THE SOUND OF MUSIC
ELECTRONICS vs. PIPES
(Condensed from the booklet)
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
The acceleration tone, the sustained tone, and the release
and decay of the sustained tone.
The rate of the tonal build-up and the change of the
harmonic structure as the tone matures.
The degree of tonal steadiness and the shape of the
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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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