was definitely Guildford in the summer of 1979 and the preacher thought it was the last trump. If it actually happened.

 

Reply by PM - in order to avoid causing offence to a colleague.

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