Author Topic: Electronics In Pipe Organs  (Read 8928 times)

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Janner

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Electronics In Pipe Organs
« on: May 19, 2012, 08:16:21 AM »
I have started a new topic with this quote from another thread because this section seemed more appropriate for my questions.

I'm just over 60 years of age, and in that time, I have seen organ-actions change dramatically; first away from the electro-mechanical systems using telephone-exchange technology, to the early electronic, transistorised systems and now to the computerised systems of to-day. In effect, not only has the technology changed every 20 years or so, it means that there is now the same sort of planned obsolence we see in motor-vehicles, where spares become increasingly scarce as time marches on. Although I have no reason for suggesting this, I also wonder how reliable the hall sensors of some modern key-actions will be, knowing only too well that a motor-vehicle ABS and engine-speed sensors have a distinctly limited life.

Of course, the same arguments apply exactly to electronic instruments; many of the earlier ones now almost irrepairable; especially where they use dedicated IC's.

Compare this, if you will, to certain tracker instruments, which clatter and clank away throughout Europe, making every piece of music sound like a stage presentation of "River Dance." At the very least, they still work, albeit with a few problems and the occasional bit of maintenance.

Even the worst pneumatic actions usually lasted 30+ years, and the best of them three times longer, but with one massively important difference. With both mechanical and pneumatic actions, even a skilled mechanic, engineer or DIY enthusiast could make sense of them and effect the very minimum of a temporary repair or even something more permanent. Glue, bits of leather, iron wire and screw drivers are still remarkably common-place in hardware stores and elsewhere.

At the re-opening of a certain cathedral organ in the UK, a "spike" in the electrical system caused a considerable delay in proceedings, and it wasn't until the second-half of the programme that the full organ could be used.

I just wonder of there isn't a certain attractiveness in transmission-systems which require little more than a few multi-plugs and a minimum of wiring, but at what cost long-term?

MM

Thank you MM.

One of the points often mentioned when making a case for a pipe organ versus an electronic instrument is the likely eventual obsolescence of the components and technology in the latter. As you point out, much of the electronics associated with the keyboards and stops in an electric action pipe organ could be very similar to the equivalent parts in the electronic organ.

This is unfortunate when one is faced with a situation where the only practical option for a pipe organ may be to have the body of it in one place and a detached console in another. It’s likely I suppose that most of us would prefer the sound of the pipe organ anyway, but it does rather undermine one argument at least, for instance when trying to convince sceptical members of a PCC.

In a major overhaul of a detached console pipe organ, what proportion of the cost would be tied up in replacing obsolete electronics? How would this compare with the cost of renewing worn out parts of a mechanical action? Probably an impossible question to answer in general terms.

Of course there is the other angle you mention, that whereas a competent organ builder may turn out most mechanical parts in-house, the design and manufacture of electronics is a different matter.

You mention Hall-effect sensors for keyboard actions. Optical sensors could also be an option. Yet only four years or so ago I happened to be in an organ builder’s workshop where a two manual detached console instrument was being rebuilt, and noticed that the keyboard was still being equipped with wiper- style contacts for the keys.

I asked whether they ever considered using one of the alternatives and was told no, because they preferred the wiper contact type. Why, I wondered. Was it a cost saving measure? Were or are they more reliable? Or was that particular organ builder just more familiar with them and therefore felt on safer ground? Did he feel unsure about the different circuitry or power supply requirements associated with Hall-effect or optical devices?


……….At the re-opening of a certain cathedral organ in the UK, a "spike" in the electrical system caused a considerable delay in proceedings, and it wasn't until the second-half of the programme that the full organ could be used.……………..

MM

What do organ builders do when confronted with an installation requiring electronics I wonder? Do they consult an engineer, or rely on advice from the manufacturers? It would be interesting to hear comments on this, particularly from the professionals.

David Pinnegar

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Re: Electronics In Pipe Organs
« Reply #1 on: May 19, 2012, 10:22:14 AM »
Dear MM

I agree wholeheartedly with you on this important issue. In particular, whilst electronics up to and including 7500 logic ICs and the 4000 CMOS versions at least provided a known and intelligible circuit structure to someone electronically competant in the future but modern programmable systems provide no hope for the future other than total replacement.

Worse still, we face a skills shortage as the modern generation of technicians bury their heads in software rather than hard circuit design, leaving a shortage of people competant to deal with hardware. This is the importance of membership of the EOCS as there are a lot of grey haired men there, who won't be there in 10 or possibly 5 years time, who might have dabbled in electronic organs but many of whom have been responsible for many incarnations of pipe organ electronics. One of these is Trevor Hawkins who has specialised in multiplex systems for remote consoles from the 1980s and at EOCS meetings often describes handling the system and fault finding that he's been engaged on. It's for this reason that I _encourage_ all involved in pipe organs to join the society - and there is talk of naming it the Organ Constructors Society, dropping the electronic emphasis . . .

Certainly the electronic action component of pipe organs leaves little argument on issues of longevity when a church is tossing up between a pipe instrument with electronic action and a much cheaper electronic solution.

The only arguments remaining in favour of the pipe organ are an investment in pipework and a difference in sound which in many cases Mr and Mrs Joe Bloggs cannot even determine :-( The only time when they do is when they go to St Maximin or Albi to experience the delights of 14 or 19 ranks of trumpets - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSf7-4t_SWc and not all pipe instruments measure up to that. Certainly a mild unequal temperament gives the edge http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhF17YdpQn0 (PCND - don't listen to that one! But it's very exciting.) that electronics rarely can. Certainly in that instrument you have a machine enduring from before the French Revolution and which will always be maintainable.

One problem is the modern lazy organist's reliance on stop capture systems. This is multiplying electronic and computerised stop actions, rendering even trackers inoperable in power cuts. As the UK is short of at least one if not two nuclear power stations, there will be power cuts in five years time . . . (I wrote about the potential importance of church roofs a while back in teh fundraising section . . . )

Another effect of stop capture is that organists aren't involving assistants - and assisting with page turning, stop control and even pumping were routes by which in the past young people were introduced to the instrument and amongst whom some enthusiasms developed.

Best wishes

David P


Postcript - at least wire contacts are demonstrably repairable with mere cleaning of oxidisation. However, one should attach a proviso that some are rhodium plated and others similarly plated with slower oxidising metals than the base metal . . . so sandpaper is not the stuff to use on them. I forget what is the recommended way of cleaning contacts . . . ?

« Last Edit: May 19, 2012, 11:34:06 AM by David Pinnegar »
David Pinnegar, BSc ARCS

MusingMuso

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Re: Electronics In Pipe Organs
« Reply #2 on: May 19, 2012, 12:01:23 PM »
Although I’m quoting David’s response, I’ll first of all refer to Janner’s post, because the instrument which “spiked” at the opening was that at Blackburn Cathedral, with Carlo Curley at the console. The organ was soon pout right, but possibly only because the consultant, David Hird, (from my home town), was there who installed the electronic control system.

This is the danger we will increasingly face: not just that of an organ falling silent, but one which requires a “Guru” to attend in order to make it work again. This is a far cry from an organ-recital I gave, when half way through, we had a couple of ciphers and I crawled inside the organ to silence them. While I was there, I also adjusted a leather button on the Great to Pedal coupler.

I would even question the need for all those “registration aids” we see to-day. I’ve never used a “sequencer” in my life, and that’s the way I want it to stay. I don’t feel the need for 30 channels of registration, and when it comes to thumb-pistons, I can’t help but think that one of the most elegant solutions to “adjustable pistons” (or “composition pedals” as they used to be), was the astonishingly clever Binns Patent, using a pneumatic motor and mechanical toggling.

I’ve played recitals on some BIG consoles; most notably at St Bride’s, Fleet Street; (140 or so stops), Hull City Hall (180 stops?) and even the Wurlitzer which was briefly at the Granada Studios in Manchester. (300 or so tabs?). The latter was the trickiest, because theatre organ thumb-pistons tend to be set up for specific sounds, rather than any build-up of pp to ff, but writing them down on a piece of paper in shorthand is not rocket-science.

I just cannot believe how lazy some organists can be, and I relish the days when I would watch Francis Jackson, like an intelligent spider on a very big web, crawl around the console almost imperceptibly .

Full Swell to Swell Oboe solo?

Not a problem.....piston 1, then wipe in the remaining stops with the back of the hand and draw the Oboe in one elegant, sweeping movement.

Simon Gledhill, the very accomplished theatre organist, once said to me, “I use a lot of hand registration,” when he was referring to some of the American “monsters” with 400 + stop-keys.

I can’t help but feel that technology has replaced the “art” of good registration and console control; at the same time, socially isolating the organist. I love it when I go to the Netherlands, and Haarlem in particular, to hear a real “team effort” involved in the playing of Reger, Widor and music by a lot of other composers which really shouldn’t work on a baroque style of instrument. It’s amazing to hear the swell box open; especially since there isn’t one!


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVJ-1YnhcOY


There’s an old saying in the business world, “keep it simple stupid.” (KISS for short)

Elegant simplicity is the preserve of the most sophisticated and often complex mind.

MM


David Pinnegar

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Re: Electronics In Pipe Organs
« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2012, 01:20:00 PM »
Hi!

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Relay-and-Switch-board-pipe-organ-/251065571038
is interesting as it raises precisely the issue in this thread. Here we have a telephone technology relay box for a unit organ which has been replaced by some solid state alternative.

In 50 years time, the relay box will still be working . . . and the electronic replacement . . . ??

Best wishes

David P
David Pinnegar, BSc ARCS

Janner

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Re: Electronics In Pipe Organs
« Reply #4 on: May 20, 2012, 05:21:42 PM »
Dear MM

I agree wholeheartedly with you on this important issue……….

Best wishes

David P
 

Although I’m quoting David’s response…………

MM

All thought provoking points. Considering the number of organs around now with various ‘advanced features’ in them, it does make you wonder what may happen in the future.


………………As the UK is short of at least one if not two nuclear power stations, there will be power cuts in five years time . . . .

David P

A very interesting point David, but one which, I suggest, would affect far more than just electric actions and playing aids. How many organs today retain fully functional hand-pumping equipment, or indeed any hand-pumping mechanism at all? There are some; relatively small instruments tucked away in odd places, but they seem to be in the minority, and anything over two manuals so equipped must surely be unusual nowadays?

The wider picture is, for want of a better word, fascinating. It seems that we are in danger of having a conventional instrument, i.e. one where the sound is produced by natural means, which is becoming totally reliant on electricity.

Of course there is another side of the coin. Judging by the number of amplifiers and other boxes usually littered around them these days, power cuts would likely also have a fairly profound effect on many “Worship bands” as well! Now there’s a thought…….

Perhaps Mellstock may yet see the return of Miss Fancy Day on the harmonium, or even Reuben Dewy and his merry crew in the minstrels’ gallery! (Suitably lubricated by some of "Reuben’s finest" of course.  ;))

However, my post was prompted, at least in part, by considerations of a specific situation, namely one where, by reasons of space and other factors, the only reasonable and practical way to accommodate a pipe organ may be to have a detached console.

Presumably now, that would inevitably mean associated electronics, not for clever gadgets, but simply to connect the organists to the bulk of their instrument. The question then arises, “If electronics are unavoidable, what is the best sort to have?”


……..
Best wishes

David P

Postcript - at least wire contacts are demonstrably repairable with mere cleaning of oxidisation. However, one should attach a proviso that some are rhodium plated and others similarly plated with slower oxidising metals than the base metal . . . so sandpaper is not the stuff to use on them. I forget what is the recommended way of cleaning contacts . . . ?

Yes, the caution about inadvertently removing plating is important. Gold is also often used in some applications. However, many such moving contacts tend to have a rubbing action as they are operated. In a sense this can be self-cleaning, but it inevitably takes place over the same small areas of the respective levers or springs. This eventually wears out the plated layer in that particular spot, base metal is exposed to the air, and it starts to oxidise, leading to poor contact anyway.

My only experience with this directly connected to organs is with our practise instrument. Admittedly it took a long time, but eventually keys in the most used areas of the manuals started to give problems. Once that started to happen, frequent cleaning became a necessity. I was advised by the manufacturer that this was the normal ‘downward path’ and the only proper solution was new contacts. They were most helpful in supplying replacements.

Agreed, this is not difficult. Any electronics ‘amateur’ adept with a soldering iron could affect the replacement on a home instrument, but wouldn’t a church be cautious about allowing an amateur to tinker in this way perhaps? Especially if they didn’t want to upset the builder who regularly cared for the instrument? And what about those annoying moments between when the problems first start to arise, and someone eventually gets around to obtaining the spares and wading in with the soldering iron?

It was this sort of thing which I had in mind regarding Hall-effect switches. MM mentions problems with them in motor vehicles, which is interesting, but is that perhaps associated more with that particular application? It sounds like it may be a rather harsher environment than the average organ console.

Hi!

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Relay-and-Switch-board-pipe-organ-/251065571038
is interesting as it raises precisely the issue in this thread. Here we have a telephone technology relay box for a unit organ which has been replaced by some solid state alternative.

In 50 years time, the relay box will still be working . . . and the electronic replacement . . . ??

Best wishes

David P

(But the vacuum cleaner stored underneath will have worn out long since!!   :))
I cannot quite make out the detail of these relays. While they may be “Telephone style technology,” as far as I can see they do not look like the relays specifically designed for UK telephone exchanges. Perhaps they were designed by an organ builder or parts supplier? Or perhaps adapted from some other application?

No matter, but it’s worth noting that the environment in Strowger telephone exchanges was generally quite well controlled in terms of temperature, humidity, and especially in the prevention of dust. Even so, well trained specialist staff, with custom made tools and equipment, were constantly employed in cleaning, adjusting and repairing. From my observation, this is far removed from the conditions normally found in the average church organ loft.

It seems to me that any such relays are likely to be affected by damp and dust. Given such an installation, how much time would an organ builder expect to spend on periodic maintenance I wonder?

All very interesting. Thank you both for your comments so far.

revtonynewnham

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Re: Electronics In Pipe Organs
« Reply #5 on: May 20, 2012, 06:21:02 PM »
Hi

Firstly, hand blowing - this survives - or at least the parts survive - surprisingly frequently - although, as you say, not on larger organs.  A couple of times a year, I get to play an organ that is still hand blown - no other blower.  I once had to complete playing for a wedding that included a worship band on the organ - we had a power cut during the service.  I did, however, take pity on the blower and not play the whole of the wedding march, which I normally do.  (To add to the fun, I'd set up my keybaord rig in front of the acoustic piano, which I wasn't planning to use on that occasion - it was a mic of traditional & modern songs.)

On the organ here, to save cost, the feeders for hand or foot blowing were retained but not releathered.  Hand blowing would be difficult, as the handle is missing - and anyway, the organ is now too close to the end wall to enable that - and there really isn't another viable place in the church.  The foot blowing lever is also missing, but I suppose could be reinstated along with releathering the feeders if really necessary.

Every Blessing

Tony

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Re: Electronics In Pipe Organs
« Reply #6 on: May 20, 2012, 06:26:48 PM »
Hi again - hit "send" too soon!

As to digital transmission, etc.  some tracker jobs, from the published information - have mechanical stop action, but solenoids to provide the "bells and whistles" than seem to be required by some players.  At least when the electronics fail, hand registration is still possible.

Yesterday, on the Bradford Organists' Association outing we visited an organ than apparently uses some form of radio transmission between the detached console and pipework, which are at opposite ends of the Nave.  I've heard of radio MIDI systems - but it seems a little risky to me, given the ever increasing pollution of the air waves - although maybe, given the very rural location of the church, perhaps the builder thought that it wouldn't be too much of a problem.  The 3m organ was somewhat on the large size for the building - originally a 4m given by the local squire!  I was surprised how prompt the action felt - faster than Bridlington Priory which we visited later in the day, along with a couple of very pleasant small organs.

Every Blessing

Tony

David Pinnegar

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Re: Electronics In Pipe Organs
« Reply #7 on: May 21, 2012, 12:29:39 AM »
Hi!

I'm sure that there are some rather expert and experienced members of this forum who might know of detached tracker consoles. I seem to recall example(s) where long horizontal trackers were used, it being an artform of engineering to arrange significantly low mass and responsivity . . .

Best wishes

David P
David Pinnegar, BSc ARCS

David Drinkell

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Re: Electronics In Pipe Organs
« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2012, 02:14:41 AM »
Weingarten!!!

Re hand-blowing (Janner's post) - there are lots and lots of (mostly rural) organs with working hand-blowing equipment.  It was usually more economic to leave it when installing electric blowing, and until recently, rural electricity supplies could be erratic.

Far more rare, the big 3m Evans & Barr at Moneyglass still has an electric motor working feeders to supply the wind.  It's a fascinating thing to watch!

I am suspicious about electronics in organs.  They don't seem as reliable as one would like.  When I was at St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, the pistons were set by three-way switches on a setter board.  It never went wrong in the nine years I was there.  After I left, a solid state system was installed with multi-levels.  I played there for my mother-in-law's funeral last month and Swell 4 was inoperative on all the levels I tried (including the one the present organist calls "David's settings").

That's just an example, but it's not an isolated one. 

Casavants' are urging me to have new solid state systems when the organ here is restored.  At present, the pistons are set by a patent mechaism dating back to the 1900s, and the console dates from 1927.  To the player, it's the usual drill - pull out the stops, hold the setter piston in and push the piston required.  Inside, there's an amazing, intricate set of little wooden bits (technical, eh?).  There are a few glitches in it now, but it mostly works.  Will a modern system be as good in 80 years time? 

I suppose I could have more pistons, and maybe the organ could do with them.  At present it has 5 each to Great and Swell, 3 each to Choir, Solo and Pedal, 5 generals and reversibles to main couplers., controlling an organ with 52 speaking tops (Gt 13, Sw 15, Ch 8, Solo 6, Ped 10), three trems and 34 couplers (this is North America, remember!).  I am quite happy with this.  I prefer to register by hand when I can, I never feel the need to reset the department pistons and the generals are useful mainly when I need a quick start to a voluntary (the only piece I play which needs all five is the Willan Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue).  It's a subjective view, because it's 'my' organ and we know each other's little ways, but I do feel things can get over-complicated (I was at a concert in Belfast once when the fanfare trumpet made an appearance midway through Whitlock's 'Folk Tune', due to over-reliance on the stepper).

MusingMuso

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Re: Electronics In Pipe Organs
« Reply #9 on: May 21, 2012, 06:25:56 AM »
[

It was this sort of thing which I had in mind regarding Hall-effect switches. MM mentions problems with them in motor vehicles, which is interesting, but is that perhaps associated more with that particular application? It sounds like it may be a rather harsher environment than the average organ console.
Best wishes



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


This is, of course, a very valid point. ABS sensors, for instance, work in a hot/cold/dry/wet/salty environment, and ignition system hall sensors work in a hot enviroment....average life maybe 8-12 years at most.

However, having lived with and repaired the alternative ignition systems, with their mechanical cams and contacts, I know that they are easy and cheap top replace when they go wrong. The last time I priced up an engine ignition sensor, it came complete with an ECU....total cost about £600  :o

In organ terms, that's my worry, because it could seal the fate of an organ in due course.

MM

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Re: Electronics In Pipe Organs
« Reply #10 on: May 21, 2012, 06:46:31 AM »
Hi!

I'm sure that there are some rather expert and experienced members of this forum who might know of detached tracker consoles. I seem to recall example(s) where long horizontal trackers were used, it being an artform of engineering to arrange significantly low mass and responsivity . . .

Best wishes

David P



Try this David:-


http://www.jwwalker.co.uk/reference/Grand%20Rapids%20Excerpt.pdf

MM


Janner

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Re: Electronics In Pipe Organs
« Reply #11 on: May 21, 2012, 07:49:09 AM »

………The last time I priced up an engine ignition sensor, it came complete with an ECU....total cost about £600  :o

In organ terms, that's my worry, because it could seal the fate of an organ in due course.

MM

Yes, I think you have hit a fairly large nail squarely on the head there. Sometimes the cost of the individual component which has failed may be low, but the replacement only comes wrapped up in a horrendously expensive module.

Try this David:-


http://www.jwwalker.co.uk/reference/Grand%20Rapids%20Excerpt.pdf

MM

Impressive.

David Pinnegar

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Re: Electronics In Pipe Organs
« Reply #12 on: May 21, 2012, 03:37:27 PM »
Weingarten!!!
. . .

Casavants' are urging me to have new solid state systems when the organ here is restored.  At present, the pistons are set by a patent mechaism dating back to the 1900s, and the console dates from 1927.  To the player, it's the usual drill - pull out the stops, hold the setter piston in and push the piston required.  Inside, there's an amazing, intricate set of little wooden bits (technical, eh?).  There are a few glitches in it now, but it mostly works.  Will a modern system be as good in 80 years time? 

Thanks for reminding me about Weingarten. Of course! Yes!

Wasn't a good thing that someone didn't come along and suggest that Weingarten's action was updated to whatever new state of the art has come and long since gone.

For that reason, as a conservation adviser, I would recommend repair and refurbishment where necessary of the wooden setter mechanism.

It's by reason of preserved technology that one can return to it in a later generation to provide new inspiration and where there is something special, and of proven longevity and effectiveness, conservation standards and principles of preservation are worthily applied.

Best wishes

David P
David Pinnegar, BSc ARCS

Andrew Dewar

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Re: Electronics In Pipe Organs
« Reply #13 on: May 22, 2012, 12:56:02 PM »
Hi!

I'm sure that there are some rather expert and experienced members of this forum who might know of detached tracker consoles. I seem to recall example(s) where long horizontal trackers were used, it being an artform of engineering to arrange significantly low mass and responsivity . . .

Best wishes

David P


This organ springs to mind... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muS0f-wqkXo

Greetings,

Andy

Barrie Davis

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Re: Electronics In Pipe Organs
« Reply #14 on: May 22, 2012, 02:46:22 PM »
Good gracious, I wonder how heavy the action is !!!! Very ingenious, is that the longest tracker run??

MusingMuso

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Re: Electronics In Pipe Organs
« Reply #15 on: May 22, 2012, 04:52:08 PM »
Good gracious, I wonder how heavy the action is !!!! Very ingenious, is that the longest tracker run??

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


I did once suggest to Piet Kee that they should have a detached, electric console at the Bavokerk.

He gave a few of those thoughtful Netherlands nods and then broke into a puzzled smile; possibly not quite sure whether he was talking to a philistine, a lunatic or a salesman.

MM

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Re: Electronics In Pipe Organs
« Reply #16 on: May 22, 2012, 10:05:17 PM »
If said console was on a lift, one could avoid all those stairs.  Maybe an illuminated surround would look suitably baroque.

Imagine this one with tracker action.....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuCvzOsMOR0

Barrie Davis

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Re: Electronics In Pipe Organs
« Reply #17 on: June 11, 2012, 07:31:47 PM »
Its a bit like playing it from the garden shed!!!!!!!! ;D

David Pinnegar

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Re: Electronics In Pipe Organs
« Reply #18 on: June 11, 2012, 09:41:20 PM »
Aah! That instrument! I thought there was an article in The Organ magazine about it a year or so ago - it can be heard for at least 1/2 mile if not 2 . . .

Best wishes

David P
David Pinnegar, BSc ARCS

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Re: Electronics In Pipe Organs
« Reply #19 on: June 13, 2012, 08:43:06 PM »
I am trying hard to recall a double instrument somewhere on the Continent in the choir of the church in which the trackers went down into a tunnel under the chancel, across and up the other side. Can someone please put me out of my misery? That must count as pretty impressive engineering though you might end up with some broken fingers if you tried playing Widor V!

I appreciate the comments around simplicity, many moons ago I went on a local organ crawl in which the organ of the first church was introduced as having recently had a very sophisticated solid-state transmission system fitted. No special reason why, it was a small two manual with detached console. But after a few notes of the visit visitor a fuse blew and that was the end of that.

The second organ promised to be a disappointment too, an old tracker with a cacophany of ciphers as soon as the blower was turned on. But a few minutes of fiddling inside the case and all was well.

At this point I might take the liberty of recalling a story a few years ago when I was accompanying for a wedding. Having visited the church a few days before the wedding and established that the organ was in a rather perilous condition, I arranged a rehearsal for the choir on the morning of the wedding. Except there were no bass - I had to send him off to the nearest B&Q with a shopping list of emergency repair items, duct tape, superglue and the like. Before the wedding I crawled around the innards of the organ in my best suit patching various windleaks and taping and gluing bits and pieces together. A few minutes before the bride entered, the ivory fell off Great middle C. So I liberally coated the underside of the ivory with superglue, pressed hard - and superglue leaked out all around, including all over my fingers. At that precise moment came the fateful words, "Would the congregation please rise..."

I vowed never to play for another service there again but about five years later found myself doing just that, and indeed for a wedding as it happened. I got to the very last chord of Widor's Toccata when, you've guessed it, the ivory fell off Great middle C. So at least now you know how robust superglue is.

Back on topic, any organ beyond a certain size will have an inherent complexity that tilts the balance away from mechanical and towards electronic assistance for action, stop controls and combination systems. There are powerful arguments both ways in terms of whether to restore a large and complicated pneumatic action, or whether to strip out the links and electrify. Actually having more space by clearing away the pneumatics can allow pipes to speak better, and facilitate access to parts of the action that would otherwise only be mendable by dismantling the organ. And the Binns pneumatic adjustable memory combination system is so sophisticated that few if any builders today would wish to take on something like that, and only at very considerable cost. One might well ask, had solid state electrics been available at the end of the 19th century, would anyone have gone to the trouble of designing such complicated mechanical combination systems?

In fact one might ask the same of electric versus pneumatic actions in general. Barker (of lever fame) was actually experimenting with electric actions in the 1860s before the development of tubular pneumatic action, and had mid-Victorian electrics been more reliable we might well have bypassed the tubular pneumatic action phase altogether. In 1905 Audlesy in "The Art of Organ Building" countenanced against electric action organs saying that electrics was not yet sufficiently advanced as to allow for the necesary level of reliability. Maybe if he was writing today he would say the same about computer controls. Certainly there is a potential problem with the obselescence of modern electronic devices, and the more complex the organ, the greater the need for solid state relays, coupler actions, computer controls, combination actions etc which depend on printed circuit boards, microchips and other wizardry that may or may not still be around and repairable twenty years from now. On the other hand, the more modular the connection between keys and pipes, the easier it is to remove and swap with an upgrade if necessary.

 


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