Jerry Martin

Several months ago a friendly fellow, Dr. Jeremiah Martin, asked if he could stop by to see the organ.  I knew he was a cardiothoracic surgeon completing a fellowship at Duke University, but I had no idea he was an accomplished organ recitalist.

Jerry explored the instrument thoroughly and found a lot to like, later saying he could close his eyes and hear the pipes.  That’s high praise for what amounts to a very early incarnation of the 80-stop Willis from Silver Octopus.  He also endorsed some planned additions, such as a soft 32′ in the pedal and a fatter tuba.  And we agreed my immediate goal should be the previously mentioned crescendo pedal.  Originally from Ireland, Jerry is well acquainted with Willis instruments, and he had such a good time playing that he offered to return this summer to perform a recital.

The recital, our first, took place on 24 June 2012.  About 50 listeners were lucky or wise enough to attend, the organ (and Jerry) performed admirably, and the ladies set out a very nice reception.  Feedback from the attendees was hugely appreciative and uniformly positive.

Here we present some of the live, unfiltered recordings from the recital, taken using the recording apparatus I’ve detailed here previously.  Please keep in mind this is an unfinished instrument for which a detailed voicing has not been done.  Some stops will be added, others will be replaced with better ones, each virtual pipe will be adjusted to account for room response, and a trifle more intentional detuning may add a greater element of realism.  Still, it sounds pretty good already, prompting my wife to note she didn’t know the organ could sound like that (ouch!).

Dubois: Toccata in G

Thalben-Ball: Elegy

Bach:  Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565

Couperin: “Elevation” from Messe pour les Couvents  (Ordinaire temperament)

David N. Johnson: Trumpet Tune in D

Elgar: “Nimrod” from Enigma Variations Op. 36  (arr. William H. Harris)

Karg-Elert: “Lobe den Herren, o meine Seele” Op. 65, No. 28

Karg-Elert: “Schmucke dich, o liebe Seele” Op. 65, No. 51

Karg-Elert: “Nun Danket alle Gott” Op. 65, No. 59

Vierne: “Finale” from Symphony No. 1

We hope this is the first of many such events.  Once the organ is truly finished, we’ll offer it as a recital venue to the local AGO chapter, and as always, visitors are welcome to see and play it for themselves.

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Ambassador Organ

It’s been nearly two years since we put the organ into service, and while developments have been slow, we’ve been enjoying the organ immensely.  There have been a few teething issues, such as a failed amp (1 of 18, replaced under warranty), a rattle in one of the 21″ subs (not yet fixed), and the occasional sticky key, but the organ has generally performed very well.  I still make vain attempts to exorcise the remaining ceiling rattles, but those are not as noticeable as they once were.

I’m still running an early version of the 80-stop Romantic sample set from Silver Octopus.  This set includes the wonderful 10-rank string section plus many other goodies.  All those strings, plus the strings and celestes from Swell and Choir, spread across a 40-foot sound stage make a superb sound indeed!  Hopefully this is the year that the finalized 100-stop set is released.

I upgraded to HW4 shortly after it became available, and I immediately began experiencing crashes that I hadn’t seen before.  It turns out there is a thread limitation of sorts, either in OS X or in the QT library, that one encounters with a large number of CPUs and audio channels.  As usual, HW developer Martin Dyde worked closely with me for a number of weeks to provide an effective diagnosis and workaround.  Since then, HW4 has been rock solid and the new features are especially welcome.

Once the final samples are installed, I’d like to be able to record the organ properly.  I picked up some decent Rode cardioid mics and a tube preamp with A/D that lets me feed an optical signal back into the organ’s Mac Pro.  I experimented with various microphone arrangements (X-Y, ORTF) and placements but wasn’t satisfied with the results, which lacked deep bass and didn’t capture the reverb in the sanctuary.  These deficiencies are consistent with cardioid mics, so I needed something else that didn’t force me to start over.

After further research, I decided I had to try a Jecklin Disk, which uses two omnidirectional microphones with a baffle between them.  Omni mics can offer better bass response and should capture the room reverb.  The baffle restores a natural stereo image, since without it a pair of omni mics in close proximity would record virtually the same signal.  Thankfully the Rode mics can be converted to omnis without a major investment, so I ordered a set of omni capsules for them and built a Jecklin Disk.

This arrangement is a vast improvement, with good bass and room response.  So we should be set to post recordings sometime after the instrument is finished and voiced.

We’re pleased to have been joined by a delightful lady, Barbara, who has much music experience and can play the organ as needed.  It was just a couple Sundays ago that I was sitting in the back, not expecting to play or hear the organ at all that day, when I was totally surprised to hear the organ crank up for the closing hymn.  It was then I realized we had arrived: we have an organ, and I don’t have to be present for it to be enjoyed by everyone else.

IMG 0403

Due to the move from MobileMe to iCloud by Apple, I’ve been forced to change hosters for this blog.  I still hear from readers, so in the hopes that it continues to benefit other HW users I’ve chosen to migrate everything (a very manual process).  Furthermore, notwithstanding the fact that the organ was and remains a memorial gift in honor of my dad, I’m referring henceforth to this project as the Ambassador Organ.  A double entendre of sorts, the organ resides at Ambassador Presbyterian Church in Apex, North Carolina, so named for the well known sentiment in 2 Corinthians 5:20.  And the organ is itself an ambassador for what is possible today through the wonders of Hauptwerk.

Case in point: here we have two kids (my nieces) playing the organ or eagerly awaiting a turn.  That’s what I’m talkin’ about!

Next steps are to attempt to fix the 21″ sub and to tweak the console firmware to allow use of HW4’s crescendo pedal support.

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Full court press

One of the local newspapers, the Raleigh News & Observer, graciously interviewed us and published a story on the organ. Thankfully they didn’t post too much of my questionable playing, but the church is extremely grateful for the exposure. And I’ve already heard from a couple area organists, with whom I look forward to following up.

As I recently posted on the HW forums, I’ve had a specific set of samples in mind for some time now. I’m using the dry English Romantic samples from Charles Braund’s Silver Octopus Studios. Charles has samples from some of Father Willis’ finest instruments, and he has spent the last few years perfecting his dry sample editing techniques. The samples are the best dry ones I’ve heard to date, and no other single, coherent and comprehensive set—wet or dry—is large enough to meet the needs of my instrument. I have the 64-stop version running now, and I will upgrade to the 80/100 versions as they are finished. The demos on the Romantic samples page are well worth a listen.

My biggest issue now is what I feared years ago: ceiling rattles. Organs and grid ceilings don’t mix well! The drywall tiles seem OK, but several of the 16′ and 32′ pedal stops excite resonances in air registers, lights, etc., and it seems to have gotten worse over time. We’ll have to see about borrowing a lift and getting the worst of those nailed down while waiting for the remaining complement of samples.

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Much has transpired in the short time since my last update.

We finally got the full complement of screens in place (thanks, Mike!), fully hiding the speakers, though some color adjustment in the center section may be required of us. In all, it is 13 sections covered by about 24 yards of grille cloth. I measured a prototype panel back in the garage, and there was no detectable coloring of the sound caused by the cloth.

All of the speaker cabinets are connected to the organ rack, which is connected by a single 50′ umbilical to the console. This long, narrow, securely-locked closet behind the stage effectively masks all noise from the PA and organ amplifiers. At the bottom of the rack is the amp I settled on for driving the largest subs; it’s a Peavey CS4080HZ, which runs cool and quiet, delivers 2040 watts per channel, and has not disappointed me at all. (Yes, it’s a bit overkill, but we’ve covered that already. ☺ )

I got the keyboard/mouse drawer mounted under the console, which has worked out beautifully (thanks, Shawn!). With help (Mike again), I also addressed a few other nagging issues, including sticking keys (probably due to the difference in humidity between garage and church), a weak solenoid driver chip that would move one and only one drawknob at a time, misadjusted rocker motor springs, uneven pedal spring tension, and cobwebs interfering with the pedal contacts (another artifact of the garage).

I upgraded the Mac Pro to Snow Leopard, installing that on an 80GB SSD, which greatly speeds both boot and organ loading times. I have about half of the full complement of bone-dry samples that I need, which itself yielded a 7000-line CODM file. And it took a full day to adjust all the speaker output levels and configure all of the input & output switches in Hauptwerk. The well-diffused acoustics helped here, as all 36 of my small bipolars were within a couple dB of each other before I started adjusting anything. Next I shuffled the drawknobs around and affixed a few round adhesive labels that I printed; I’ll have proper engraving done down the road after things have settled a bit.

In a minor departure from the AGO norm, I swapped the labels on the Great and Choir drawknob sections. That was necessary to accommodate my expected complement of 24 stops on the Great. The Choir is a smaller division, which is no handicap given that I have a separate Aetherial/Solo division.

Finally, after all that, I could hear the organ in a proper acoustic, and I confess to feeling a little giddy during my first playing session. I haven’t done any fine-grained voicing / regulation since I don’t have everything yet, but I’m thrilled with how the instrument is shaping up. The reeds sound very much in the room, the Choir/Swell strings make for a wonderfully warm and fuzzy accompaniment, and others have told me that the 32′ notes literally shake the entire building. (I think we may compress 20 years of normal building settling into just a few.) An organ of any size requires a certain gravitas, which IHMO is in evidence here.

The organ still isn’t finished, but it’s still larger than many complete instruments (or sample sets), so that hasn’t stopped us from using it in services. The first time out was Palm Sunday, when I just played a simple prelude and postlude. I ended with Manz’ “God of Grace” (courtesy Rob Stefanussen), soloing on the Tuba, and the congregation was kind enough to cheer and applaud after that. Easter Sunday is the excuse for many an organist to hit the Tutti piston, and I used a fairly large registration at the end of a couple of Easter hymns. My wife, who dislikes all loud things and especially frowns upon loud organ music, loved it and remarked that this congregation had never sung so loudly. Another big postlude yielded more spontaneous applause (and one complaint about the higher-volume passages from an all-too-predictable source (no relation to me!)), so I reckon we’re off to a fine start.

I can’t help but think some of the youth in attendance have rarely or never sung with an organ, a tragedy the rectification of which is one of the most rewarding parts of this project. In the fullness of time, I hope that seeing some of those same youth with musical talents develop an interest in playing the organ will be another.

And finally, though the organ isn’t finished, it would never be done without this:

Next steps are to incorporate the next infusion of samples and do some further cosmetic work, such as refinishing the parquet platform and touching up a few of the scrapes one finds on a 22-year-old piece of furniture.

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The wood began to move

No, not Macbeth. The console! Eight sturdy guys showed up last week and made short work of moving the console to its new home. It was a nail-biter watching the console roll down the steep truck ramps, but the whole move took only about 90 minutes.

We got a dusting of snow on moving day, but it could have been worse. The weather has often been uncooperative for the organ project, be it blistering sun while cutting speaker panels, rain showers while painting, or hordes of small insects landing in wet paint.

I didn’t enjoy this part at all. I’m actually hiding in this picture, ready to mount a futile attempt to catch the console if it rolled over to one side.

Newly in place. This was about the largest item some of these guys had moved, and they didn’t hesitate to snap a few pictures with their cell phones.

Band practice on the new stage, with the obligatory profusion of fake plants. It’ll be interesting to try some band/organ combos. There was some consternation on others’ parts earlier in the project about the sheer size of the console, but IMHO it really looks terrific and not at all outsized sitting in its new home. And several other furniture pieces, such as the lectern, are being custom-built to match the console.

That’s Link of the Rhett & Link comedy team. He found the organ to be a convenient arm rest, if nothing else.

All the various organ controls have proven irresistible to small fingers. The console doesn’t have the typical locking roll-top, so my talented wife made this spiffy snap-on cover for it. The console still needs a key to operate, but the cover should dissuade the kids a little.

Today was the first service in the new building. The building project has been underway for over five years, and the church has met in public school buildings for all of its 12-year life, so the excitement was palpable. It was never my intention to have the organ running on opening day, as I have to sleep sometime, but it was gratifying to have lots of folks ask when it would be ready.

We’ve re-racked all the electronics in the closet, so the current task is running wire to all of the speakers. I was too cheap to buy new speaker wire, so I had hours of fun splicing together all the wire I had used in the garage. We’re still building the screen panels, and the first installment of samples should arrive any day now. Next steps are to set up Snow Leopard on an SSD, start writing the new CODM file, and design the memorial plaque.

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Organ transplant

After four and a half years of blood, sweat and tears, the organ move has begun. All 47 speaker cabinets are now in their new home. The planned layout has changed a little based on input from others:

That sure is a lot of speakers! Anyone who hadn’t visited the garage recently didn’t quite know what to make of this display.

It really helps to have committed helpers who believe in the project, not to mention a scissor lift and subwoofer cabinets that scoff at the weight of three adults.

Here is one of the upper chambers, each with 14 cabinets, spaced out to let the 12 bipolars’ rear wave emerge. Even twelve feet off the floor, the 21″ woofers look huge. The entire grouping was later shifted inwards to match the above rendering. The smallest panel will be removable for access.

The center section above the wiring closet, with 19 cabinets. The bottom row fit with less than an inch to spare, although we had alternate layouts ready in case they didn’t. This reminds me of singing in a choir just inches in front of a pipe organ. It was loud, but tolerable, around 90 dB. I suspect it’ll be similar for folks on this stage.

And the full view, with speakers all the way across. The single white hanging speaker is for PA and band music; peak power: 1500 watts. Organ peak power: 8560 watts. Of course, typical use will be a tenth of that, but a large pipe organ is an object of immense power, and this uncompromising virtual pipe organ will be no different.

Several folks pointed out that the speakers look so good that it’s a shame to hide them. Of course, they were all guys. But the plan for months has been to build grille cloth screens that double as projection surfaces. For that to work, absolutely everything behind the screens must be flat black.

Here are a couple of the first frames, ready for cloth:

And here are a few finished ones. It’s amazing how the frames and everything behind them almost completely disappear.

Here’s a projected image, somewhat washed out by the adjacent overhead light. The image quality is surprisingly good on the grille cloth, considering that some light is lost through the screen. The front row of overhead lights won’t be on during screen use.

I built a 50-foot umbilical to connect console to closet, and I installed the organ keyboard drawer. Next steps are to continue building screen panels, move the console, and break down all the electronics for transport.

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Ready to rumble

Since my last update, I’ve been focused on reproducing the 16 Hz fundamentals produced by 32-foot ranks. A typical home subwoofer doesn’t have to go nearly so low, as room gain can enhance the lowest frequencies. I can’t rely on that phenomenon in a 350-seat room.

Bass is all about moving air, so I bought a couple of 21″ subwoofer drivers that boast a 2.5″ stroke and handle 1500 watts. Then I built a pair of 20 cu. ft. boxes tuned to 16 Hz. The port is 8″ PVC flared to about 10″ on both ends.

Here are a few pics of the two new subs:

Driver and port:

Rear port flare:

Unlike my other subs, these have no integrated driver for the higher frequencies, but all channels of a digital organ must be full-range. So I got a rack-mount active crossover and will use smaller cabinets for the upper harmonics. It’s difficult to measure speakers like this even with proper equipment, but I still need to test them, if only to adjust the crossover. Here’s how they did:

As shown, this cabinet is extremely strong at 16 Hz. From the garage, using an amplifier capable of only 800 watts, it can be felt throughout the house at that frequency. The upper ranges aren’t all that flat, but I’m using the two-way horn-loaded prototypes I built 18 months ago. This is perfectly suitable for big pedal stops and should do justice to the Contra Bombarde 32′, the Double Open Wood 32′, and everything in between. I’m still looking for the optimum amplifier to drive these two cabinets. It must be capable of extremely high power but have very little fan noise when not driven hard; that’s an unusual combination in large pro amps.

The building continues progressing nicely. Here we see the completed front wall, with the upper chambers painted black so that the speakers don’t show through the grille cloth panels:

The acoustics of this auditorium have been carefully engineered. The ceiling tiles are drywall. The steel studs in all of the walls have wood inserts to prevent ringing. The room is ringed with floor-to-ceiling outrounds to eliminate echoes and create a diffuse sound field. The round window was enlarged to function as a bass trap. A normal conversation at one corner of the room is easily heard in the opposite corner, around 90′ away. The reverb of the space is around 3 seconds now, but that will fall below 2 seconds with the addition of carpet, chairs and people.

Here are some of the wall diffusers:

Next steps are to build the grille cloth panels, assemble the console umbilical cable, install the console keyboard drawer, and write a Hauptwerk CODM file.

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