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MMD > Archives > March 1999 > 1999.03.22 > 16Prev  Next

The Distinctive Sound of Organ Pipes
By Craig Brougher

That is a very interesting and helpful letter from Richard Schneider,
and I appreciate his input, but while I agree with him, I still have
some questions, as I am sure he and others have as well.

When I hear a theater organ, I can often spot the open wooden ranks
with roller bridges, like cellos, or the bearded pipes.  Naturally,
everybody can hear the stoppered pipes or ranks that cannot be anything
but wood, so I confine my remarks to the ones that could be made from
either wood or metal.  But I admit that there are many ranks that sound
for the world like they could be either.  Those four characteristics I
mentioned seemed to be predominant in my ability to notice and to name
the ones that were surely made of wood.

One thing I want to clarify in all fairness is that I was not speaking
of chiff or distracting speech problems when I spoke of these normal
characteristics.  Excessive speech problem may be called chiff, but
normal speech still has it.  It just isn't easily noticeable anymore,
so it isn't called chiff, but it still doesn't turn on like a frequency
generator.  It still has a start-up sound.  That's the characteristic I
speak of.

Also in regard to initial speech and cut-off, a wooden toe is "longer"
acting and has more resistance and totally different flow character-
istics than the wide tapered one on a metal pipe.  The two kinds of
pipes start to blow differently when placed on a chest valve, you might
notice.  When either pipe starts to blow, or when it is cut off, its
physical response has to be different because of the different flow
characteristics between those types of pipes.

It takes a moment to establish the air curtain and get it stabilized.
That isn't called chiff.  That's a characteristic of this or that kind
of pipe, and when you hear a song being played, that characteristic is
going to color the sound you hear to a great extent, but that character-
istic isn't measured or evaluated scientifically.  It is discounted.
That-- I am saying-- is a basic mistake called "very typical." It's
what I have learned to expect.

Voicers have long attempted to make metal pipes sound like wooden
pipes.  You may come very close to it, and I think that a good voicer
like Dave Junchen would have agreed.  They never say that they can hit
it right on-- 100% because they still can hear a difference.  They can
usually tell you if wooden or metal pipes are playing, without ever
knowing.  My question still is, "How do they know, and if so, why can't
scientific methods discover what they are listening to? Why do we keep
saying, 'No difference?' " If there is no difference, why do we keep
trying to imitate one or the other?

As far as making a baroque wooden pipe imitate a metal one by instal-
ling a sharp metal leaf -- hmmm...  if we go that far, then why not cut
off the flue of a wood pipe and plant a metal one in its place?  We
would then have built a metal pipe that sounded just like a wooden one!
Next option -- we could just faux grain a metal pipe with paint and
stains and tell everyone those are wooden pipes.  Just let their
imagination do the rest.  (Having some fun -- not sarcastic).

Regarding sympathetic vibration within a rank, I still think that
has some bearing and do not believe that metal pipes are nearly as
affected, but I don't know for sure.  There are certain physical
effects that modify overall tone when two vibrating bodies are placed
in close proximity to each other, and one then affects the other.
If the distance between the vibrating bodies is very close, and the
transducers are large and flat, the effects will be more pronounced
than if they are tubular and further apart-- to the degree that this
phenomenon of sympathetic vibration doesn't enter into the overall

Come to think of it, I have a good example to cite, in regard to the
differences between metal and wooden pipes.  Maybe someone who builds
metal pipes can explain this.  If you were standing in front of a
Loesch or Weber with those great wooden violin pipes playing, you might
swear that you were hearing a violinist.  And if it had a violin (or 3)
playing in the front of its case as well, like the Hupfeld, I doubt
that anybody would know that they had been listening partly to pipes.
The illusion would carry most people the rest of the way.

This is not to say that it cannot be done.  Don't get me wrong, here.
It is to say that in the last 100 years to my knowledge, such metal
pipes are not generally available, while wooden ones are.

I brought up these points to broaden our discussion and cause
thoughtful response from a completely different viewpoint than the
usual "dead in the water" hum-drum spectrum analysis.  I have no doubts
that in regard to harmonic spectrum, a metal pipe and a wooden pipe
can, for all practical purposes, be voiced equally.  But this ability
is their latitude to mimic one-another, and a mimic, while very good,
is still just a semblance of the real deal, and as you voice, you get
better and better at closing in on the tone you want, but you still
never quite make it, do you?  Because, after it's all said and done,
the voicer will say, "These are better than those."

What does that mean to you?  To me, that means "closer, really close."
But that tone is static and resonant.  It is not the "moving" interplay
created by the music.

Craig Brougher

(Message sent Mon 22 Mar 1999, 15:37:39 GMT, from time zone GMT-0600.)

Key Words in Subject:  Distinctive, Organ, Pipes, Sound

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