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Recently a video appeared in my recommendations of a unique Wurlitzer 32' Diaphone where each pipe can play two notes.

I was originally going to post this under Small Organ Design but then decided to create a new topic as I think this is a rather unusual idea that might be worth exploring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Having immersed myself in all things Polyphonic while compiling the Compton Organs book, I was very surprised by this.  It's the sort of thing Compton would have delighted in, but I had no idea that Wurlitzer went down the polyphoning route.  Of course, Robert Hope-Jones did all sorts of things with Diaphones, including variable wind-pressures for ff and mf sound levels, but not even he ever made Polyphonic versions so far as I am aware.

Is this a one-off example, or were there others?

 

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The description in the video stated that there are only two Wurlitzer organs with these polyphonic pipes, so it's possible that Wurlitzer may not have experimented with this idea as much as Compton.

 

On a slightly different note it's also worth mentioning a French Romantic positive organ I stumbled across a few months back that contains bass pipes that can play two or three notes.

 

 

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I'm fairly sure that John Compton didn't experiment with bi-phonic Diaphones; his usual domain being stopped wooden flue pipes or cube basses etc.

He was, however, the absolute master of controlling Diaphones and getting them to speak evenly and bautifully.

He wrote an extremely comprehensive article about them which I included in the Compton book, because it is the most revealing insight about his tonal genius and his command of the subject. There are quite a few remaining examples of his Diaphones, and although these brutes are capable of immense power, they can also be tamed to give quite soft register such as "metal" Contra Basses. There's a fine example of one at Wakefield Cathedral, which just sounds like a normal Double Open Diapason at 16ft on the manuals.

To demonstrate just what a punch Diaphones can have, there is a delightful clip on YouTube, but be warned, don't wind the speakers up too far:-
 

 

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Audsley mentions in his book "The Art of Organ-Building" (1905) that he had some difficulty fitting all of the Pedal 16ft Principal pipes in his music-room organ so devised a pneumatic valve which effectively opened an aperture in the pipe, allowing it to speak one of two notes a semitone apart. 

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That sounds like a slightly primitive idea, but better than missing notes!
Compton bi-phonics are always (so far as I am aware) stopped pipes, and they have a valve which opens and increases the speaking length of the pipe, using a tube which drops down from the valve aperture.

The cleverest one I came across, was a Bourdon which used to same pipe in two different pressures, to give pp and mf. Cleverly, the top lip was moveable, and operated by pneumatics to effectively increase or decrease the cut-up.
Clever stuff!

 

MM
 

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10 hours ago, Niccolo Morandi said:

A Bourdon rank that can play at two different levels of volume by adjusting the lip of the pipes sounds like something I would love to see a demonstration of.

I've never seen one, but apparently there was an example somewhere near Luton which is sadly no more.  Basically, there was a little "trolley" which moved up and down on the pipe, operated by a pneumatic motor.

There is, I believe, a patent which shows how it worked.

I shall be back when I've found it.

MM

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The 'picture' of the French Romantic positive organ above reminds me of an article in 'Organ Building' Volume Fourteen (2014) published by the IBO.  Titled 'Monsieur Debierre's Polyphone Organ' , John Rowntree introduces the 1922 Le Mintier and Gloton organ (1919 successors to L Debierre) now in the Catholic Church of SS Peter and Paul Yeadon, Leeds, while Geoffrey Griffiths (organ builder from Portsmouth) explores the rejuvenation of this wonder of a bygone age.   There are several colour pictures including two of the polyphones (and two weighted fly pallets built into the bottom of a wooden pipe fed from two pipe feet).  

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Considering the space and expense of the bottom octave of an Open Wood 32 I'm surprised this strategy hasn't been more widely adopted. Whilst the scaling of the two, three or however many more notes that share the same pipe would be increasingly wide as you go up the octave, is that effect any worse than the difference in scale that comes from playing middle C or treble C on an orchestral flute say? After all the flute is effectively a single pipe with a large number of valves!

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Well, certain people have used Polyphones in new organs; including Walter Holtkamp at St Paul's, Cleveland, who travelled over to see John Compton. Also, they only went down to low EEEE, because JC realised that very low pitch definition is almost impossible with wooden 32ft basses, and playing bottom E for all the lowest 5 notes made little difference. With a metal rank or 32ft reed, the harmonics make that idea redundant, and off the top of my head, I can't think of any 32ft polyphone metal ranks.

We may sneer at Diaphones these days, but they fit into small spaces and can be tamed to just purr away nicely rather than warn shipping of impending doom.

MM

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I don't think it was intended to be anything approaching a polyphone, but George Pattman's travelling organ (H&H 1916) featured a 32ft Bombarde which, according to the specification, had "one pipe only, common to lowest 12 keys of pedal board". 

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Harrison's of that vintage always sound the same!  😎

I've heard some delightful stories about the British travelling organs, owned by Pattman and Reginald Foort. I think it was Pattman who used British Rail, and on numerous occasions, the organ console would arrive, with most of the pipework, but sometimes the Swell (or some other) division would be stranded in Crewe or somewhere. I know that Foort had a small fleet of trucks, so perhaps he was forewarned of the problems with railways.

As Oscar Wylde may have said, "To lose one pipe is indeed unfortunate, but to lose eleven is downright careless"

A little known factoid for you.  Both the Foort organ (Moller) and the Pattman Harrison, were both briefly united, when they were stored simultaneously at the King's Hall, Harrogate.

Don't ask me how I know this, but I do.

 

MM

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