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My main organ - before and now

Existing and forthcoming Hauptwerk instruments, recommendations, ...

My main organ - before and now

Postby pasztor » Sun Aug 16, 2009 6:26 am

Let me start with a few words about myself: my name is Attila Pásztor, I have a degree in electrical engineering and in teaching IT. Currently I am mostly teaching IT in a high school for talented children (in the Fazekas Mihály Secondary School) in Budapest, Hungary. Besides my science studies, I have been learning the organ and of course, the piano for 10 years. Between 1989 and 1998, as the organist of the Zoltán Kodály Hungarian Choir School, during the tours I had the chance to play many-many organs in the U.S., England, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Italy and Belgium. In my free time, in the week-ends, I am performing organ duties in several churches.

I have been planning for years to have an organ at home for practice. An instrument with real pipes was out of the question because of the neighborhood; and I did not like the sounds, the stop sets and the quality of the materials in the console of the electronic organs I could afford (with 3 manuals and about 40 stops). I felt that no middle-class electronic instrument is adequate to play a wide range of organ literature.

I met the Hauptwerk software first in 2008 and by using the resources on the Web (demos and forums) I decided to create (to have manufactured) a 4-manual console with a pedalboard. Unfortunately, I could not afford the excellent manuals of Laukhuff (used widely in Europe), so I ended up using the manuals of the Canadian Classic Midi Organ Works. The pedalboard, the bench and the console was made by Váradi and Son Organ Builders http://www.varadi-orgona.hu/html_eng/main_eng.htm, who I was working together with on many organs (I helped creating the microcontroller-based controls). I think they made a beautiful console, you can find pictures at http://atibit.hu/pictures.html.

My first sound sample library was the Litomysl (if I remember correctly, this was the only 4-manual library), followed by the Notre Dame de Metz Extended, Zwolle and most recently PAB (Professional, then Extended). I like playing Bach on the Zwolle library and Franck on the Metz, but for about half a year I have been only using PAB, and I hope you’ll soon understand why. The above-mentioned libraries feature wet samples, which is really good for the listener (if not listening for a long time), they even cover a few small mistakes of the performer but they are not ideal to learn the pieces. The performer usually sits at a console much closer to the organ, and hears the instrument in a different space than those for CD recordings. So far I have seen only two instruments where a console is placed in the middle of the audience (the Synagogue in Budapest and the Church of St. Eustache in Paris). There it is almost impossible to play fast pieces evenly. Wet samples sound cool only in an acoustically neutral space (such as a room), they are unenjoyable already in a classroom.
I do not like the totally dry samples, either, because in the recordings made extremely closely, the characteristics of the pipes are very different (whoever tuned an organ, could experience this). The acoustic modeling of the mass of the pipes and the organ case could help but I know of no such developments.
Using semi-dry samples having only a small amount of (concert hall) reverb, such as PAB, you can learn the pieces very well (you can hear the uneven fingering, phrasing mistakes, etc). And to give a true-life performance of the pieces learnt, all you need is either the PAB Extended sCSA (offering a church reverb by default), or an adequate reverberation program. This latter one has the advantage that everyone may set up the reverberation parameters according to their own taste and requirements, and it also puts a lighter load on the computer. I use a second computer (of less power) for the subsequent reverberation (the sound is transmitted digitally), and the cost of the necessary programs (Plogue Bidule and Knufinke SIR2) is low even compared to a sound sample library.

A few thoughts on the organ of the Palace of Arts:

The organ of the PAB is one of the largest concert organ in Europe (5 manuals, 92 stops, double action), which is placed in a concert hall with variable acoustic parameters. You can find more information about the organ at http://www.mupa.hu/orgona.jsp (in English). The organ is a modern ‘symphonic organ’ and I have the honor of knowing the Hungarian designers of it personally. In my opinion, this instrument is adequate to perform all the existing organ literature without any major compromises. Artists giving concerts (Olivier Latry, Philippe Lefebvre, Thierry Escaich,...) praised the organ highly, mentioning that a concert instrument of this size must be registered and played differently than a medium-sized church instrument.
The manufacturers of the organ solved the issue of having an impressive sound in a somewhat dry concert hall (most naturally, I heard the instrument myself as I live in Budapest). I am only missing a Trompete 4’ in the positive work and a glockenspiel – never a bigger problem!

To me the expression ‘symphonic organ’ means that this instrument is capable of bridging the various periods in the history of music. The stop set and the voicing allows defining a medium-sized (35-stop) neobaroque (http://atibit.hu/pabnb.jpg) and a 60-stop French Romantic (http://atibit.hu/pabfr.jpg) instrument as well. The pictures show the settings for the couplers, the tremulants and the string stops. If you have the PAB library, listen to the ‘sound sets’ shown in the picture (without the tremulants, the Voce Humana and the Unda Maris). They sound to me quite like the above-mentioned instruments.

The sample library created from the instrument keeps the huge dynamic and rich voice range of the organ. The difference between a single note of the quietest stop and the tutti is about 80 dB. Naturally, the sound samples of smaller instruments cannot have such a wide dynamic range. If you have the necessary tool, you can even measure it. The huge dynamism of PAB cannot really be enjoyed in a room with speakers (especially if you have neighbors); perhaps if you use excellent headphones. Because of this, one usually normalizes the organ samples (sets the sound system) so that you can ‘survive’ the tutti, which, unfortunately, results in having some of the stops of libraries with a large dynamic range very quiet in themselves. Unfortunately, the human ear tends to hear the quiet sounds also of less color.
It is an interesting experiment to listen to multiple sound sample libraries by setting the amplitude of a note of the Principal 8’ of the main work to the same level (e.g. by using the gain meter in the software of the sound card). If you try this, you will hear that some of the stops in the PAB have a real character (only that you have not heard it before).
I would not like to make comments on the mensure and voicing features of the different organ builders; and I cannot decide whether a Cavaillé-Coll organ is better than a Schnittger. None of these people can build organs today. Nor can I know what Bach or Franck would say about e.g. the PAB organ (but I know that Bach ‘left no stone unturned’ to try any new organs). I am always happy when I can use an instrument with clear sounds, when there is a variety of stops and the noise of the action does not suppress the sound played (I am talking about real instruments now). I had played an organ with pneumatic action and Barker levers action for two years and I do not long to be back. I am happy that the couplers (marked ‘e’) are not additive (P+I and I+II does not mean automatically P+II).

In my opinion, the PAB sound sample library has the following advantages:

The graphical interface of the library is very sophisticated (I think currently it is standing far out).
All the console features are implemented. It is extremely useful that the direction of the sweller pedal can be reversed (I can get used to the organ I will play). It can be used perfectly with one monitor; with two monitors it offers a photorealistic look; the reverse couplers (pedal-to-manual) and the 100 direct combination frame selector buttons can also be useful for many. In the console view the features are exactly as in the original electronic console. The LED displays also truly follow the original instrument, with an exemplary aesthetic and operational quality. Pipe organ sound libraries made for the Hauptwerk platform often claim to preserve the values embodied in the instruments, which in my case means not only preserving the sound but also a functionally true implementation of the console features and a sophisticated graphical interface. When talking about preserving the sound, for me the really important part is to preserve the sound of the organ and not the acoustics, the sound as heard at one point in the church. That is why I prefer semi-dry sound libraries.

The modeling of the original combination system of the organ is also exemplary, the registration is much easier. Please note how difficult it is to store the same registration multiple times so that you can use the built-in virtual combination system of Hauptwerk, as that is only capable of stepping through the virtual combinations during play (beside the 8 starting values). I feel very sorry that even the latest Hauptwerk version (3.23) does not include a modern combination system (considering Europe, such as the one in PAB) that would not depend (greatly) on the sample library.

Pedal division allows to use only the pedal couplers above a certain division point, and below that only the pedal stops. Together with the sostenuto function it can be useful when improvising.

The two swellboxes offer a huge, continuous dynamic range. Having two whole works in the sweller is ideal for both romantic and modern organ pieces. The attenuation of the sweller (just like in the real instrument) is huge (at least 30 dB).

The independent aliquots (fifths, thirds, sevenths,...) allow a more sophisticated and more variable registration, e.g. you can define different Cornets (having more principals, more flute, more sevenths...).

The two mixtures of the main work can be used well together and alone.

Implementing the chamades as a separate work, together with their couplers mean that they can be used from any of the manuals.

The organ is particularly rich in reed pipes. The three trumpets of the main work are not very strong (they can also be used for German Baroque pieces). There is a well-chosen number of reeds in the positive as well (although I know that many find the Clarinet strange); the Basson and the Trompete are stronger, the Dulcian and the Cromorne are quieter but more colorful. The swellwork has the traditional 5 French reeds (it follows the French Romantic traditions both in the way it is built and it is voiced), the solo work features an English horn beside its strong Tuba. The pedal reeds are well-defined but not unpleasantly loud.

The manuals feature 16' stops full of character (Principal, Rohrburdon, Quintatön, Viola and Gedackt).

The quality of the sound samples in the library is extremely high. The microphones used, the applied sound recording technology (e.g. the recording was synchronized to the manuals of the organ) and the software-based post-processing resulted in having the deepest (32') and highest stops of the instrument sound in a balanced way (using a quality monitor speaker or headphones). If you have the chance to use the 24-bit samples, you can hear that the sounds are rich in harmonics, yet they have no noise and sound clearly.

My current computer (Q9650 Core 2 Quad CPU @ 3,33GHz (+10%), 8 GB DDR3-1333,...) allows a polyphony of around 9500. When performing fast pieces, the semi-dry library with short reverberation times (and with subsequent reverbs) is really useful: if you had samples with 6-10 s of reverbs, the computer could not play many stops and couplers. The performance of the computers is ever growing (not mentioning their price), but in case of really large instruments I expect that the only feasible way is to have the reverbs post-processed.

Finally I would like to mention that the architects of the sample library not only sell their product but also provide excellent support (and not only for installation). I received countless pieces of advice from Csaba Huszty, from fine-tuning to implementing secondary reverberation. I am looking forward to their new sample libraries. Their home page is at http://www.inspiredacoustics.com

If you are interested in recordings made with my virtual organ, you can download them from http://atibit.hu, or you can find some recordings at http://www.contrebombarde.com (username: pasztor).
Last edited by pasztor on Wed Apr 13, 2011 12:45 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: My main organ - before and now

Postby jcfelice88keys » Mon Aug 17, 2009 11:18 pm

Welcome to the Hauptwerk Organ Forum, Attila,

You posted a great message, especially for your first input to this forum.

I have owned a copy of the PAB since it was first introduced last March. Everything you said about its sound and especially its wide dynamic range is entirely true; the organ is a pleasure to play, both in the Pro (semi-dry concert hall acoustic environment) as well as the Extended version with reverb added to the release tails. I am an organist, first, and would never classify myself as an audio engineer. It would be wonderful if more people could experience the PAB responding under the actions of their own fingers and feet, than to simply listen to mp3 files usually through computer speakers as is often the case in the Contrebombarde Concert Hall.

With a measured dynamic range of 80dB, that you mention in your posting, a bank of power amplifiers would be required to reproduce a 100-million-fold swing in output voltage (as 80dB = a change in 10 to the 8th power, or 100,000,000). Moreover, a bank of loudspeakers would have to cope with the same tremendous difference in driving power. This problem is somewhat alleviated by multiple banks of speakers and amplifiers.

In my own case, some of my earliest postings of the Bach Passacaglia or Franck Chorale in E Major sounded "thin" or "weak" according to fellow Contrebombarde listeners. In reality, in these earlier performances, I had to ride gains to keep the full organ registration from digitally clipping in the mp3 format. Ironically, some of the people who complained of the sound (and of my registration choices and reverb settings) who actually acquired the PAB set at a later time, have come to praise the PAB's sound when played live. Of course the PAB library is expensive, but it needs to be experienced in a live performance setting, preferably through a multiple channel setup with good speakers and subwoofers, or an excellent pair of headphones, to be appreciated.

Enough of my rambling --- welcome, again, to the Hauptwerk forum.

Cheers,

Joe jcfelice88keys
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Re: My main organ - before and now

Postby JimB » Tue Aug 18, 2009 9:49 pm

Attila,

Also, thank you for the beautiful pieces you have posted on Contrebombarde. They are a joy to hear. Hope you can post more soon.
Jim Becker
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Re: My main organ - before and now

Postby johnstump_organist » Sat Aug 22, 2009 10:35 am

It is a beautiful console. It looks like a BDO pedal board, concave but not radiating. If so, where did you get a MIDI BDO pedal board? If and when I ever do mine I would love love to have a BDO pedalboard,so much more logical than the radiating AGO board and more ergonmocical (is that a word?) to play than a flat one.
Thanks for the contribution,
John
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Re: My main organ - before and now

Postby pasztor » Sun Aug 23, 2009 6:39 am

My pedalboard was made by Váradi and Son Hungarian Organ Builders (http://www.varadi-orgona.hu/html_eng/main_eng.htm), with Midi Pedalboard Switch Kit of Classic Midi Organ Works (http://www.organworks.com).
You can buy a BDO MIDI pedalboard from Laukhuff http://www.laukhuff.de / Organbuilding / Products / 08... / page 8.71
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Re: My main organ - before and now

Postby johnstump_organist » Sun Aug 23, 2009 1:19 pm

Thanks for the answer,
I have looked at the MIDI console on page 8.9 of their catalouge many times. Of course what I would really want are three teclados and pedal board with the toe poistons, manual pistons and swell shoes all wired up to MIDI otputs, that I could then build my own console shell around, but I´m waiting for my inheritance or the Mexican lottery, whichever comes first :)
John
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