Thursday, March 7, 2013

Analog Electronic Organs Digital Preservation Needs to Happen!

I recently became aware of the new guitar amplifier modelling system offered by the Kemper guitar amp head. The basis of the amp revolves around it's ability to be more accurate at sampling and modelling existing vintage and new guitar amps using a closely guarded digital process involving a microphone retrieving signals that are sent through the amp to be copied. These signals sound like long intervals of buzzes and tones that ultimately serve to accurately capture all that is needed for the Kemper to then go to work duplicating the amp right down to it's subtle quirks, or that which makes analog special in the first place. The Kemper is the zirconium of the Marshall head, the Fender Bassman, or whatever else. A Howard Dumble maybe? Hmm...

Well, I figure if they can send a signal through a guitar amp then why not do the same with an electronic organ? Sure, why not? 

I have written to Kemper requesting their input regarding capturing the electronic tone generators of our great analog electronic organs. Perhaps it's too early to feel rejection, but the only response I received thus far was that the Kemper company is marketed by the same company that sells a brand of synthesizers, but that the secretary will pass along my letter to Mr. Kemper. I eagerly await a reply. It's been over a month and I have decided to lay back. I am well aware of how business works and I am also aware that Mr. Kemper is still riding the wave, so to speak, of the success of his Kemper guitar amp.

 In the perfect analog electronic organ world I have created in my mind the next step for analog organs will be to capture the sound, playing dynamics, and quirks as accurately as we can before these gems all end up in the land fill. Suggesting we get busy and start doing this has been met with many differing opinions whenever I have brought it up on the Organ Forum and the Electronic Organ History Yahoo group.
These opinions range from, 

'Why bother because digital sounds way more accurate than analog for pipe organs emulations' to

 ' Analog electronic organs are a dime a dozen on Craigslist. People can't give them away! So what makes you think there would be a demand for copies of a copy anyway. If you want an electronic organ just get one and fix it up.' 

' There would be way too little interest in making analog electronic organs virtual. To experiment with sampling analog organs as a personal project or for a few friends will be your best prospect, but I see very little interest from manufactures because they couldn't generate enough sales to make it worthwhile. '

There are people however, who are genuinely eager to hear certain analog electronic organ models made digital. The Hammond X-66 seems to be the most popular. This would be high on my list as well, but I would like to hear the Conn vacuum tube and transistor based individual oscillator organs made digital first. This would enable Hauptwerk enthusiasts to blend the Conn voices with both Theater and Classical organs. Along with Conn's voicing their tremolo circuits could be captured as well.

The idea of adding electronic sounds to a pipe organ has for many years turned the stomachs of pipe organ  purists. For these pipe organ players,engineers, and listeners the organ is pipes and nothing but pipes. 
Fortunately this way of thinking was challenged by many electronic organ manufactures and one company in particular attained a remarkable sounding organ that was in no way a compromise, but simply another approach to organ making. That company was the Thomas Organ company. The tonal quality of a Thomas organ does not sound like a pipe organ yet the voicing of the organ follows a strict architecture to be true to the orchestral instruments that the organ represents. Other manufactures discovered that their electronic organs were being well received by the public as well in spite of any irregularities when compared to a real pipe organ. 

The organ boom began in the 1950's and stayed booming right up to the end. Some organs sounded more electronic than pipe like. While some sounded more pipe like than electronic. Sadly there are those who used to enjoy their Conn and Rodgers organs for their pipe like sound who now describe them as being inferior to the latest digital pipe organs. Perhaps these are the pipe purists who merely tolerated their Conn and Rodgers organs when they had them, but spoke highly of them because in their minds they were as close to the real thing as could be had without investing time, money, and space on a real pipe organ. On the other hand there were, and are organists who embrace the analog Conn, Rodgers, Wurlitzer, Baldwin, Allen, etc. because of how they sound, not in spite of how they sound. 

Please feel free to state why you feel the availability of virtual analog electronic organs would be a great thing for the music community. 

I will start by saying I love how analog electronic organs sound. They are a complete cohesive musical instrument in their own right and are just as warm and inviting as a real pipe organ. Are they a pipe organ? No, but as I stated, many companies realized that the electronic sounds of an organ are not necessarily  a bad thing. There are times when hearing certain electronic organs that the player will register ( choose certain tabs,voices) and organ to where certain electronic artifacts come through which sound less pleasing and sometimes awful, but this is as much to do with bad registration as anything.  Every organ is different and every listener is different. Many love both pipes and electronic. I am one of those people. 

Properly digitizing analog electronic organs is something that should be done and done well. 

If you are fond of analog organs, but feel they should remain in the past then you are the toughest nut to crack. You don't see these instruments as perhaps you should see them, as being just as worthy of continual presence in the music community as a violin, banjo, or piano. The subtle tonal variations which make one brand, or type of guitar or trumpet preferred over another is a cherished in the music community. 

   With electronic organs there are a few camps that pretty much dominate the market- Hammond, Classical,Theater.
    The Hammond market has a very solid family of players. They/we preserve the relics as best we can because everyone is in agreement that they deserve to be preserved. Clones are made, and even a 'New B3' is made. There are debates as to realism of clones, but they get the job done and sound good. By the nature of the electromechanical Hammond tone wheel organs design it is not prone to as many breakdowns as some of the pure electronic organs. This is good for the Hammond community. The great Hammond organ lives on.

Classical organs are bought by churches and retired by churches. Often electronic classical organs are replaced even though they are still operational. They might wish to upgrade due to an organ needing more and more repairs or a salesman has convinced them of the need for a different model, often for good reason and sometimes for bad. The old organs are sometimes used as practice instruments for students. Often they go up on Craigslist. They sell for a fraction of their cost new. The classical organ community is also a happy community and with Hauptwerk even a person with little money to spend on an organ can create a pretty good organ using a down at the heel console that has been converted to midi to run the Hauptwerk software. 
The classical organ is also a happy camp.

The Theater organ community is made up of enthusiasts of all walks of life and more than likely not they will have more than one type of organ music that they favor to listen to. From personal experience, when I got bit by the theater organ bug I got the entire organ disease! Love to listen to and play all types of organ music. This is partly due to the theater organs versatility. It is orchestrated to the same degree as a classical organ and it has the tremulent which was later imitated on the Hammond organ by Don Leslie's invention of the Leslie rotory speaker. The theater organ has been the object of much controversy as well. The classical purists don't seem to care for the tremulents on the organ. The theater organist gets the last laugh because not only can a theater organ perform classical music, but 9 times out of  10 the theater organist has a great admiration for classical music.

to be continued...

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