May. 11, 2016

Step Up Instruments, Part V

(con't from Part IV)
For the serious student of the organ the presence of a 3rd manual in the practice instrument, if by some chance this can be arranged for the home, is most desirable; there seems to be nothing in the standard repertoire which cannot be played well on a well-thought-out 3-manual instrument, thus, when more than three manuals are available we don't necessarily have to feel obliged to use all of them although they do provide good practice for us if we're ever confronted with sitting at a very large console.
During the 1990-s Viscount manufactured a limited number of stock 5-manual digi organs which were marketed in the United States under the Baldwin name, as model C500; with 86 stops this was their largest model in regular production at the time, it was manufactured in blocks of 50 at a time, one block was ordered for the United States, and all 50 were sold, mostly to churches and private residences before Viscount moved to a line of strictly 2- and 3-manual church organs and this model was discontinued; it is no longer in production, making this model a rare and valuable one.
This instrument utilized early SP4 digital sampling technology and was built with Guild standard manuals and pedalboard; lighted drawknobs controlled its 86 speaking stops, and lighted rocker tablets for each division permitted each stop to speak on Baroque (A) or Romantic (B) voicing, making 168 different sound colors possible; built-in lighting for the rack and pedals was also provided.
The lighted drawknobs were on springs; when a drawknob was pulled a light came on showing that this voice was prepared to sound on its own manual; when a drawknob was pushed the light went off and showed that this voice was retired.
This organ had separate tremolos adjustable for depth and speed on all manuals, separate Great and Pedal volume controls, 4 expression shoes (Echo, Choir/Positiv, Swell, Solo), and a balanced Crescendo shoe controlling factory-set combinations of increasing loudness with an 8-position vertical display.
There was also a lighted reversible Automatic Pedal control; by touching this piston the performer would get the sound of the Pedal stops easily as the bottom note of the Great manual would also sound the same note; the Pedals were inoperable while this control was engaged, which could be helpful to the beginner who may not yet feel comfortable performing on the pedals in public.
The instrument was supplied with 2 percussion stops (Solo Harp, Great Chimes), 5 mutation stops, 7 mixture stops, 7 mistuned (celeste) stops, 23 reeds, and 107 equivalent ranks; two 32-foot stops (Contra Bourdon, Contra Bombarde) were supplied to the Pedal division.
Intermanual and manual to pedal couplers at the unison pitch also were provided.
Six computers, one for each division, controlled the voices, and all of these were subject to a 7th master computer, all built into the console.
The programmable combination action employed 6 lighted general pistons which controlled the entire organ, 6 lighted divisional pistons for each division of the organ, and an 8-memory bank selection knob.
A Tutti reversible piston activating the entire organ duplicated by a toe stud, and an All Swells To Swell piston causing the entire organ to be expressed through the Swell shoe (which caused all other expression shoes to become inoperative), were also provided.
The Pedal division of 16 stops, 4 of which are of 4-foot pitch, is a little undersized perhaps for such a large instrument; the number of Double (16-foot) stops in the manuals number only 5, and no intramanual couplers (Sub, Unison Off, Octave) were provided; these deficiencies can be easily addressed however with the MIDI addition of an external device which supplies these features [See blog, Virtual Pipe Organ (VPO) Part II],
The divisional labels at the top of the stop jambs, both sides, were touch sensitive and acted as divisional cancels when pressed; this retired every stop in that division with a touch of a finger to the label.
A lighted "zero" piston was another feature provided for the general and divisional pistons; if a registration had been selected by hand and then altered by using pistons, touching the "0" piston would return the stops to the original hand selected registration.
There was also a transposer knob which allowed the organist to raise or lower the pitch of the entire organ by half steps (lower 4 half steps or raise 3 half steps).
A group of rocker tabs located on the back rail above the top manual, duplicated by toe studs, could, when activated, silence the reeds of the organ at once or individually by division, and/or the Mixture; these functioned as ventils and could be used manually or programmed on a piston.
Output and input jacks under the keybed to the left side allowed direct input into a tape recorder and playback through the organ's speaker system; when headphones were connected the internal speaker system was disconnected allowing players to practice without disturbing others or without others disturbing them.
The instrument, as it came from the factory, spoke through two 12-inch self-contained (built into the console) speakers (drivers), each powered by an 80 watt amplifier, 160 watts total.
Multiple phone jacks in the back of the instrument made it possible to add external speaker cabinets or amps, up to three additional channels for each of its 6 divisions (Great, Swell, Choir, Solo, Echo, Pedal) ... 18 additional channels altogether for distribution of the sound.
By means of a power mixer, the signal from all 6 output channels of this organ can be converted to a R/L stereo signal and sent to a stereo speaker system; a full description of this type of sound system has been posted elsewhere on this web site [See menu bar, Videos, Baldwin C500 Specs].
Perfection is achieved in a digital electronic organ and its external speaker system not when there is nothing left to add but when there is nothing left that can be taken away; perfection however is a mirage; what we should strive for is maximum realism of individual sound colors and the greatest possibilities for how these sound colors might work and blend together to form compound tones of great beauty which bring out the best that the organist's music-making has to offer.
The instrument's MIDI compatibility allows it to communicate with an external sound module or other sound device; it can store sounds from the external device on its pistons just as the organist would normally store registrations; separate rocker tabs controlling MIDI couplers to each division are built into the coupler rail above the top manual.
Another nice feature is that all 5 of the manual Double (16-foot) stops go all the way down to bottom C in the bass octave without breaking back.
Separate tuning for each division (except the Great) controlled by a row of small switches under the bottom manual allowed for divisional tuning adjusted very slightly sharp or flat of the pitch of the Great; since the ear will tolerate a little sharpness where it would not tolerate the same degree of flatness, the Pedal, Swell, and Echo were tuned very slightly sharp of the Great and permitted to beat very, very slowly at different rates; the Choir/Positiv and Solo were tuned very slightly flat in the same fashion, almost true but not quite (this was accomplished by drawing an 8-foot reed in all divisions, coupling them one by one to the Great 8-foot Trumpet, holding down the F3 in the tenor octave, and using the ear to count beats).
When the divisions were tuned/mistuned this way, a full combination was drawn, and everything was coupled together, what resulted was no longer a dead, plastic sound but a vibrant, living, random chorus effect closer to the real McCoy.
The whole effect of this organ depended on how these tuning switches were adjusted.
A separate small switch to the left of this row of small switches allowed the pitch of the entire organ to be adjusted a few cents sharp or flat of A4 at 440Hz.
The 8-foot Vox Humana stop in the Echo (top manual) division, being on its own tremolo and expression, could be coupled to any other division with its own stops drawn employing compound flexibility and expression, leading to many beautiful tints of tone.
The Echo Cor De Nuit (Nachthorn) stop on B was also quite fine, very French sounding, and worked well as a helper when coupled to the Orchestral Oboe in the Solo, it's bright tone blending perfectly with and giving body to the thin and nasal quality of the latter stop when used for solos.
As with so many large, eclectic instruments of this type, the stop labeled "Diapason 8-foot" in the Solo division was a large scale, tubby sounding, dull flutey voice that finds use (under the name "Diapason Phonon") mostly in theatre organs as a kind of bridge tone between the tibia choruses and the reeds in the build-up to full organ; it can be a real help in a theatre organ where the foundation of the instrument is a Tibia chorus; a large scale Diapason of flutey tone like this blends very well with Tibia tone where the upper harmonics are extremely weak and 97 per cent of the tone is fundamental.
Church organists however who play an instrument where the foundation is made up of principal tone usually find a stop of indeterminate color like this of very limited use, if not useless; since just about any other stop would be a much better choice for solos, its sole reason for inclusion in the scheme seems to be as a helper when drawn with the Tuba Mirabilis; actually, this Tuba in a pipe organ typically has sufficient volume and body all by itself; it is, after all, the loudest stop in the organ [See blog, The Loudest Stop], and, in an electronic instrument like this when it's on its own separate amp and speakers which can be turned up or down, the Tuba has plenty of punch and really doesn't need a helper stop of indeterminate tone color that would tend to blunt the edge of its own tone.
As stated, this instrument, fine as it was, presented some issues such as a non-adjustable bench top, the lack of sub and super couplers, the non-programmable tutti and crescendo, the relatively small number of general pistons and Pedal section of only 16 stops, having no way to make any of the manual 16-foot stops (there were 5 of them) play in the Pedal without coupling entire manual divisions, and the over abundance of 4-foot stops in the Pedal.
The manuals also were only very slightly inclined to the Great, thus not very ergonomic; nonetheless, the presence of the 2 manuals above the 3rd one taught the player how to assume a correct and balanced bench position [See blog, What About Bench Position}; when only 4 or 5 manuals on the practice instrument would make a student happy however, this one would.