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Armley: First Impressions

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Armley: First Impressions

Postby Rauschpfeife » Tue Mar 26, 2019 5:51 am

Hello Chaps,

I've been posting every now and again with questions about the Lavender Audio Armley sample set over the last 18 months or so. I was planning to buy the set around this time last year, but my house fell to bits due to a flood and the money I had saved up for Armley had to go on fixing that. Last week, I finally managed to finish saving up again and this time, the house didn't fall to bits, so I ordered it. :D

I'm sure there are lots of "reviews" of the set here already, but I wanted to add a few "first impressions" comments to the mix, in case they're of use to anyone who's considering buying the set (do!). I also wanted to say a public thank you to David Butcher for his work on the set - I've only played it for 30-40 minutes last night, but it's clearly a top-quality set of a very interesting instrument which I know I'm going to enjoy immensely.

So - I didn't adjust any sliders or change any settings yet and played the "out of the box" setup. First impressions are:

  • I love the range of tone colours - so many subtly different flutes and strings!
  • The Choir has is very quiet for a "second" manual.
  • I prefer the Swell celestes to the Echo celestes.
  • I need to play with the Pedal division more. I went quickly through most of the manual stops but I didn't find a soft pedal combination with the 32' that I liked so far. I know there'll be one though - just have to find it!
  • I managed to get a nice "clean" Bach registration out of it, though another attempt later today will probably produce a better result.
  • Reger sounds really good on it.
  • The Great mixture is really something - wow! Far too much for baroque music though.
  • Most interesting stops so far are the Cello und Violine and Orchester Flote on the Choir, the Great Hohl Flöte and the Echo Echo Oboe, the last of which I really need to have a proper play with - a reed-toned flue stop! Marvellous!
  • It's annoying that the octave couplers don't seem to be applied across divisional couplers (i.e. using Swell Octave + Swell / Great together). It seems one can't do the usual trick of creating a high mixture on a romantic instrument by coupling the swell principals / mixture to the Great an octave higher?
  • The Pedal Bombarde isn't really a bombarde - it's a contra trombone. It's not nasal enough / too fat to be a bombarde. (That's not a criticism though - I'd rather have it than not and it's nicely in keeping with the other reeds.)
  • I haven't worked out how to assign a swell pedal to the Echo division yet - does anyone know where the control to right click to assign this is?

Overall - I'm very pleased with it. It's going to take me 6 months to get used to playing it and work it all out, but it's a really well-produced set of a lovely instrument. Also a lovely complement to Zwolle - I suspect they might be the only two I bother with now (though I quite like Piotr Grabowski's Strassburg and Giubiasco sets too).

In short - well worth waiting / saving up for. :-)

Adam.
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Re: Armley: First Impressions

Postby Rauschpfeife » Wed Mar 27, 2019 5:39 am

Here follow some "second impressions" comments which I emailed to an interested friend earlier this morning. Again, they're copied here in case the information is useful to anyone considering purchasing / who has recently purchased the incredible Armley set.

I managed to get about another hour playing Armley last night. I made some progress with the "working out" stage and I'm no less satisfied with it. It really is a lovely instrument.

I adjusted the instrument settings slightly which made the instrument a little more comfortable for my own tastes / experience (which isn't to suggest that it wasn't anything other than lovely to start with!). I:
  • turned the Choir up 1dB
  • found and activated the "octaves couple through" option

That led to a "Bach Prelude" registration using that trick of coupling the Swell mixture to the Great up an octave. I'm at work, so can't check this, but the resulting registration was something like:

Gt: Sub16, MajPr8, Gm8, Gd8, Ho4, Oct4, RsII, Sw/Gt
Sw: GPr8, Fl8, Oct4, Fl4, Fl2, CymIV, +8ve
Pd: Op16, Sb16, Oct8, Oct4, Ps16, Sw/Pd, Gt/Pd

I found that registration it worked both with and without the Swell Unison Off engaged. Brilliant and shining without; slightly lighter but still bright with it. I liked both. Of course - I didn't buy Armley to play Bach, but it's nice to know I can and shows it's versatile enough to do so. Also, for the record, I've heard so many horrible Swell Cymbels in my life, it's nice to find one that doesn't sound like it was designed to scare dogs and small children... :-)

After that, I pulled out Thalben-Ball's Elegy and had a go at registering that. It's got lots of opportunities for tonal changes and I found lots of nice sounds, including my "soft strings and 32' pedal" registration.

The Pedal Violone is a nice stop, but really quite big. A duller, softer version, I'd use by itself, but on this instrument it's too much for the Swell celestes. Conversely, the Subbass by itself is too small to balance the 32'. I found that coupling the Echo Tibia Major gave just enough to balance it all out. Again, I'm at work, so I can't check it, but it was something like:

Sw: Sl8, VC8, Fl8
Ec: Tb16
Pd: Sb16, Sb32, Sw/Pd, Ec/Pd

It might not have had the 8' flute on the swell, but whatever it was was lovely for the last line of the Thalben-Ball, with the 32' added for the last chord as indicated. I also used

Ec: SlGd8
Ch: Hm8, CuV8

for the penultimate line (solo on the Choir) which seemed to work nicely too. I do like that Cello und Violine stop! Adding the Great mixture on the climax worked nicely too.

In between all that, I found many other weird and wonderful combinations. I look forward to another session of getting to know the instrument this evening.
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Re: Armley: First Impressions

Postby 162_Ranks » Sun Mar 31, 2019 10:52 am

These are wonderful notes, thank you!
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Re: Armley: First Impressions

Postby engrssc » Sun Mar 31, 2019 7:33 pm

Would invite others using Armley to share their favorite registrations. 8)

One thing I've done, using a 3 manual console, is to play both the Swell
and the Echo on the upper manual each with separate registration ability.
There is also a reversible piston to cancel either division and with a second
push of that piston, to "reinstate" the division's previous registration.

Many stops of the Swell work very well with those of the Echo division. :)
I might add, the sound from each (Swell and Echo) divisions come from
separate amps/speakers and each from different physical locations for some
interesting effects.

Others may not agree, but I really haven't found any stops that don't blend
well (with other stops) That isn't true of all sample sets I have. :o

Rgds,
Ed
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Re: Armley: First Impressions

Postby Organorak » Mon Apr 01, 2019 4:52 am

It is in my opinion one of the loveliest organs in the UK and sounds transparently beautiful in the flesh.

Having played it but only before the restoration I was struck by how much louder the Echo sounds than what I recalled, though I seem to recall the internal layout was rearranged to make the other divisions speak more clearly at the recent restoration, and the result was applauded as improving something that was already hard to improve upon. Maybe it was just inaudible from the console.

It's not the easiest organ to register though that's not a criticism - you have to take your time to figure out what works best. But you will be well rewarded if you do. It's probably my first choice when booting up Hauptwerk now.
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Re: Armley: First Impressions

Postby Rauschpfeife » Wed Apr 03, 2019 5:42 am

Since my comments above seem to have been reasonably well received, allow me to add some more thoughts (and apologize for their somewhat unstructured nature!):

  • I managed to get the Echo box assigned to one of the pedals via the normal menus / dialog boxes - this was useful.
  • The Echo Still Gedact is probably my favourite stop currently, though I'd struggle to explain exactly why...
  • I've been finding that the Echo and Choir seem to have a similar character which makes choosing distinct registrations for them hard work sometimes. It's probably a consequence of having played a baroque sample set / music for so long that when I'm presented with many sets of strings and flutes, there's a tendency for them all to sound like "strings and flutes", an especially if I apply modern "blended" registrational technique to the instrument. I probably need to use fewer stops of more distinct tone (and I notice that the preset divisionals tend to use "different" rather than "more" stops as you work up the numbers which hints at this).
  • I'm still thinking about balancing the divisions slightly differently. I still have the Choir turned up 1dB across the board, but I think the previous consideration is making me want to turn it up a little further. Stops like the Orchester Flöte and Lieblich Gedact seem to want to cross over the foundation / solo stop divide, but they're not powerful enough (in the sample set, at least) to balance out even small numbers of Swell / Pedal stops and give clarity to a solo line. Furthermore, by comparison, the Great is substantially louder than all of the other divisions; bringing the Choir "out" a bit would probably help to bridge that gap.
  • The extra stops in the extended set have been occasionally useful, but the original disposition is perfectly enjoyable.
  • The most useful "extra stop" has been the Great 2' principal stop giving brightness without the brilliance of the mixture.
  • The Echo Terz is nicely done (and couples usefully to the Choir to add penetration to those registrations) though the fourth manual of my console is a long way away to be used for long cornet solos - although I'm building a new console currently, with Armley in mind, which should address this!
  • The transfer of the Swell Bourdon is sufficient for single-stop registrations, but I often prefer the Subbass.
  • I haven't found the reeds transferred to the Choir terribly helpful (though I haven't played a lot with the voicing yet) because they don't have enough power / breadth to act as proper solo reeds (e.g. when English composers call for a solo tuba and expect it to balance a full or relatively full Great registration).
  • The Swell 2' flute is much of a muchness, really.
  • The Choir Clarinette is rather (over?) powerful - I'm tempted to turn it down somewhat - though it does sound nice with the tremulant.
  • I haven't tested out the divisional pistons thoroughly (in fact, actually using them at all feels a little foreign as this is the first instrument of any size I've owned that's possessed them) but the defaults do seem to be well thought out.

More generally, as I intimated above, I've been playing Zwolle and baroque music for literally years, with only about 10% anything else. For perhaps obvious reasons, baroque registration seems much more formulaic and Armley is very pleasing in that it's making me use my brain and my ears a lot more, rather than simply picking tried and tested combinations. I've no doubt it's going to take me months to get to know the instrument and that doing so will give a lot of pleasure.

I think that, although the general principles of (non-French) romantic / modern registrational practice are straightforward, actually doing it requires a lot more input from the organist and there's a lot more subtlety and patience involved in getting the sound you're after.

To give an example, I was playing one of the Stanford Short Preludes & Postludes from Set 2 yesterday: the direction indicated "Pedal coupled to Gt. and Sw. with soft reed". Both the Swell Oboe and Choir Clarinette were far too "imposing", but the use of the Pedal 8' Violoncello gave just enough penetration. Like the thing with the Swell mixture / octave I mentioned above, occasionally "working round" the instrument is where you discover how versatile it can be.

Try using the Swell Gamba / tremulant as a solo stop!

The quest continues...
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Re: Armley: First Impressions

Postby Rauschpfeife » Thu Apr 04, 2019 4:21 am

I suspect that my "exploratory notes" here are somewhat esoteric, but I continue in the hope that, many years from now, some excitable Hauptwerk novice might discover them and find them useful.

After last night's session, there are only a few things to say:
  • I was pleased to read this article on Contre Bombarde - http://www.contrebombarde.com/concerthall/home/view_cat/cat/1/sort/100/order/last_modified/limit/10. I believe the author is responsible for many of the Armley demos (and possibly for some of the default registrations?) so although the subject of the article is the Salisbury set, the principles expounded will apply to some degree to Armley too, recognizing its differences. Although what's described within was already familiar to me and seems natural already - if still difficult to execute with the skill shown by the author - it was a useful refresher of the basic principles and the link at the bottom to the article with the "worked example" was likewise useful.
  • Using the master sliders on the Settings page to raise the Choir division to +3dB resulted in a better balance (through headphones). I'm yet to try through the speakers (it was very late) but I think it will probably be where I leave the balance long-term. In comparison, the Echo is now noticeably quieter than the Choir, which is how I imagine it should be (although I've never heard the real instrument in the flesh). I suspect the first job this evening will be to turn down the now offensively-loud Clarinet, however!

After playing around with some combinations and refining the polyphony setting, I played Karg-Elert's Es ist das Heil uns kommen her from the 66 Chorale Improvisations. I found that the enclosed Echo division of the extended set gave a nice effect for the crescendo-decrescendo after the repeat. With:
  • Echo: StG8 and EcF4 [Box Shut]
  • Swell: Sl8, FlT8, VC8, Ec./Sw.
  • Pedal: Basses 16 & 8, Sw. / Pd.
and playing on the Swell, gradually opening the Echo box added a lovely brightness to the sound (in lieu of a genuine forte) which satisfied the poco f indication, much as one would more normally open the Swell box whilst playing on the Great to create a powerful forte. Closing first the Echo box (from around the third beat of the fourth-to-last bar on Ab second inversion) and then the Swell box half way from about 4 beats following to pp at the start of the penultimate bar created a nice, gentle decrescendo to finish the piece, leaving a little more diminuendo for the ppp at the end.

Hopefully that's useful to someone. :)
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Re: Armley: First Impressions

Postby engrssc » Thu Apr 04, 2019 8:52 am

Yes. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Rgds,
Ed
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Re: Armley: First Impressions

Postby Rauschpfeife » Fri Apr 05, 2019 5:55 am

One of the hardest things about getting used to Armley is the divisional pistons - not helped by the article(s) I referenced yesterday!

I've been so used to using general pistons (most of the instruments I've owned previously haven't had anything else) that when I return to well-known and loved pieces and find the score full of both the composer's own registration indications and my own markings indicating general pistons, it's very difficult to know which way to jump.

Take for example, one of yesterday's pieces - the Passacaglia from Rheinberger's eighth sonata. The first two pages are full of the composer's indications: Swell to Great goes on and off like a yoyo; Swell, Great and Pedal registrations get added to and reduced. There are probably other markings I can't recall sitting here typing.

In the past, without divisionals, the only cure for this was laziness: a couple of generals of approximately appropriate registration and a willingness to overlook most of the coupling / stop changes request for a pleasing effect, if not a faithful interpretation of the composer's wishes.

Last night however, having both the hardware and the software to support such divisional changes, I felt obliged to attempt them, but my goodness it complicates things! Apart from anything else, it showed up my lack of experience of pushing pistons of any kind whilst playing. I'll usually leave registrational changes for obvious gaps in the music, but Rheinberger asks for them in the middle of an unbroken line of music!

I can only assume that, either generals and divisionals come a poor second to an actual registrant (as I'm not aware that Rheinberger's own instrument had any playing aids) or that the limitations of a touch screen requiring a controlled touch, as opposed to a rapid tug of a stop knob makes it somewhat harder to effect these changes than the composer might have expected.

In the end, it was all too much. I ran out of time and I couldn't settle on a sensible scheme for the use of divisionals to register the the first two pages, let alone the whole piece. I'll probably have another go later today, as it's an old favourite and I want to get it worked out for the new instrument, but I'll admit that it's slightly demoralizing, as well as being challenging. This is perhaps where some formal tuition would have come in helpful in the past.

For a first step, I'll probably rework the piece for Armley using the generals alone and then fold in whatever divisional changes I can as I reacquaint myself with the piece. I suspect also, that the buttons on the manuals aren't assigned (to particular functions) as well as they could be and that the divisional combinations themselves probably need a little adjustment to make them fit better with this particular piece.

That should keep me busy for another month or so... :)
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Re: Armley: First Impressions

Postby engrssc » Fri Apr 05, 2019 7:09 am

Hauptwerk offers 20 additional (Master) Generals in addition to those provided in a given sample set. See page 98 of the Manual. These Master Generals can be programmed to anyMIDI capable physical piston.

An even better solution, slightly more involved is to use the Sequencer which offers 1000 editable steps or "slots" so after placing the particular registrations in a given Sequencer "slot" etc, you can advance from one registration combination to the next with a push of a single (Next) button. Initially this procedure may sound a bit complicated, but once you catch on to how to do it, it's relatively simple, maybe slightly time consuming. But well worth it in the long run.

Rgds,
ED
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Re: Armley: First Impressions

Postby engrssc » Fri Apr 05, 2019 7:09 am

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Last edited by engrssc on Fri Apr 05, 2019 9:55 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Armley: First Impressions

Postby RichardW » Fri Apr 05, 2019 9:48 am

Rauschpfeife wrote:... but Rheinberger asks for them in the middle of an unbroken line of music!


I have always maintained that the organ is the only solo instrument that it takes three people to play! ;)

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Re: Armley: First Impressions

Postby jwillans » Fri Apr 05, 2019 11:15 am

I prefer to manually register but agree with the observations about the challenges of doing this with a touchscreen while playing. I prefer divisional rather than general pistons because I find these more effective in the incremental build up and diminishing of the organ (particularly when coupled to the pedal pistons). Registering is an art form - and changing registrations is an art form in its own right!
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Re: Armley: First Impressions

Postby engrssc » Fri Apr 05, 2019 2:01 pm

jwillans wrote:I find these more effective in the incremental build up and diminishing of the organ (particularly when coupled to the pedal pistons).


From what you are saying, assume the thumb pistons are parallel operational with the toe pistons and are divisionals?

Rgds,
Ed
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Re: Armley: First Impressions

Postby jwillans » Sat Apr 06, 2019 8:48 am

engrssc wrote:
jwillans wrote:I find these more effective in the incremental build up and diminishing of the organ (particularly when coupled to the pedal pistons).


From what you are saying, assume the thumb pistons are parallel operational with the toe pistons and are divisionals?

Rgds,
Ed


That's correct - and the synchronisation is engaged through the stop I mentioned. This is detailed in the article linked a few posts earlier.
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