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THE SOUND OF MUSIC

ELECTRONICS vs. PIPES


by
FRANK IACINO
(Condensed from the booklet)

PREFACE

Since the appearance of the Hammond Electric Organ in 1935 and the ensuing fully-electronic organs of today, organs of this type have come a long way. However, from the outset, it was clear that electronic organ manufacturers would not be content with their product to remain merely a substitute for the pipe organ. As early as 1940, attempts began at rivaling the pipe organ. Efforts to equal the pipe organ sound have been unceasing.

Here are some of the obstacles faced by electronic engineers:

  • Reproduction of the natural timbre of an acoustical musical instrument.

  • The acceleration tone, the sustained tone, and the release and decay of the sustained tone.

    1. The rate of the tonal build-up and the change of the harmonic structure as the tone matures.

    2. The degree of tonal steadiness and the shape of the harmonic structure.

    3. The rate of decay and the change of the harmonic structure during the decay process.

  • The independent tone attack, decay of initial harmonics, and sustain and release times of each pipe are not constant. (Remember that organ pipes are actual musical instruments.)

  • Each of the foregoing elements has its own varying characteristics including the random variations in pitch heights.

You will realize from the foregoing that the timbre of a live musical instrument, like the life of a human being, is very difficult to copy.

The question is posed: Has the electronic organ equalled the pipe organ, or has it become only a good imitation?

The answer is to be found in the following article -- a thesis founded on personal research and in consultation with some of the most eminent authorities on organ building.

NATURAL VARIANCES

As each pipe starts and stops speaking (attack and decay), the harmonic excursions which result add interest and identity. Here the word identity refers to the authentic reproduction of tone. The listener will readily recognize a trumpet, a flute, a principal, etc.

The burst of air which precedes the voice is a breathing characteristic and provides a phrasing of enunciation.

Colour and warmth exist because of random variations in the pitch height of each individual pipe sound.

To quote Albert Taekema of the Johannus Organ Company - "IT'S ALIVE! IT HAS THE BREATH OF LIFE!"

MOVING THE AIR MASS
(Sonic Disturbance)

Electronic organ speakers do not distribute sound in the same manner as organ pipes. The latter send out sound waves in all directions. Except for very low tones, speakers (including exponential horn types) are directional.

Experimentation in large cathedrals, where enormous amounts of air have to be moved, has proven that pipes can project their tone much farther than electronic speakers. It is also evident that the larger the building, the more apparent are the shortcomings of the electronic organ.

Giant 30" speakers have been employed for the sole purpose of moving the large air masses necessary to propagate tones in the lowest pitches. They are very successful and probably produce the most realistic electronic 32' tones. Two problems with the use of these large speakers are the initial cost and the space required to house them properly.

SPATIAL DIMENSION

The "GRAND ORGAN SOUND" or "REAL ORGAN EFFECT" can be realized only if the tone is evenly distributed to all parts of the church or auditorium. The sound must not have any directional effect.

When a pipe organ vibrantly resounds in a large building, the tone is coming from many diverse sources in many different positions. These positions are three-dimensional, and it is this factor that creates the effect of "spatial dimension". This effect causes the sound to appear to be coming from everywhere at the same time. Consequently, the music floods the whole cubic dimension like a tidal wave.

When an electronic organ speaks, the tone comes from one or more tone cabinets. The directional effect is quite apparent and produces a "beam effect". This "beam effect" causes the tone to be irregular throughout the auditorium. In larger and more sophisticated installations, multi-channelling and many speakers help to minimize this directional or beam effect. It is the only way to set so many cubic feet of air into musical vibration. However, the problem has never been completely resolved.

SYMPATHETIC ENHANCEMENT

If two neighboring objects have the same natural frequency and one object is made to vibrate, the sound waves of the vibrating object will cause the other to vibrate also. This phenomenon is referred to as "Sympathetic Vibration". Since the effect in music is to enhance the sound, we shall refer to it as "Sympathetic Enhancement".

This effect is always taking place in a pipe organ, but never in an electronic organ. It is most subtle and is what gives pipe organs a most appealing charm. The sound of the music becomes more interesting and never causes aural fatigue. The organist never tires of playing a pipe organ the way most organists tire of playing electronic organs.

"Sympathetic Enhancement" is a variable, and therefore constantly varies its effect on the music. The effect depends on the number and position of the pipes that are speaking and on the expression pedal as it is being opened and closed.

It should be noted that, as the swell shades are opening, the sound is not only becoming louder but also brighter, because more of the higher frequencies are being released. When the swell shades are closed, many of the higher frequencies are retained inside the chamber (variable harmonic tapering).

INTERESTING FACTS

1. The pipe organ has been referred to as "More Than a Product" because of its ability to improve with age, without being tampered with by human hands. As time moves on, organ pipes undergo a change for the better, just as a bottle of fine wine improves with age. This quality is uncanny, unpredictable and, most of all, a mystery! (Ref., the book "Playing The Organ" by Dr. F. Routh). From the outset, an electronic organ either deteriorates or, at best, remains the same. It cannot improve on its own.

2. There isn't a shadow of a doubt as to the life span of a pipe organ. Pipes literally last forever! All one has to do to prove this statement is to pay a visit to ancient abbeys and cathedrals of Great Britain and Europe. Almost all the electronic organs installed during the 40s, 50s and 60s are being replaced. They either completely died or were made obsolete by improvements in the art. Today, electronic organ representatives will argue that, with the advancement of space-age electronics, electronic organs will now last a lifetime. However, not one of them is prepared to offer the prospective customer a life-time guarantee.

3. The combining of stops or voices has been a major problem with electronic organs. Instruments with a limited number of amplifier and speaker channels achieve an electrical type of mixing in the amplifiers (as opposed to acoustical mixing) which produces distortion as the combined signals tend to cancel or square. When a pipe organ vibrantly resounds in a large church, the individual voices are combined in the acoustic space of the building thus creating a most exciting effect.

4. The imposing sonorities of a grand pipe organ are profoundly felt more than heard. The awesome floor-shaking power of a 32' stop (roll of thunder) can be hair raising. The magnificent splendor of the full organ is known to invoke diverse reactions, from shivers of the spine to pronounced weakness of the knees. Only the pipe organ has this kind of transcendent power. It must be remembered that the pipe organ is not a single musical instrument but an orchestra of many musical instruments -- each pipe being an actual live acoustical instrument.

CONCLUSION

Is the pipe organ worth the effort and sacrifice that a music committee must make for a church to own one? There can be no doubt as to the answer to this question!

History records that the PIPE ORGAN is an instrument worthy of Kings. Regal in Tone! Compelling in Majesty! Spectacular in Conception! Shattering in Impact! Awesome in Size and Power! Electrifying in Climax! All the monumental organs of the world are PIPE ORGANS.

Over the centuries, the PIPE ORGAN has been referred to as "THE KING OF INSTRUMENTS". Today, the PIPE ORGAN remains "THE UNCHALLENGED KING OF MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS".

(Condensed from the article "The Sound of Music; Electronics vs. Pipes", Copyright International 1986 by Frank Iacino and published by Britannia Printers, Inc., 138 Main Street, Toronto, M4E 2V9, Ontario, Canada. Used with Permission.)

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