My Organs, My Life: The Advent of the Nord C2 [0]

I ordered it from Amazon in November 2011 and it came. ... And here I expose my pitiful yearnings to the internet, so we may all share my miseries and dubious satisfactions. ... (Shimmery dissolve music / effects ...)

... When I was a child, I saw things as a child. ... And played a lovely baroqueish organ at St. Peter’s on 20th or 21st Street[1] no doubt infuriating the clergy as I blundered into the services. ... Who knows when the music’s supposed to start? ... Not me, certainly. ... It was probably a tracker because I don’t think they could afford the relays, but I could easily be wrong. ... Indeed, as I have always assured my clamoring fans, I consider myself literate and incompetent on numerous musical instruments, but the first and foremost is my beloved organ. ... There’s a seminary across ninth avenue from St. Peter’s which also had an organ, all shiny new and E. Power Biggish, and even as a pitiful mewling adolescent I could’ve cried at the chiffy noises that thing made; although I didn’t get to play it more than a few minutes once or twice. ... And in my latter days, I’ve had quite a few broken electronic organs, at least compared to the average: my precious sweet DK40, the wonderful still-functional Hammond Chord Organ, the big-rig Hammond Commodore. ... My attic MIDI-esque assemblage was in its way the mightiest of them all....

(/shimmery dissolve closes) Well that was fun, wasn’t it? ... The Nord C2, the focus of my devotions here, has a few imaginary organs in its beautiful 2-manual expanse: its commerical raison d’être is a Hammond B3 “clonewheel”, and then there are two “combo” organs, an imitation Vox and a Farfisa — the latter particularly amusing, since I sacrificed a real Farfisa to the ravenous metal scavengers after decades of dereliction. And, finally, the C2 contains my heart’s desire, a virtual baroque pipe organ on which I incompetently render Das Alter Jahr Vergangen Ist, an Orgelbuchlein chorale prelude I snootily name-drop....

The Pedal$

The Nord has two manuals + optional add-on pedals. The pedals cost an add-on 72% of the C2 price. ... I managed to convince myself it’s a reasonably competitive deal — the Roland PK-25 pedalboard is more expensive and bigger, and less notes; so I told myself one pays for Nord’s cleverness in packaging the 27 pedals in a relatively small/light portable sturdy form. ... After all, I could use my giant heavy AGO 32-note MIDI-ized pedals from the attic. Or my pitiful left-over Commodore pedals, if I MIDI-ized them. But they’re all really heavy and any organ probably involves moving things and crawling around the floor — all of which indeed came to pass — and the lighter the better, so I appreciate the light/sturdy theory. ... And my excuses were complete.[12]

The Price and the Priceless

The Nord C2, the pedals, speakers, other debris, was something like $6500 — a vast expenditure, but nothing compared to the priceless offerings of Allen, Rodgers, or Johannus.[8] ... And there are monstrously-expensive (€50,000?) Roland “home” electronic organs which are so superexquisitely top-drawer I didn’t detect them for months in my wandering quest — apparently in the same priceless class as Allen et al except, judging by the invisibility cloaking to commoners such as myself, even more so — but they did become more visible, if still priceless, with the conjuration Atelier, apparently no longer with us. ... In my simple ignorance, I suspect the Allen etc. offerings are even more expensive, apparently routinely running into the 100,000s. ... But that is the wonder and beauty of the priceless ideal: no need to worry my little head about all that stuff. ... Well @ 6/15, “Dwight Allen” was selling his TQ321 Allen used for $26K; which is getting closer to the human scale of things....

So my Nord Imperium really is the working man’s baroque-sampled / clonewheel / MIDI-theater home instrument. ... And in my own perfect storm of modernity and stark contrast, my chosen organ-shopping venues Amazon.com, Sweetwater and occasionally Musiciansfriend display their prices on their web pages....

The Antique Fare

My beloved antique home organs were not cheap in their day — to be sure, all my pitiful broken junk was around $500 per at the organ flea markets of modern times, but they were originally $1000s — well, who really knows?. ... They, too, were priceless; but I have a pitiful brochure , a rare scrap of historical urtext, where some breathless pilgrim scribbled the oily salesthing’s ridiculous demands. And which was lovingly immured within the DK-40’s bench. ... And that was real money: according to the web, $13,916.95 in 2012 dollars for my 1975 DK-40A!

The Transcendent Beauty of the Thing Itself

The UPS guys came in the chilly Christmassy night with an eerie echo of my years-ago DK40: the stops are off when the indicator is lit at the top; they make sounds when lit at the bottom. ... Just like the levers on the DK40 — and presumably most of the stop tabs in the world, which are off when up — and indeed the Hammond drawbars, no doubt imitating the real thing — but this confused myself and a co-shopper at the organ flea market so long ago where I first met the DK40. She was one of those astonishingly competent keyboardists of the older persuasion, but I put all the levers up and it made no sound. ... She said she didn’t do anything. ... Then we figured-out we had to put them down and she launched into an impromptu concert I could never hope to emulate in my wildest dreams. ... But she had not the room nor the wherewithal — nor the bad judgment — to get a home organ, used or new, and I have all those things....

The Pedals ... II

I wondered why electronic organs needed enormous speaker systems, when I could play organ recordings on a little hifi box; I actually had a cranky letter to that effect printed in The Diapason, I think. ... And the answer is — you don’t. ... At least, I didn’t — until the pedals came. ... It’s really a question of loudness. That is, you can play an organ recording relatively softly without blowing-out your hifi speakers. But apparently, even with my humble aspirations, that’s not good-enough for the home organ, and I wanted it louder. Which, as I learned after some travail, won’t work with hifi speakers or, actually, without a subwoofer.[2]

... Anyway, there are my usual cranky intolerant complaints:

1. The mechanism for assembling the Nord volume pedal, which is included with the PK27 pedals, was dubious. Six self-tapping screws were provided, which I believe were so hard to screw-in because they’re supposed to prevent people from over-tightening into the plastic....

2. But a much worse defect revealed itself after a few weeks, which I will ruthlessly expose to the organ-buying public: the Nord volume pedal mounting on the pedalboard is too far forward, troubling for that odd pedal accidental, and which I eventually fixed with abusive hole drilling.

3. Less troubling but still stupid was the short MIDI cable provided for the pedals. I’m not sure it’s even enough for their set-up (left), but it definitely wasn’t long-enough to go around my beautiful plywood table. ... Chintzy. ... So I wound-up using an antique MIDI cable from the archives, which I quaintly soldered-together one dark and stormy night so many weary years ago....

On the bright side, I am pleased with Nord’s pedal design. ... It’s clever — or to put it another way, the “standard” — Hammond or AGO — is dumb: nobody plays the back of the pedals much — well, except maybe Cameron Carpenter — so Nord just left ’em off, producing a lighter, more compact unit.

I suspect — armed with adamantine ignorance — that the traditional form is based on primitive mechanical considerations of antique pipe organs, with the Hammond simply the first of many electronic imitations. ... So today’s pedals may have a lighter physical load but my under-powered hi-fi sadly distorted when I trod the mighty pedalboard, light and compact as it might be. ... I couldn’t blame Nord; the headphones sound fine. ... So I turned the bass down a bit on the Nord’s built-in tone control and launched into a frightening rendition of Das Alte Jahr Vergangen Ist, and everything became calm and serene. ... But I got it some speakers.[2]

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B3 Joy, Bill Irwin ... and the True Schmaltz ...

For my next trick, I fecklessly wallowed in Bill Irwin’s The Best Christmas Songs Ever organ book, with its 52 Hammond organ registrations in a little chart, stuffing the occasional suspect into the Nord’s program memory as I wandered through the more alluring selections, me ’n’ my Nord “B3”. ... When I got to an inspiring Irwin arrangement of I’ll Be Home For Christmas, it felt just like my poor departed Hammond Commodore — but better. ... The Commodore itself was a clonewheel with, however, a genuine rotating speaker, or at least an immense thing with some kind of rotating element; I could hear it go ’round and ’round. ... But the Nord does an excellent job evoking the throbbing through my motionless transducers....

And so after all my high-minded musings on the Nord’s baroque stops, what really got me was the B3 schmaltz! ... Even ’though my latter day organ infatuations approximately started with the incomparable theater organist George Wright, who generally provides a much higher-minded shmaltz. ... And even ’though the only thing “real” pipe organists hate more than electronic organs is Hammond electronic organs. ... But still I believe in my heart that schmaltz is the secret ingredient in the Wright CDs (that + an endearing and bizarre humor) and I think it’s what the Hammond got for thousands of humble Christmas parlors through the wandering years, including mine. ... I want pipe and theater organs to last forever, but I also want the Hammond sound to go on; to throb through the ages, bringing joy and unease to audiences everywhere. ... In the ATOS Journal once, a letter repeated a theater organ concert-goer’s misgivings, seemingly applicable to all this music: “I like [it], but I’m not sure I should”. ... It’s so tawdry; and so beautiful....

... And Silver Bells ...

And now at last the dream of ages: I can play “Silver Bells” with realistic bell sounds!

... It is a fact that as a youth I wished to be an electronic organ engineer. Not for me the space suit or cowboy horse; no I wanted an electronic organ, and I thought it would be wonderful to design them. Presumably an artifact of my never-consummated Schober obsession. ... But I actually wound-up designing industrial packaging machines, ridiculously and inadvertently like my father before me....

Anyway, one of the truly wonderful things some electronic organs could do was make bell-like sounds, and the intensity of this wonder increases by vast multipliers in the Christmas season. ... With this in mind, I’ve bought a few kiddie keyboards with chime sounds over the years, but they were too cheesy even for me. ... And no reverb....

Software Strategy

But now that I had my Nord with its three (including pedals) MIDI-emitting keyboards, I plotted more sounds: bells, perhaps eventually even theater organ sounds. ... I was so behind the times I thought we still bought “sound modules”, but of course we don’t, or only on Ebay, or perhaps the new luxury-retro Roland Integra-7 for $2000 — which is really too pricey for a few bells. ... But no, today we feed our MIDI keyboards into our computers, where it is magically transformed into beautiful sounds and music! ... But how? ... Minutes of googling produced only obscurity....

And it came to me in a (fairly obvious to be sure) vision: I would use my Reaper DAW software + a laptop + a little MIDI USB keyboard, and make bell noises to accompany the Nord B3! ... With a Reaper track configured the right way — recording enabled, MIDI input, other stuff I forget; actually I just copy and mutilate an existing Reaper track I know already works — I can emit ravishing bell-like noises when I poke the tiny keys, using Reaper’s “ReaSynth” VSTi for the bells + the kindly Kjaerhus Audio’s free “Classic Reverb” I got from the Reaper site so the bells’d keep up with the Nord reverb I drenched my schmaltz in. ... Latency through windows vanilla audio is usually unacceptable, at least to accompany the instantaneous Nord sounds, hence the USB gadget....

So my computeristic dreams have come true, and my bells ring sweet and true — but it was all just a prelude, as it turned-out, to endless elaboration, culminating in the beautiful virtual theater organs.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said
“For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
— from I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


The Schmaltz Retreats

The days passed, and another Christmas, and the power of my clone B3 schmaltz weakened. ... Sure, for an iconic song like I’ll Be Home For Christmas it’s still compelling, but my favored-schmaltz choice has now drifted to the Miditzer — which has the advantage of being schmaltzy and despised by experts. ... But the quintessential B3-ness has become a little wearying; as indeed does the B3, sometimes, regrettably, in what we call real life. ... Speaking of which, we do all know I’ll Be Home is a song about not being home for xmas? ... A war-time existential plaint? ... By those dark days it was a cliché of jingoistic military optimism that armies would be home by Christmas, a meme lodged in the popular consciousness by World War I. The WWII audience knew it was bogus, but that only added a universal poignancy to the song. ... The final whimper “if only in my dreams” is sometimes neglected in modern covers, so gloomy and all, but fits so perfectly my latter-day home organ project, my fond hopes and foolish dreams....

The Eternal Schmalz

And then finally I realized the Hammond schmaltz was really borrowed from the theater organs that came before, in an arguably degraded form although that’s quibbling since decent society abhored both. ... But the characteristic Hammond vibrato tone is almost certainly intended to be like a theater tibia — on steroids, cruder, stronger. ... But I of course prefer the refined tibia, and also the Hammond notoriously lacks the theater organ’s snarling reeds. But the two instruments are obviously in a line of succession, so as well as classical pipe organs Hammond also hastened the eclipse of theater organs — the already-dwindling bunch surviving the talkies. ... The Hammonds in their turn were followed by my beloved post-war home organs, co-existing for a time, most with vibratoed flutes of varying intensity and offensiveness, including my beautiful DK40 with its sweet ravishing almost-tibia. And cohorts of geezers would remember their golden days in the movie palaces, with the organ, and then they died off, keyboards got too cheap, and the tibia was all but silent for years. ... Until our latter-day virtual paradise....


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A Quiet Moment ...

Sometimes in the quiet morning I play a tune from my tattered Orgelbuchlein on the Nord’s emulated baroque organ. ... And it’s lovely! ... Of course I play poorly. But often I play so quietly on a single manual — with pedals — and if there’s anything snootier than playing the Orgelbuchlein on my home Nord C2 pipe organ simulation, it’s playing it on one manual, softly. ... Or I don’t know what....

However I have been known to diversify the Nord’s small pedal section with the free Hauptwerk St. Anne’s, which is probably even snootier....


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To B3 Rotary Vibrato or Not

A Nord B3 tip ’n’ trick I figured-out after a year (!) is if you want to play the Nord C2 Hammond B3 emulation without Lesliesque vibrato, which I gather is generally considered sinful and even I don’t do it much, don’t set the “Rotary Speaker” to “Slow/Stop”, “Stop Mode” (both buttons must be used and the corresponding LEDs lit for the mode to be in effect). The slow/stop mode stops the vibrato all right, but apparently leaves the emulated tweeter horn in an emulated corner of the emulated Leslie cabinet, and some treble notes honk. ... Unless you want that effect, which is presumably why Nord bothered to emulate it. Or I think maybe people treasure the way the effect slows down gradually while it stops....

But no you silly, you should instead use the “Speaker Model” button to select something other than “Rotary”, which produces a much clearer unvibratoed tone. ... Note that you can still have emulated Hammond vibrato/chorus with the “Vib/Chorus/Trem” control, which effect is entirely separate from, and may be used instead-of and with the emulated Leslie.


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Authenticity ... and the Behringer FCV100 Volume Control

The Nord C2 pipe organ emulation has an “authentic” swell pedal: as opposed to its B3 and combo organ emulations, only the swell manual in its pipe organ is affected by the volume pedal, which is monstrously authentic. ... To control the volume of both pipe organ manuals, I installed a Behringer FCV100 volume-control pedal (i.e., on the output audio system). As the imperium progressed through ever-more baroque elaborations, the Nordic original sin/feature became inoperative in my intricate plans, since I wanted the extra volume control anyway for the virtual theater organs (and their uninspiring MIDI volume controls) as well as my xmas bells before it....

But the Behringer FCV100 pedal itself is hardly ideal for the purpose: as well as requiring a power-supply purchase, it is designed for flat “on-the-floor” operation, rather than perched up next to the Nord’s volume pedal. So I fabricated a mildly-strange inclined plane thing and attached it on the top of the Behringer. But as the months passed, all the high-tech Owenlabs construction techniques have been deployed in the cause — postal tape, Funtak, wallboard screws, hot melt, and the ever-popular scraps of wood from the garage — oh wait, almost forgot velcro! — fashioning a “shell” for the thing so it’ll be a good angle more-or-less to stand-up without falling off the pedal board chassis. ... Originally, the scheme was bogus because the Behringer pedal controlled the Nord’s reverb as well as the organ sound, but that was obliviated in further reverb tweakery. ... And I must sadly report after a year or so the FCV100 makes very occasional static clicks when in a bad mood. ... And then later I realized I made it stick up too much, and shortened the piece of wood from 3’’ to 2’’, and now it’s harder to get to FF — instead of pp as it was before....

Pedal Flim Flam: The Shame of Nord ...

Pipe organ or B3, the C2’s volume pedal appears to be some kind of afterthought as per my informative pictures where Nord’s puffery looks a lot like the B3, no? ... But a musiciansfriend’s picture reveals how it obviously intrudes over the pedals, just as it did on my lovely unit, presumably because of some uniquely Swedish mishap with drills, holes, or who knows.

The last picture is of my final triumph, where I stuck the thing back where it belongs or perhaps a little further — but anyway where I want it. ... For Nord to duplicate my magnificent accomplishment all they need do is remanufacture the volume unit with an assortment of mounting holes, and drill an additional threaded hole for the right thumbscrew in the pedal unit — which of course I was afraid to do — so the assortment of holes won’t require advanced metal schlockery....


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And here is a Nord C2 cheat sheet I contrived. When I right-click on this in the Firefox browser, a little menu lets me “View Image” whereupon it fills the browser, and I could zoom / unzoom that by clicking on it. ... Well, unless Firefox isn’t feeling it, like just now, but then the afrits hiccuped or something and it came back. ... So maybe you should download it anyway (right-click, “Save As”) and somehow print it, in landscape mode. .... But it’d still probably be too small to read; fortunately just making the thing mostly impressed the depicted lessons so I at least don’t need it again so much....


Friday 10/14/16 8:42 am