I was asked by some readers to give some more insights about MIDI.
As I get lots of help from people when I need it, I happily will share
some of my knowledge if it is of any help to some of you. Just give
some direction if you want my views on it.
First, if you don't mind, let me give you some background so that you
understand better where we (chocolate-eating Belgians) come from.
When we started using MIDI, about 15 years ago, we believed that
it would change the mechanical music world overnight. This line of
thought may be surprising to some of you; I understand that now.
But if you look at it from our point of view at that time, things were
Our instruments have to perform in a business-type environment like
a dance hall or pub, and 15 years ago this was even more so. The book
music system was installed behind the organ, and in most places this
meant breaking down a part of a wall so that the organ could be placed
as close to the wall as possible. Many times this meant that the book
system ended up in the kitchen or outside or whatever was on the other
side of that wall. Then the owners of the place created some
construction around it, calling it something like "the organ shack".
A book system in our type of organs is fitted with a ring that holds
something like 40 books. This meant changing rings at regular
intervals to get some kind of variation. As far as I know, nobody ever
got this system to work 100% trouble free. Sometimes it went well for
weeks, so I thought, "Now I've got it nailed!"
But then disaster would strike, and by the time the organ started to
play wrong, alerting the owner to the problem, some minutes had passed.
You can imagine the mess of all this: cardboard everywhere, the worst
of it being that now I faced many bent or ripped books of music.
So panic ensued: the owner with some of his waiters rushing in to the
organ shack, for 15 minutes no music, for 15 minutes the waiters are
generating no money.
This ended most of the time in the owner getting us over there on
a Saturday night with some new books and glue under the arm, walking
through a place filled with 400 people looking at you like "Hey man,
you messed up, ha-ha-ha!" I still get the shakes when I think about it.
I'm sure you get the point. And for what? An expensive, inflexible
book system behind the organ for no one to see?
So here comes MIDI -- cheaper and easy to deliver music (more so now
with the Internet). A small MIDI-player can be close within the
owner's reach, playing randomly or any request the people might have,
and with better quality (as it is a very difficult task for any classic
system to beat the performance that a MIDI system delivers).
Coming from this background, we may have sometimes lost sight of
other aspects that speak in favor of classic systems, resulting, I must
admit, in sometimes narrow-minded opinions from our side.
Now I understand better that there are more aspects to it, the main
thing being that, if you shift from the view that an instrument has
to make money for your business compared to the view of an instrument
owned for one's hobby, things _are_ different. There may even be
people out there who are waiting for things to go wrong, so they can
intervene. That's what a hobby is all about, right?!
Anyway, we are now back to including keyframes in some of our new
Decap organs; how about that for a change! For example, the new
121-key organ (one of the projects currently under construction)
has (again) a keyframe installed, not with a 40-book ring but with
an original installation that calls for a person to play each book
individually (and _this_ is the way it was meant by the inventors of
the book music system).
On top of that, the organ will of course also be completely MIDI-fied.
If you play a book on the keyframe, it is automatically recorded and
stored at the hard disk drive. And the keyframe is intelligent,
meaning that if you play a 92-key book, it will automatically re-route
all keys so that this 92-key book from a complete different scale plays
perfectly on the 121-key organ. Plus it includes a volume function
so that you can play the big organ at any volume level. Of course,
depending on the decreasing volume level, real pipes start shutting off
to be replaced by sampled sounds. These are a few examples we implement
that are made possible by using new tools.
But to get back to MIDI, up to this day I do not understand the fierce,
even aggressive, opposition that MIDI faced in the past -- somehow MIDI
was found very threatening to the mechanical music world. I'm glad
that this has now mostly passed, and that people now see MIDI for what
it really is: a good development meant not to replace but to augment.
It is always the same story: once tasted, people want more, and lots
more. We have a customer who will receive his third MIDI kit by the
end of the week. He has installed the two previous systems himself,
on a Mortier and a Gavioli. This one will be for a 95-key Mortier.
It's a 'soft' installation so it can be removed at any time, and the
keyframe stays intact, even so that you can play a book at the same
time that you play a MIDI-file (but I do not recommend that if you want
to keep friendly neighbors!).
For the future I'm not sure what to think. Although we have plenty to
do for now, I'd like to look into the distant future, to do even more,
to do anything I can to shape it for the better of all of us.
One thing is for sure, it's not going to be easy; shaping the future
means introducing new things. And if MIDI is any indication, it's
going to be rough.
In this regard, I really feel for Mr. Adolph Sax. If you put the radio
on today, there will not pass five minutes before you hear a saxophone.
But in his time, he invented an instrument that nobody wanted:
"Aren't there instruments enough, that you have to invent a
saxophone? Who needs it? Who is going to play it? Worse, is there
anybody who can play it? And don't forget, all those pieces written
before the saxophone existed, ... well, they were written before the
saxophone existed. So you never will hear an original arrangement
from Mozart with a saxophone."
This means that if one worked day and night for 20 years, inventing a
system that allows a church organ to play as a wild, super-sensitive
blowing instrument, nobody is going to care. Bach wrote great pieces
for church organs, and these pieces do _not call far any fancy blowing.
So, who needs it?
But then some guy comes along who starts learning to play the new
instrument, and he starts writing these great pieces for it until,
after another 20 years, it slowly starts to dawn on the general public
that this really _is_ something.
This is only my opinion, and please correct me if I'm wrong; we will
keep inventing things, knowing that today it may mean nothing. But
if in 50 years from now people talk about us, I'm game!