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Author Topic: My chamber organ  (Read 15697 times)

pwhodges

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My chamber organ
« on: 06 Dec 2011, 16:02 »

A couple of weekends ago my choir gave a concert which required a chamber organ.  As we were performing at "baroque" pitch (meaning about a semitone below modern pitch, though actually it varied lots in different places) the fine organ in the church wouldn't do.  Hiring a chamber organ at low pitch looked expensive, so I built one using a sampler program specifically for pipe organs, called Hauptwerk, which can transpose the samples to any desired pitch.  Here it is in use in Oxford during the rehearsal:



A Dell laptop and MOTU Traveler interface are under the music stand, and a snake takes the signals to an eight-channel volume control on top of three Quad 405 amplifiers stacked behind the four ex-BBC LS5/9 speakers (which were tilted up for the concert).  Organ samplers gain realism when the sounds for different pipes are divided among as many speakers as practical, which is why I used four.  You can also just see two black speakers, also LS5/9s, behind the choir which had a mono feed to help the singers hear.  Rather than give the laptop extra work making the mono mix, I sent the four speaker feeds to ADAT outputs, and looped these back into the ADAT inputs (digital, so no loss); then I used the interface's CueMix program (which operates in the box) to feed the analogue outputs - four with one to one speaker channels, and two with the mono mix of all four channels (and also the last two with a stereo feed for headphone listening while setting up).  The sample set used was the positive division of a very old Czech organ in Smecno, near Prague.  It was voiced bright in Hauptwerk to compensate for the somewhat unsuitable speakers (they don't have as much treble dispersion as would be ideal in this usage), and tuned down to A=415.  The conductor chose it decisively in comparison with several alternatives.  It turned out that the organist has a four-manual Hauptwerk system at home, so he wasn't worried about using a substitute for a pipe organ, which had concerned me.  Those to whom I've spoken were pleased with the result.

Some more photos (taken at home):



With the top moved across while setting up:


Stop selection buttons, interface, and computer:


Wiring of stop selection button switches and LEDs to one of the MIDI boards, which I get from a vendor in Poland:


Paul
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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #1 on: 06 Dec 2011, 16:28 »

If you hadn't have told us where those people in the picture were from...I would've guessed Oxford anyway!

But wow, yeah that is a lot of work. I mean I wish I knew what half of it meant but seriously, that is some ingenuity right there. I'm sure the choir are pleased to have you with them!

I'm curious to know how you came across the program specifically built for pipe organs...
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pwhodges

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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #2 on: 06 Dec 2011, 16:36 »

Well, I already have this three manual and pedal organ console arrangement in my study...  Photos in a day or two, perhaps.

I can't recall how I came across Hauptwerk, but it was/is written by an Englishman in Birmingham.  I've had a copy since the beta for v1 about eight years ago (it's now at v4).  It's used both for practice organs, and as a way of archiving the sound of historic organs.  I have sample sets of Salisbury and Hereford Cathedral organs, a couple of baroque French organs, several Czech and Hungarian organs (including one which has samples of before and after a recent restoration); also several harpsichords and a steam calliope!

Some reasons a special sampler is required are:

(1) Polyphony - for a large organ recorded with a long acoustic and played fast, polyphony levels of around 10,000 may easily be required.  You can't achieve this streaming off disk - all the samples need to be in memory.  To play the largest available sample sets requires at least 32GB of memory and eight or twelve cores!  My home machine has 16GB and a four-core Xeon which handles polyphony of about 5,000.

(2) Wind effects - the program models the effect that playing one pipe has on the wind supply to another...  I'll leave it at that.  Also the tonal effects of swell shutters and tremulants are accurately modelled.

(3) Retuning - the samples are resampled in real time (remember that polyphony?) to enable different temperaments and pitches to be applied to the original samples.
« Last Edit: 06 Dec 2011, 16:45 by pwhodges »
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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #3 on: 06 Dec 2011, 19:52 »

dude, fucking hero work
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pwhodges

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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #4 on: 07 Dec 2011, 07:55 »

OK, so here's my home console.  The photos are nine months old, but nothing has changed since then except that the wood has been stained.  I have also acquired buttons to go between the manuals and touch screens to display and control the stops - but these are still in their packing.

General views:





Here are the pedals, and swell pedals (which can be mounted in two positions):



The keyboards hinge open to get at the contacts and wiring for maintenance:



The top keyboard has a wire to each key:



Whereas the others have 8x8 diode-matrix wiring:

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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #5 on: 07 Dec 2011, 08:37 »

Paul, you are beyond awesome.  I'm not sure what comes next, but I'm thinking you're at least two settings past "awesome" on the scale.

The top keyboard has a wire to each key

Whereas the others have 8x8 diode-matrix wiring

Why?  Just curious.

Also, I just noticed that you call them "keyboards", which is how I think of them, too.  But wouldn't they more properly be called "manuals"?
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pwhodges

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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #6 on: 07 Dec 2011, 08:57 »

A keyboard for the hands is also a manual; a keyboard for the feet is also a pedalboard.  I think of them as manuals/pedalboard when considering them functionally while playing, and as keyboards when wiring them up.

To matrix or not?  Basically it was a matter of the most economical arrangement of circuit boards, using a range from a guy in Poland.  Also, having done two manuals and pedalboard using a matrix, I got fed up with the amount of soldering; the direct wiring may have four times as many wires, but using ribbon cable as I do makes it easy, neat and tidy, and with less solder joints to make.  The chamber organ keyboard is a different construction which has the common bus-bar as the fixed part of the contacts; the mounting arrangements for that bar make it impossible to divide for matrix wiring, because it would simply fall apart.
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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #7 on: 07 Dec 2011, 09:36 »

Holy fucking crap.

That is a heroic amount of work to put into something you only needed for one occasion. (Although reading the post it's obvious that it can be used for any occasion)

You are a true man.

^^^ That, 100%!
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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #8 on: 07 Dec 2011, 13:32 »

A keyboard for the hands is also a manual; a keyboard for the feet is also a pedalboard.  I think of them as manuals/pedalboard when considering them functionally while playing, and as keyboards when wiring them up.

To matrix or not?  Basically it was a matter of the most economical arrangement of circuit boards, using a range from a guy in Poland.  Also, having done two manuals and pedalboard using a matrix, I got fed up with the amount of soldering; the direct wiring may have four times as many wires, but using ribbon cable as I do makes it easy, neat and tidy, and with less solder joints to make.  The chamber organ keyboard is a different construction which has the common bus-bar as the fixed part of the contacts; the mounting arrangements for that bar make it impossible to divide for matrix wiring, because it would simply fall apart.

Makes sense.  Also, I guess I never thought of pedalboards as keyboards, but they are, aren't they?  I've only ever heard them called manuals and pedals (or pedalboards).
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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #9 on: 08 Dec 2011, 13:15 »

Awesome work. How did you acquire the knowledge necessary? Is there a organ-building guild in your town or... huh?  :evil:

Also, one thing that struck me: Is it really that hard to transpose a song or just play the songs one half-step down on the keys? Or am I missing something?
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pwhodges

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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #10 on: 08 Dec 2011, 14:54 »

It's not a pipe organ, but a computer system attached to a keyboard and a simple box built around it; computers have been my full-time work since 1970.  The sounds are not synthesised, though, as in commercial electronic organs - they are samples of every individual pipe of a real organ, in this case the organ of a church near Prague in the Czech Republic.  Some organ builders hate any elactronic organs, of any type, and will ban people who mention them from their discussion boards; others see the potential for, e.g. adding voices to pipe organs which would be hard to fit in a particular installation.

To transpose when playing from an untransposed score is certainly possible (it is part of the standard exams for organists at the higher levels, and our organist was the organist of the church of St Mary-le-Bone in Marylebone, London).  However, it's hard work.  It's also inconvenient when the rest of the players are playing in the written key on lower-pitched instruments, because the conductor will talk in written notes, which will add to the load of the guy who's transposing.  Also, the organ in the church is tuned to an unequal temperament, so transposing down a semitone will commonly take the tuning from a good key to a bad key.  Finally, by transposing you lose the bottom note of the keyboard range (your C becomes a B, which you don't have, and is rather common when lots of the music in in C, F or G!).  There was also the matter that playing continuo requires a close coordination between the keyboard player and the cellist (in particular), which would have been difficult or non-existent from the organ loft.
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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #11 on: 09 Dec 2011, 03:39 »

I absolutely love the union of tradition and technology here. Awesome work.
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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #12 on: 09 Dec 2011, 12:06 »

It's not a pipe organ, but a computer system attached to a keyboard and a simple box built around it; computers have been my full-time work since 1970.  The sounds are not synthesised, though, as in commercial electronic organs - they are samples of every individual pipe of a real organ, in this case the organ of a church near Prague in the Czech Republic.  Some organ builders hate any elactronic organs, of any type, and will ban people who mention them from their discussion boards; others see the potential for, e.g. adding voices to pipe organs which would be hard to fit in a particular installation.

To transpose when playing from an untransposed score is certainly possible (it is part of the standard exams for organists at the higher levels, and our organist was the organist of the church of St Mary-le-Bone in Marylebone, London).  However, it's hard work.  It's also inconvenient when the rest of the players are playing in the written key on lower-pitched instruments, because the conductor will talk in written notes, which will add to the load of the guy who's transposing.  Also, the organ in the church is tuned to an unequal temperament, so transposing down a semitone will commonly take the tuning from a good key to a bad key.  Finally, by transposing you lose the bottom note of the keyboard range (your C becomes a B, which you don't have, and is rather common when lots of the music in in C, F or G!).  There was also the matter that playing continuo requires a close coordination between the keyboard player and the cellist (in particular), which would have been difficult or non-existent from the organ loft.

Aight. I know very little about classical music, both theory and the actual performance, so I was curious. What do you mean by "bad key"?

They will seriously ban people for mentioning synths? Nice.  :roll:
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pwhodges

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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #13 on: 09 Dec 2011, 13:12 »

If you tune the intervals between different pairs of notes exactly, then the intervals and notes defined by our standard keyboard don't quite fit together; this is just a sad fact of maths.  To make them fit, you have to tune the intervals slightly wrong, which is called "tempering" the intervals, and the pattern of how you temper all the different intervals on the keyboard is called a "temperament".  The commonest way of doing this in modern times is simply to space the notes in the octave evenly, known as "equal temperament" - this give fifths that are slightly flat (too narrow), and major thirds that are markedly sharp (too wide), but all by the same amount for a given type of interval.

On instruments like the organ, the effect of the sharp thirds, in particular, is very apparent, because of the evenly held sounds from the pipes.  So temperaments are used which make the most commonly used major thirds closer to the correct tuning - but this can only be done by making other thirds worse; hence the idea of good keys and bad keys, according to which thirds they contain.  This discussion is usually had referring to fifths; but the thirds are more important because that's where the big errors are.  In any case, all the adjustments have to be done at the same time so as to fit together. 

If you try to make as many intervals accurate as possible, throwing all the errors onto one interval, this interval is so bad that it is known as "the wolf".  Renaissance and early Baroque tunings tried to make the five most important major thirds accurate, and then the rest pretty good, leaving one as the wolf.  These tunings were called "mean-tone temperaments".  In the later Baroque era, the thirds were compromised enough to make all keys playable, though some were better and some were worse - these are now called "well temperaments" (after Bach's collection of pieces in all keys called "The Well-Tempered Klavier").  In the Victorian period, equal temperament came to the fore; but modern authenticity movements have led to a resurgence of the use of older unequal temperaments.

In the case of an organ, changing the temperament is a major undertaking, which may require many of the pipes to be rebuilt in the workshop.  So once a temperament has been chosen for an organ, it is not changed except possibly as part of a major rebuild.  A harpsichord player, on the other hand, will tune his instrument for every concert, and can choose to use a different temperament each time (though not many would bother to keep changing).

As for pipe-organ builders...  Their industry is in steep decline, perhaps more obviously in the UK than anywhere else, and any hint that a cheaper alternative might be acceptable in place of a real organ is taken very hard.  It is difficult to find the balance between preserving the centuries-old craft and turning to something more affordable; but it is clear that electronic substitutes, even the sophisticated ones I am using, are still a long way from being able to truly replace the real thing.
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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #14 on: 10 Dec 2011, 07:13 »

Very interesting and a good reminder that there is still so much I don't know! Thanks a lot!
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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #15 on: 14 Dec 2011, 07:16 »

Brilliant. You have a magnificent organ, but I bet you get that a lot. LOL
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pwhodges

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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #16 on: 14 Dec 2011, 07:20 »

<modest>Well, I wouldn't like to say...</modest>
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pwhodges

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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #17 on: 26 Mar 2012, 08:08 »

The chamber organ was so successful that we used it again in very our next concert, last night, in Exeter College, Oxford chapel.  It was mainly used for accompanying Tudor and baroque pieces, some at low pitch (I added a stop button to switch):





Having the speakers away from the floor this time improved the sound, I'd say. 

Here is a sound sample

The West-end organ was used for romantic and modern pieces.  We also did a movement of Vierne's Messe solonnelle using the chamber organ as the choir organ for the two-organ scoring.  I extended the spec with an extra open 8' stop to give a fuller sound for this piece:



Listen to the Vierne
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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #18 on: 26 Mar 2012, 09:51 »

Next up: renting this baby out to folks who need an instrument that plays at authentic Baroque pitch.  Profit!
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pwhodges

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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #19 on: 26 Mar 2012, 10:15 »

First try last week; that choir decided that they wouldn't pay for a second organist (it was doing the same Vierne mass).
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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #20 on: 27 Mar 2012, 09:54 »

Bummer.  Money is not only the root of all evil, but a lot of bad music, too.
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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #21 on: 29 Mar 2012, 18:32 »

Your expertise and passion are awesome, Paul. A while ago I provided some technical support for a group here who wanted to set up a rig to run the Yellow River Sound virtual guzheng, but lacking your knowledge of music and sound engineering I couldn't make anything like the same contribution.
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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #22 on: 31 Mar 2012, 11:56 »

Some interesting shots here from inside an organ (and other instruments)
http://www.lostateminor.com/2012/03/31/photographs-taken-inside-of-instruments/
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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #23 on: 14 Apr 2012, 22:57 »

A question for you, Paul, any ideas what this machine is exactly?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XsYuHbXZUk
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pwhodges

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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #24 on: 14 Apr 2012, 23:14 »

Look at the YouTube tags! 

Yamaha Electone STAGEA, which is only distributed in Asia according to Wikipedia.
« Last Edit: 14 Apr 2012, 23:22 by pwhodges »
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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #25 on: 14 Apr 2012, 23:41 »

Hahah, the one place I neglected to look. Thanks!
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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #26 on: 07 Jul 2014, 11:53 »

Looks like a marvelous organ - congratulations are in order! I make a similar instrument, in the form of a "box" organ at which one stands; I also use Hauptwerk as the sample system runningn on a PC. I use a tiny class T amp driving two bookshelf speakers, all of which is ample for a very convincing sound for the sampled organ I use. The visual interface is an 8-inch touch screen. What make my version different is that I manufacture a wood keyboard - ebony naturals and walnut sharps - with much shorter keydip. This feature makes the instument easier to play for those who regularly play pneumatic continuo organs which characteristically speak at the top of the key travel. This is due to the sticker, which normally sits directly on the pallet valve. In the event, my instrument(s) are used by the Historical Performance Institute at Indiana University for rehearsal and classroom use, but frequently find themselves on stage for performances, thus relieving our organ curator of the task of tuning before performances. No one seems to notice that these are not pneumatic instruments.
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Re: My chamber organ
« Reply #27 on: 07 Jul 2014, 14:12 »

Thanks for the comments!  What samples do you use in your organ?
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