Sep. 13, 2020

Virtual Pipe Organ (VPO), Part III

(con't from Part II)
The Duet virtual theatre pipe organ (VTPO) unit manufactured by MIDI Concepts LLC (photo) during the 1990's and early 2000's required only one or more MIDIfied keyboards and a speaker system for playability; a host console's manuals and speaker system could also be employed for this purpose, provided that it was able to send MIDI information to Duet.
Duet consisted of 1) a sound generator box, 2) a memory stick (USB thumb drive) which stored all of its voices, couplers, controls, and MIDI-configuration for the host instrument, and 3) a touch-sensitive control panel provided with 2-phase LED lighting.
These three components communicated with the host instrument via a MIDI cable and with the external speaker system by means of an audio cable.
Production of this VTPO was limited -- only about 200 made it into circulation -- and very few remain in working condition, but if and when organists may encounter one they will find themselves in for a treat.
This was a serious piece of equipment which could be used with any MIDIfied host instrument including electronic organs, pipe organs, or keyboard rack systems -- a complete III/24 unit theatre organ which offers ranks sampled from Wurtlizer, Barton, Kimball, and Page theatre organs, 208 possible stops, and Great and Accompaniment Double Touch stops for those manuals supplied with this feature.
Its memory stick also could be configured for any MIDI-capable digital piano without pedals (in which case the Accompaniment and Pedal voices would play below the split point and either the Great or Solo voices would play above the split point depending upon the position of the Solo/Great (S/G) flip switch on the lighted control panel.
Adding or subtracting a single stop, coupler, modifier, or changing the memory level with this unit could be done "on the fly" by pressing the appropriate lighted stoptab on the control panel's touch-sensitive screen; registration changes in larger clumps were made by depressing the programmable piston buttons provided in the control panel's piston row.
This piston row was also used for activating effects (toys) and presetting either general combinations or combinations affecting any combination of single or multiple keyboards.
NOTE: In common parlance the manuals of unit theatre organ are spoken of by name, but the portions of the instrument each one controls could be electrically wired not only to ranks it exclusively controls but to many ranks and percussions located anywhere in the instrument; when certain sound colors are only available on certain manuals it's because that's where they're most likely to be used.
In a 3-manual theatre/cinema organ the Pedal and Accompaniment manual join in representing the orchestral background, the Great manual generally takes the melody, and the Solo manual could function for solo lines of special color, brass accents, or to add "seasoning" to the recipe with various percussion sounds; these same functions were incorporated into the design of Duet.
The usual couplers found in unit theatre organs are generally limited to intramanual (Sub, Super, Unison Off) and manual to pedal (Accompaniment to Pedal, Solo to Pedal, Great to Pedal, etc.); three-manual instruments sometimes are also supplied with a Solo Pizzicato coupler for the bottom 2 manuals which, as its name implies, sounds any stop drawn on the Solo for a brief instant as a key on the Great or Accompaniment is depressed, creating an accent.
Special Great to Solo ("Blackpool") couplers at 16', 8', 5-1/3', 4', and 3-1/5' pitches for the production of special color in playing single note melodies on the Solo manual also are sometimes found in unit theatre organs; these are so-named after the Wurlitzer instrument installed in the Tower Ballroom, a common tourist attraction located in Blackpool, Lancashire, UK, which was supplied with these specialized couplers.
All of these couplers were also incorporated into the design of Duet.
A brief moment was required for Duet to initialize piston changes, thus, for best results, the hands and feet were lifted briefly from the keys when piston buttons were pressed.
Special controls built into Duet's control panel allowed the organist to switch the sound of the Vox Humana and Tibia Minor sampled ranks from Barton to Wurlitzer, thus providing 2 bonus ranks; another control could switch the Chrysoglott to Vibraharp with or without a damper; the Piano stop was also available at 16'-8'-4' and could be switched to Rinky Tink mode.
Voices and effects aboard the Duet included all the usual pitched percussions and traps found in theatre organs, manual unison (8') stops [Horn Diapason, Kinura, Orchestral Oboe, Oboe Horn, Quintadena], unified ranks [Open Diapason, Clarinet, Saxophone, Harmonic Tuba (Tuba Horn), Brass Trumpet, Post Horn, Salicional, 4-rank Viol Celeste, Tibia Clausa, Tibia Minor, Concert Flute (Bourdon), Vox Humana], a 32' Diaphone, and 8 piston buttons controlling toys [Ah-Ooga Horn, RR crossing bell, train whistle, horse hooves, birds, telephone, siren, gong].
Duet's pipe ranks could be played tremmed or untremmed, the only exceptions being the Vox Humana and Tibia Minor (which were always tremmed) and the Post Horn (which was always untremmed); adjustable Volume and Reverb/Ambience controls could allow the player to set the room size and its sound.
It's important to understand that this was NOT a sound module or some sort of trifling musical diversion lacking any practical value; Duet was an engaging, cost-effective, ready-to-use, stand-alone VTPO minus the console shell, keys, and speakers -- a serious tool for the serious musician which could provide what the host instrument lacked and/or enhance what it did have; it could vastly enlarge the latter's tonal spread for coloration of sounds, expand its dynamic palette for dramatizing and nuancing the music, and combine with it in many unique ways.
While Duet was an amazing product, it wasn't perfect -- no pipe or electronic organ ever is.
Registration changes, for example, could not be made without removing both hands from the keys -- as stated, this was a strictly hand-operated VTPO whose sound generator required a brief moment to initialize those changes -- additionally, "on the fly" changes, due to the need to limit the size of the control panel display, had to be carried out one division at a time.
Duet also didn't turn on and off instantaneously like a light switch ; its sound generator required 90 seconds to initialize once its lighted power button was turned on before it would play, and a built-in chime signaled when this initialization was complete.
The power button was reversible -- pressing it a second time turned the unit off, which also required about 90 seconds for the sound generator to completely shut down; its power button remained lighted the entire time during this shut-down.
Users of this unit had to be strongly cautioned about its memory stick; while Duet's power button remained lit, if the memory stick was removed from the sound generator box at any time while the power button was still on, everything on the memory stick got wiped; that included ALL of Duet's sound colors, couplers, effects, and specific MIDI configuration for the instrument at hand.
Thus, this was something one must NEVER do -- the memory stick could be removed safely ONLY when the light on Duet's power button was off.
In some Duet applications it was necessary to connect a small, portable Upbeat Audio T613-BNC Boosteroo stereo amp between Duet's speaker output jack and volume pedal [See blog, Virtual Pipe Organ (VPO), Part IV]; a compatible male 3.5mm to dual male 1/4-inch audio cable of sufficient length was required for this.
The Boosteroo functioned to double Duet's stereo output signal without distorting, and it was supplied with three 1/4-inch output phone jacks, one of which was used to connect with Duet's pedal.
Boosteroo ran on two AA alkaline batteries which enabled up to 120 hours of playable life before needing replacement.
Despite these limitations Duet's voices blended imperceivably with the console's digi voices or real pipes and opened up a whole new universe of study for classical organists, church musicians, and theatre organ enthusiasts.
Additionally, and perhaps even more importantly, Duet DID NOT require disabling the host console's own voices or self-contained speaker system, when present, to play a sample set, thus it was free to enter into combination with the host instrument.'s voices in an unending number of subtle and varied ways.
(con't in Part IV)