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The Pragmatic View of HW

A discussion forum for anything even marginally Hauptwerk-related.
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Gary Schwartz

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The Pragmatic View of HW

PostWed Apr 14, 2004 10:39 am

The ongoing discussions regarding reverberation, tremulants, ambiance and the like are enlightening and thought provoking. I submit, however, that there are two camps of existing and potential Hauptwerk devotees: those who are striving to reproduce every nuance and essence of a particular pipe organ versus those who would be overwhelmingly thrilled achieving 80% of the real thing. I place myself in this latter category for the reasons summarized below.

1. A few decades ago I considered myself an audiophile. In search of perfection I wound up listening for the defects in the equipment rather than the music. I pulled in the reins and started to enjoy the music again.

2. Listening is subjective. Artists disagree on the merits of one instrument over another and of the acoustic properties of a specific venue. Acoustics change with the size of the audience. The location of the optimum seat is often controversial.

3. Those of us who have ever tried to record pianos, organs, or ensembles truly appreciate the artistic skill of those who do this successfully. It has obviously been gained through lots of trial and error. Microphone selection and placement determine the outcome. And, to every expert opinion there seems to be one of the opposing view.
4. It is not true that all organ installations are properly planned and executed. As the old theaters have been torn down, many of the organs have been relocated to available venues. You live with cramped chambers, compressors in non-ideal locations and whatever acoustics the hall possesses. It is also true that even Wurlitzer was known for a quick and dirty installation and often left a new instrument poorly voiced.

5. Assuming you could accurately evaluate the acoustic properties of a given hall, trying to reproduce that atmosphere in one's home or other room would not be trivial. Deciding on the "perfect" listening spot to emulate is subjective.

I'm not suggesting that any of the discussions or efforts to achieve some of these difficult tasks should be abandoned. To continually push the technology envelope is a purposeful and noble endeavor. From my perspective and I believe that of many others, the ability to modify the acoustic treatment, i.e., reverb, tremulants, etc., allows one to tailor the sampled instrument to it's surroundings and to one's personal tastes.

For augmenting existing pipe organs, speakers would typically be placed in the chambers or close to them, hence the need to tailor the sampled instrument to blend to the existing organ. For a complete HW commercial installation, one church or theater sampled environment would need to be modified to accommodate a new room.

I am fortunate to be able to routinely get my hands on a superb 3/14 Marr & Colton which is installed in an old opera house. I can not put the playing experience into words. It is beyond my comprehension to believe I could recreate that environment in my living room. Yet, I would be ecstatic with a meager approximation of this instrument on which to practice.

Just one man's opinion.

Gary
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dna

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Re: The Pragmatic View of HW

PostWed Apr 14, 2004 12:40 pm

Gary Schwartz wrote:I submit, however, that there are two camps of existing and potential Hauptwerk devotees: those who are striving to reproduce every nuance and essence of a particular pipe organ versus those who would be overwhelmingly thrilled achieving 80% of the real thing.
You are an excellent writer. I agree with your sentiments. I would also add that those who are most obsessed with accuracy wouldn't even consider anything but a real pipe organ.

Further, the best musicians are the ones least concerned with reproduction accuracy, I've noticed. For one thing, like you, they usually have access to the real thing. They don't expect reproduction to be accurate. And for another, a good musician can make good music on almost anything. It is usually people like me with lesser capabilities that are the most interested in reproduction perfection, whether we are talking hi-fi or pipe organ simulation. For example, some of the hi-fi magazines I subscribe to often interview musicians and it is rare that they have even mid-fi equipment.

In defense of my theatre organ tremulant obsession, however, I don't think this is a minor issue. What gives the theatre organ its very unique sound? High wind pressure is used in organs that sound nothing like a theatre organ. Most theatre organ pipes are similar to those found in other organs. I maintain it is the theatre organ tremulant that is key to its sound. Turn it off or adjust it wrong on the real organ or simulate it poorly without capturing the proper periodic harmonic changes, and it is no longer a theatre organ.
-David-NA
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Gary Schwartz

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PostWed Apr 14, 2004 3:43 pm

David -

I agree that it's the trems that make that unique theater organ sound. But thats not all. As you correctly pointed out, there is a higher wind pressure used. This, I believe, causes the pipes to speak with a certain snap that a classical organ doesn't have. There is also something pretty magical about a fine set of theater organ Tibias even without tremulant. Since there are no mixtures you add brilliance with strings and couplers, which again contribute to the unique sound. Then too, a TO is heavy in string and reed stops.

Most theater organs use multiple trems. They are not synced. More trems mean more control and tonal variations. Properly set up and complimented with properly voiced ranks, you get a "shimmer" that is unmatched in sound.

You and I are obviously interested in the end result. I'll leave the physics to those who know these things.

On another note - it is obvious that Mr. Milan must be in possession of the KFC recipe, otherwise how would he know the correct answer :)

Gary
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gingercat

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Re: The Pragmatic View of HW

PostThu Apr 15, 2004 3:34 am

dna wrote:
Gary Schwartz wrote:And for another, a good musician can make good music on almost anything.


My dad was just telling me on the phone the other night how an organist he used to know in Carlisle (UK) played on an organ there where some of the keys didn't sound the right notes - the organist just used to automatically play the -wrong- keys to play the -right- notes - incredible. (He rejected my suggestion that perhaps the chap always played the wrong notes, so the congregation worked out which keys to swap round to correct for this :P )
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PostThu Apr 15, 2004 1:49 pm

Gary Schwartz wrote:On another note - it is obvious that Mr. Milan must be in possession of the KFC recipe, otherwise how would he know the correct answer :)
.... ..

Yes, all sorts of things make up the theatre organ sound. One organist complained that the Allen theatre organ was seriously flawed because each stop was from its own straight rank, not unified. When he played two notes from the same pipe the sound output increased when it wouldn't from a unit organ. (This was a few years ago. I don't know if Allen's latest theatre organ's are unified or not.) I always found his comment a bit curious because I think of unification as a cost and space cutting measure, not a feature. None the less, unification is also part of the TO sound.

I also under emphasized the importance of the TO pipe sounds, the tibia, vox, post horn, kinura, etc. and tuned percussions.

However, I think most would agree that high on the list of what makes up the TO sound is the way it uses tremulants. Now that both Brett and Martin have indicated they agree, I feel much more at ease and can give this subject a rest for awhile. :)

gingercat: I once witnessed something similar, someone playing a piano with a number of keys that didn't play correctly and he played around them like it was nothing unusual at all. Amazing.
-David-NA
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Gary Schwartz

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PostThu Apr 15, 2004 2:17 pm

gingercat: I once witnessed something similar, someone playing a piano with a number of keys that didn't play correctly and he played around them like it was nothing unusual at all. Amazing.


I too, have witnessed the amazing. I watched a guy who had no hands, just stubs at the wrists, play the piano. He "rolled" melody and chord notes one after the other using the right and left edges of his stubs.

Regarding the trems and the other posts, I think we'll be in good hands with HW2.

Gary
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stenberg

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PostThu Apr 15, 2004 3:29 pm

I once saw a man who could play around all the right keys all the time using just one arm and one finger, and he wasn't even blindfolded. I've tried it myself. It's not all that difficult.

Gunnar Stenberg

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