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For over eighteen years the most stable and extensive resource on the Internet for pipe and electronic organs
The hub of this site is the Complete Articles page which gives you instant access to many detailed articles dealing with numerous technical aspects of both pipe and electronic organs. Use the Google search box below to quickly identify areas of interest. While browsing, why not also listen to over 4 Ĺ hours of music played on the three manual organ below and the Prog Organ virtual pipe organ here?
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The literature on musical temperament is replete with descriptions of keys which are said to be 'intolerable' and therefore 'unusable', and presumably such statements are intended to apply to all keyboard instruments. However this generalisation benefits from closer scrutiny, because not all instruments are the same where temperament is concerned. In particular, the many timbres or tone colours of the organ enable the key flavours of an unequal temperament to sound significantly different depending on which stops are used. This article uses audio examples to show that the differences can be remarkable, such as the case where even the notorious Wolf interval in quarter-comma meantone tuning becomes quite docile and usable when suitable stops are selected. These effects are unique to the organ because no other instrument has its wide range of tone colours and combinatorial possibilities.
It is shown why this interaction between temperament and timbre occurs by explaining firstly how key flavour is influenced by the beats of tempered consonant intervals, and then how the beats arise from specific pairs of harmonics in the notes defining each interval. It is then easier to see why different stops can affect key flavour, because timbre as well as the beat patterns are both strongly affected by the numbers and strengths of the harmonics in the sounds.
A consequential phenomenon is also discussed in which the subjective flavour of triads and other chords depends on how the composer constructed the harmony of a piece. In particular, the inversions in which the chords appear and whether they are written in close or open positions can result in marked changes in key flavour. This also is demonstrated with audio examples and explained as before in terms of beats and harmonics.
When unequal temperaments were more common than they are today, one can probably assume that composers would have deliberately wandered in and out of the less agreeable keys to add interest to their music. Moreover, it would not be surprising if they assumed that organists with sufficient familiarity would have learnt how to amplify or attenuate those effects by choosing their registration appropriately. Indeed, it would be more surprising if they did not, given that they would have come across the effects as part of their everyday experience. Perhaps most importantly, the article shows that keys which are routinely dismissed as 'intolerable' in the literature on temperament are not necessarily so on the organ, which has the ability to soften their effects because of the range of different timbres available.
The picture above is of a test rig used for experiments on pipe organ valves, such as those described in the articles entitled Calculating Pallet Size, Touch Relief in Mechanical Actions and Response Speed of Electric Actions. These can also be accessed from the Complete Articles page where summaries are also available.
This electronic organ is a dual purpose instrument containing both "straight" and "theatre" voices, designed and made by the author. It is tuned to the author's Dorset Temperament with the addition of some impure octaves as described in Keyboard Temperaments with Impure Octaves. A full specification is available for download here (PDF file, 117 kB).
The things they say:
These recordings span some years and they were made in various rooms and auditoria. The older tracks were made using analogue equipment and some were recorded acoustically using microphones, hence the occasional noises due to piston thuds and page turns, etc. Other tracks were captured electrically. All are of real players performing in real time - no synthetic MIDI 'performances' here. I have not got round yet to normalising the volume settings of all the tracks so they are compatible with each other, therefore you might wish to adjust the volume between tracks depending on which ones you select. Do not be alarmed if some tracks appear to start with an excessive noise level - this simply means they were recorded at a higher level than others. Just turn the volume down to suit. In any case, it is a wise precaution to always begin playing each track at a low level to protect your audio equipment and your ears from unexpectedly high signal levels when the music begins. Although the instrument has 13 ranks of theatre organ voices in addition to its 'straight' sounds (see specification), copyright considerations preclude the inclusion of much theatre-style music here. Playing time 1 hour 35 mins approx.
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