Sep. 13, 2020

Virtual Pipe Organ (VPO), Part III

(con't from Part II)
The Duet virtual theatre pipe organ (VTPO) unit by MIDI Concepts LLC (photo) uses the host instrument's speaker system and its keys to provide it with MIDI information; the unit consists of a 1) sound generator box, 2) memory stick (thumb drive) which stores 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 communicate with the host instrument via a MIDI cable and with the external speaker system by means of an audio cable.
Duet has been in production since 2011 although in limited quantity (about 200 are in circulation), but when organists encounter one they will find themselves in for a treat.
This is a serious piece of equipment which can be used with any MIDI-fied 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 can be configured for any MIDI-capable digital piano without pedals (in which case the Accompaniment and Pedal voices play below the split point and either the Great or Solo voices play above the split point depending upon the position of the Solo/Great (S/G) flip switch on the control panel.
Adding or subtracting a single stop, coupler, modifier, or changing the memory level with this unit may be done "on the fly" by pressing the appropriate lighted stoptab on the control panel's touch-sensitive screen; registration changes in larger clumps are made by depressing the piston buttons provided in the control panel's piston row.
This piston row is 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 takes the melody, and the Solo manual functions for brass accents and adds "seasoning" to the recipe with various percussion sounds; these same functions have been 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 couplers.
All of these couplers have also been incorporated into the design of Duet.
A brief moment is required for Duet to initialize piston changes, thus, for best results with these changes, the hands and feet are lifted from the keys when piston buttons are pressed.
Special controls built into Duet's control panel allows 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 switches the Chrysoglott to Vibraharp with or without a damper; the Piano stop is also available at 16'-8'-4' and may be switched to Rinky Tink mode.
Voices and effects aboard the Duet include all the usual pitched percussions and traps, 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 [Ooga Horn, RR crossing bell, train whistle, horse hooves, birds, telephone, siren, gong].
Duet's pipe ranks are playable tremmed or untremmed, the only exceptions being the Vox Humana and Tibia Minor (which are always tremmed) and the Post Horn (which is always untremmed); adjustable Volume and Reverb/Ambience controls will allow the player to set the room size and its sound.
It's important to understand when encountering this unit that it's NOT a sound module or some sort of trifling musical diversion lacking any practical value; Duet is an engaging, cost-effective, ready-to-use, stand-alone VTPO minus the console shell and keys -- a tool for the serious musician which can provide what the host instrument lacks and/or enhance what it does have; it can 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.
Duet's 32' Diaphone, for example, available only to the Pedal, when played through a large powered subwoofer has been found to blend with a digital 32' Contra Bombarde stop in a host instrument, providing additional power to the latter without clouding its characteristic tone, an effect sometimes noticed when it's combined with a covered flute stop of the same pitch.
While Duet is an amazing product, it isn't perfect -- no pipe or electronic organ ever is; registration changes with Duet, for example, cannot be made without removing both hands from the keys -- as stated, this is a strictly hand-operated VTPO whose sound generator requires 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, must be carried out one division at a time.
Duet also doesn't turn on and off instantaneously like a light switch ; its sound generator requires 90 seconds to initialize once its lighted power button is turned on before it will play, and a built-in chime signals when this initialization is complete.
This power button is reversible, i.e., pressing it again turns the unit off, which also requires about 90 seconds for the sound generator to completely shut down; its power button remains lighted the entire time during shut-down.
Users of this unit are to be cautioned about its memory stick; while Duet's power button remains lit, if the memory stick is removed from the sound generator box at any time while the power button is still on, everything on the memory stick gets wiped; this includes ALL of Duet's sound colors, couplers, effects, and specific MIDI configuration for the instrument at hand.
Thus, this is something one must NEVER do -- the memory stick can be removed safely ONLY when the light on Duet's power button is off.
Because Duet is manufactured by only one source in the entire world, it's a good idea to order a couple of spare memory sticks from Midi Concepts LLC for the instrument at hand and store them in a safe place, just in case.
In some applications when implementing Duet it may be 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 will be required for this.
The Boosteroo functions to double Duet's stereo output signal without distorting, and it's supplied with three 1/4-inch output jacks, one of which may be used to connect with Duet's pedal.
Boosteroo runs on two AA alkaline batteries which, according to the manufacturer, enable up to 120 hours of playable life before needing replacement.
Despite these limitations Duet's voices blend imperceivably with the console's digi voices or real pipes and open up a whole new universe of study for classical organists, church musicians, and theatre organ enthusiasts.
Additionally, and perhaps even more importantly, Duet is the type of VTPO which DOES NOT require disabling the host console's own voices or self-contained speaker system, when present, to play a sample set, thus it's free to enter into combination in unique ways with the host instrument.
(con't in Part IV)