Organ Project Complete: At Least for Now

Posted 28 March 2011 by

The good news is quite good and quite substantive. The Hauptwerk organ with its “St. Annes” virtual organ is playing and the mechanics of the organ are all functioning as they should. It has been challenging and fun getting to this point. Since last post, I’ve fixed some problems and learned quite a lot about this whole set-up.

Concerning the swell shoe that was wired wrong, I finally detached it from the console and took it in hand to my trusty Micro Center in Overland Park, kansas. The repair folks had been very kind and gracious with my (big) computer issue a while back. I walked in with the swell shoe and in the midst of puzzled looks and many questions explained what the problem was. The guy behind the counter looked to either side, then behind his back, pulled out a pocket knife and proceeded to reverse the wires on the connector. He knew how to do it. I watched and now I know, too. He said, “you didn’t see me do this, right?” He said the same to his fellow counter mate. Apparently, he is scolded quite thoroughly if he does anything voluntarily. The store wants to be paid for such simple services. Minimum fee? Not pretty. But, it took two minutes. I smiled very broadly and said, “I’m not looking”. I thanked him profusely, and scampered out, feeling like I had pulled a coup! Then, I dashed home and fixed the connectors on the other two shoes.

Viola! I now have a swell shoes that works in the proper manner. The next task was to get the crescendo pedal going. Here, all I can say is that I dug around in the bowls of the Hauptwerk software and finally found the right combination of settings to make it work. To go through the process would be lengthy and boring and pointless. Let’s just be happy that it’s working. OK? The software allows complete control over what stops get turned on at what stage of the pedal movement. With 40 stages, the crescendo is smooth and gradual.

I now had a fully functional instrument. The home stereo speakers sound just fine. The Echo AudioFire 8 audio/Midi box worked without a hitch. It is happy just being there, receiving all the Midi messages from the console, feeding them into the computer, which processes the sounds, feeding them back to the AudioFire 8, which then turns the result into output values, and then sends them on to the amplifier–in my case the receiver of my home stereo.

One of the fun surprises was to listen to the software do it’s thing with actual organ pipes. It was exciting hearing the speech characteristic of each individual pipe and a slight differentiation from pipe to pipe. Most noticeable was the Clarinet, which, especially in the low range, has slight variations in the sound of each pipe as one moves through the lower range. Some sound more buzzy, some more flutey. It is all very authentic. All the reeds on St. Anne’s organ vary slightly in volume and color as you move through the registers–like a real pipe organ: especially an older pipe organ. St. Anne’s is probably 150 years old.

Another fun discovery is the displacement of sound between the left and right speakers. In a “real” pipe organ, the pipes are distributed across both sides of the chamber, with the lowest note playing far to one side, and the next pitch up playing on the opposite side, then back and forth through the whole range of each pipe rank. This produces what are called the “sharp” side and the “flat” side of a pipe chamber, and it is reproduced in the Hauptwerk/St. Annes organ. It is quite easy to hear as you play.

The swell pedal affects the sound differently than a typical electronic organ, which simplys turns up and down a volume control. In a “real” pipe organ, shutters close down in front of the pipes making the sound softer. But there is more effect than just volume. It also damps the upper frequencies more effectively than the lower frequencies, the result being a softer sound, but also a changed balance of volume from upper to lower pitches. This is also replicated in the software rendering of the movement of the swell pedal. Quite surprising to me.

So, loads of good news. Some of the other discoveries are not exactly positive or exactly negative. They just ARE. I’ll delve into those in the next post.

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