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The Beautiful Free Virtual Theater Organs...

The rest of this page contains the results of my intrepid explorations of the virtual theater organs. ... To cut to the chase, for someone with an unpretentious setup of a Windows PC + some MIDI keyboards, there were two leading free contending virtual organs — the Miditzer 216 and the Hauptwerk Paramount 310 — that’s before Hauptwerk introduced an annoyanceware feature, subsequently rescinded we hope.[22]

So if you want a free computer theater organ, the Miditzer 216 is the obvious first choice, albeit with numerous drawbacks. ... Paramount/hauptwerk partisans are fanatically convinced that theirs is the finest of all virtual theater organs, and if you want to try it with the idea of maybe buying — and it’s not cheap — that’s almost rational. But it’s much harder installing Hauptwerk & the (free) Paramount 310, so if you plan to go for the free option, the Miditzer 216 downloads and installs in a few minutes. ... The catch: the Mitz has no auto-learn, and in general is harder/impossible to configure once you’ve installed it. Plus Miditzer’s got the dreaded (but authentic!) latency. And a scamloader, maybe.

But you should probably try Miditzer first, just because it’s so much easier to get going. ... Also see The Final Battle, and the rest of this endless diatribe, if you have a few spare weeks....

But buyer beware ...

There are indeed beautiful virtual organs for free — but in addition to a working PC, you still need sizable chunk$ of hardware to play ’em — although you can tinker with just the PC....

— your host, the cranky organist & programmer

* * *

  • The Final Battle

And be sure and see the notes and more notes and even more; not to mention the entire Nord C2 story as I know it. And the virtual organist might include jOrgan and brief expostulations about Grand Orgue in his journey....

* * *

The Miditzer 216

There are those who strive valiantly against world hunger & disease, but the admirable Jim Henry at https://miditzer.org/ wages an equally-heroic struggle against World Boredom! ... I know my existence has been immensely enhanced by his beautiful virtual theater organ Miditzer Model 216; which he is giving away! ... Google for the download (or maybe here?); it runs in Windows (not Mac), and after installation it might try to perform a charming concert on its built-in MIDI player with screen animation, keys / pedals pressing, stop tabs flipping....

It really is lovely — after a few hours I was playing a beloved Bill Irwin arrangement on my Nord plugged into a Windows laptop, regaling the empty room with Que Será Será, incompetently as ever — but on a throbbing reverberant Wurlitzer(esque) theater organ! ... If my electronic debris can be a Wurlitzer, and now I believe it can, or at least I can get an inkling of what the insiders @ the ATOS Journal are always babbling about. ... Mr. Henry’s creation actually makes clonking noises when one clicks one of the “combination” buttons, as bunches of imaginary stops shift!

... I of course have cranky complaints:

  • Latency: An annoying delay between key press and Miditzer sound. ... As an intelligent fellow pointed out — I think it was at the Organ Forum, but it might’ve been Miditzer’s forum — probably Jim Henry! — real pipe organs often do that also. ... I of all people should know this; aside from my formative years playing one — badly, to be sure; it was probably the delay! — I actually wrote a scathing review in the late lamented NY City College Observation Post condemning the inaugural concert of a new organ (probably electronic) because the organist hadn’t figured-out how to play the thing so the audience could hear a coherent performance. I probably didn’t know the word except as an unrelated euphemism, but that was doubtless the dreaded latency.
And, yes, even electronic organs do this, when the speakers are strewn far enough, as they might be in large installations. ... So the Miditzer delay is just good training! ... But the Paramount/hwerk competition doesn’t do that or at least not nearly as much, at least with USB sound — which doesn’t do anything for Miditzer, as opposed to emitting sound from the Windows 7 speaker/headphone output. ... And after wandering in the Mists of Miditzer for so long, I found a latency setting which didn’t actually seem to do much. But see my exciting illustrations and additional speculations & excuses....
  • I had to download the Miditzer program (google for it?) with a CNET scamloader, for which presumably the forces of Miditzer are paid a pittance and I’m sure they deserve it. It appeared to be harmless — I just unclicked the single extraneous junk it offered to install. But your mileage may vary. ... It produced the ~5Meg Miditzer installation file which it then offered to execute, and perhaps you mortals should just go ahead and do that but I refused, and it then popped me into Windows File Explorer with the installation file stuck in the “Downloads” directory. I copied the file somewhere useful and I could then archive it, copy it further, and install on various test machines without the CNET scamware. ... I would’ve preferred a paypal donation link myself — and after months and months of joyous theater organing on the humble free Miditzer model “216”, it turned out there is a $100 paypal link, part of the intricate, amusing, and treacherous “licensing” mechanism for the incomparably-superior “260SP” Miditzer....

And then in the fullness of time there seems to be a 216 downloader at the Miditzer site sans scammery, although I haven’t actually tried it. And this page seems to have them all lined-up innocently, without travail....

The Legendary Ease and Simplicity of Virtual Organ Configuration: MIDI Velocity

I got Miditzer playing with the Nord’s two manuals in a few hours, with luck + geekery, but the pedals wouldn’t work. After much agony it turned-out to be my Nord’s fault and not the saintly Miditzer’s: the Nord is supposed to emit MIDI from the swell, great, and pedal keyboards, on MIDI channels 1, 2, and 3,[5]note which apparently is just what Miditzer expected, but the pedals didn’t go. So I googled assiduously and wound-up at a Nordish forum where I learned I could fix this Nord bug by changing the Nord “system” menu parameter #11 “Trigger Mode” from “High” to “Low” — and I realized it was abysmal dark ignorance such as this which would continue to make my new-found virtual world such a rocky road. ... The Nordniks are convinced that playing the instrument that way is a sham and a delusion, but I couldn’t tell the difference and for all I know it makes it easier! ... I know setting the Nord drawbar action from “fast” to “slow” made the imaginary drawbars less temperamental.

... And the “Low” parameter #11 setting also enables MIDI velocity data on the manuals aka “touch sensitivity”, the better to play the virtual pianoforte, and the marimba, and, it turns-out, the 260sp’s piano! Not to mention the weird and wonderful 160c....

More Obscurity ... Through Channels

After this delightful Nord/pedal idyl, I then experienced another tragic omniscience failure: the Nord volume pedal is supposed to emit the MIDI code CC 4. Miditzer didn’t expect that, but even when I thought I configured it that way it didn’t work. ... Even though I had already contrived an extra audio swell pedal to deal with the Nord’s annoyingly-authentic pipe organ emulation, I still wanted the Nord pedal to work....

So I went and got the crucially-useful and free MIDI utility MIDIox and proved to myself Nord was doing the right thing — i.e. as opposed to my pitiful experience above. So then I realized I had completely ignored an essential component of the ridiculously technical MIDI mysteries — MIDI channels! ... Foolish child that I was, I had neglected to right-click on the Miditzer Expression Tab “ON” column and select something other than “AUX” — “solo” seemed to work. ... And thus I finally realized these settings signified MIDI channels 1, 2, 3, with AUX == 16? — which was obvious after I bothered examining the Miditzer input screen where they’re defined. ... What an ignorant simpleton I was!!!!

The Rollicking Fun of MITZTECH!

I include the poignant crufty stuff above so the innocent pilgrim can get a whiff of what fun the virtual organs are! ... And for more of the same in endless abundance, I’ve gathered my vast Miditzer technical ignorance all in one place! ... + this week only: clueless speculation about the mitz combination buttons....

Make Miditzer Bigger on the 2nd Screen Display

In the wandering years I finally attached a 2nd larger display to my laptop’s VGA port, and used the Windows 7 gadget to configure things (search the Windows’ Control Panel for “multiple monitors”, and then click “Set up computer to use multiple monitors”) — but programs kept starting on the smaller laptop screen and, worse, Miditzer, even when moved to the big monitor, wouldn’t get bigger! ... The secret: Check the box “Make this my main display” for the screen where you want Miditzer to appear — and be bigger! ... It’s all so simple! ... Although I should note much other stuff then gets weird, but you didn’t want to actually use your computer for anything else did you?

Hauptwerk of course remembers its Window positions politely and restores itself to wherever you closed it. Except when you foolishly change your hardware — to a touch screen, say — and it doesn’t and hides one of its windows underneath, and since there are about 5 million of them it can be stressful to find which one exactly is hiding.

* * *

Hwerk vs Mitz, Round 1: A Pitiful Web Fan Whines

As my beautiful chart below summarizes, both the Miditzer 216 and Paramount 310 have their ups and downs in the precise Owenlabs review. I believe other pitiful web fans like myself have commented that Miditzer makes a good introduction to Hauptwerk — and that’s certainly true-enough, in the sense that Miditzer is much easier to install on a Windows computer. But both can be infuriatingly-difficult to get going, at least with anything other than the PC screen. ... But before my glorious late-life conversion, I had ignorantly assumed they were just hopey/dreamy piffleish trash along with all the other wonderful kickstarterish web projects that’ll release a working version any month now, but then in a rush of googling, Miditzer first sprang forth as actually usable, and it wasn’t that bad! — at least for a techno geek such as myself. ... So I was emboldened to investigate the mysteries and pitiful pomposities of Hauptwerk and the beautiful Paramount 310....

Murk

Both the Hauptwerk Paramounts and Miditzer have promotional (?) aspects that confused me at least. ... Both have free and for-money products, but efforts to use one to promote the other or whatever they’re doing only conveyed impenetrable murk. ... For months I couldn’t figure-out the difference between Paramount Organ Work’s free Paramount 310 and the 320 but eventually I found this, with a selection of useful links and even a prices tab! — gone now, but it used to show $179 for the 320 for which I eventually caved-in @ $100 + of course the exorbitant $250 for the requisite “Basic” Hauptwerk software.

... And I played the lovely Miditzer 216 for eons before figuring-out that the advanced 260SP model, which up to then I thought was some kind of legend or ancient broken artifact (like in that wacko Myst game), is in fact available now, somewhere (I googled for it), for a $100 donation. ... What tangled webs![6] ... All such things are no doubt immediately obvious to the psychically-gifted virtual organist, but not to my confused primitive perceptions.

... So here’s my latter-day expert outsider chart:

Free Virtual Theater Organs I Have Known ...

Miditzer 216 Hauptwerk Paramount 310
Attitude Friendly scamp Cryptic Teutonic[7] omniscience
Price Free, but not obvious-enough; I’m fond of the $100 version but it has broken parts. Obscure free version + “Basic” $250 and “Insane Millionaire” $600 versions, both w/dongle, and the Insane version has multi-channel audio, individual pipe/stop “voicing”. But that’s just the Hauptwerk “host” program; additional Paramount theater organs might be $100 and up.
PC Any ol’ thing 4 gig memory, giant multiple screens / dedicated organ console? Manual advises 8 gig for a new system
Windows? Only Of course, but there’s a snooty Macintosh version also
Downloading Scamloader; small (5 megabytes!) and takes a few minutes Vast, endless — 2.5 Gigabytes — free theater organ is another half a gig.
Installation A snap Prolonged agony
First use OK, but can be puzzling Frightening
Operation Fairly easy Hard
Documentation Bad: furtive, hermetic The host program has a detailed high-quality pdf manual
Support Good; might require registration Good
Latency delay Delay makes it harder to play Delay is unnoticeable with USB audio
Computer screen Eminently usable Too small; almost illegible; designed for multiple screens?
Hardware hookup This handy chart assumes you have a MIDI gadget like my beloved Nord but if not, both Miditzer and Hauptwerk will make sounds with just a computer + the usual PC speakers — although Hwerk made such a fuss I wasn’t sure, but eventually after I turned-on a stop or two in the “tabs” display I could click the mouse on the console display keys and hear stuff. With Miditzer, you get to click the screen and play the PC keys! Obviously they both are better with MIDI keyboards[4] + better audio. Hauptwerk also gets lower latency with USB audio, but not Miditzer.
Software / Hardware Configuration Can be fiendish Auto-learn makes it easier
Both programs require technical configuration to unique MIDI channels/devices and numerous other maddening details, but the Miditzer requirements are significantly harsher with its barbaric manual MIDI configuration versus Hauptwerk’s modern “auto-learn”. Presumably because the mostly-free Miditzer has been without much development for years, while Hauptwerk is commercially-supported even as I blather. Although as is common in such situations, some Miditzer features work better than the presumably-much-labored-over Hauptwerk flavors. ... But for a basic computer + keyboards setup, they’re probably equally annoying — maybe Mitz a little less.[15]
Sound The sound is surprisingly comparable
Ignore all that web chitter & puffery; the Paramount 310 doesn’t sound so overwhelmingly better, and Miditzer isn’t a pitiful primitive remnant. ... Well maybe it is a bit; but they both sound lovely. But see The Final Battle....
The Inconclusive Conclusion
If you want to get something going quickly and you’re using a Windows PC and you don’t mind the latency, Miditzer.
With a PC or Mac made in the last few years and a good internet connection, Hauptwerk’s much better at configuring buttons etc. other than the keyboard, and even the keyboard configuration will often be easier. And it can have noticeably lower latency.

* * *

Hauptwerk Paramount 310

Like Captain Kirk discarding the beauteous star maiden-of-the-episode, I callously turned from the endearing Miditzer and embraced the harsh Germanic discipline of Hauptwerk + the Paramount 310 — with less latency!...

I know I wrote how Miditzer’s latency built character; but I’m lazy, and Hauptwerk and the lovely Paramount 310 theater organ, once past the enduring agony of installation and operation, is easier to play — at least the latency part. Sadly, the 310’s warts make its scales uneven. ... But Hauptwerk’s fanatical adherents claim superior tone....

Saving Registration or Not

Miditzer scores big over Hauptwerk in that it saves my stop settings when I exit the program, and restores them when I return. ... The cranky Hauptwerk doesn’t understand why you need all that old junk anyway and just throws it away — when you run the program; when you save your settings! ... Like Miditzer, Hauptwerk has combination buttons which it does condescend to save / restore. ... Many of Hauptwerk’s mysteries melted in the mists after I perused the excellent 316-page PDF manual, but not this — apparently it just throws away stop settings eagerly, and they’d have to fly programmers in from the coast to fix it. When I asked at the Hauptwerk forum the kindly response was all like “oh why no I don’t think there’s any way to do that obscure thing you want to do!” even ’though it obviously must be a constant newbie whine....

Getting the Free Hauptwerk Paramount 310 Theater Organ

  1. First you download the Hauptwerk “host” program from http://www.hauptwerk.com/downloads/hauptwerk-downloads/. Don’t hold your breath; might be wise to engage in other tasks, like urethaning the floors, opening the vacation home. ... There is a $20 CD you can buy somewhere, maybe?

  2. Then — and here’s the secret part! — www.paramountorganworks.com/scripts/downloads.html might have the free “Paramount 310 sample set” from the illustrious “Paramount Organ Works” organization. When that doesn’t work, try googling for “download paramount 310”. ... I typoed the name for weeks as “Barton 3/10” I don’t know why (such a one did show-up eventually). ... You can download this wonderful virtual instrument for another hour and a half. Which is, I belatedly gather, the free sample for an endless parade of enhanced add-on ver$ions; I wondered what those grayed-out stop tabs were about....
  3. At Wed 8/13/14 the latest 4.1 version of the Hauptwerk host program may have invalidated my otherwise perfectly-reliable notes here, and added a new annoyanceware feature which required “free” license renewal on the internet every 90 days — which aside from irking us proud and feisty freeloaders, gives Hauptwerk the option to cancel the free version whenever they feel like it, or just forget. ... Which of course they would never do. ... But then at 9/26/14 the annoyanceware feature was rescinded, we hope forever.[22]

The Pricey Versions

The grand virtual 4-manual 50 rank Paramount 450 with all its required upgrades is available here maybe for a mere $749 on DVDs. Any Paramount model above the free 310 requires the $250 Hauptwerk flavor, but you insane millionaires will want the super-tweakable $600 hwerk flavor, bringing your virtual organistic pleasure to $1,350 or so — plus, I assume, additional infuriating copy-restriction / usb dongle[11] technicalities. ... And the weary years passed me and I didn’t even register the even more pricey Paramount “341” for another $100, and it requires the insane millionaire Hauptwerk. And even with the higher price, as the numeric code implies the 341 only has three manuals and a mere 41 ranks! ... A shocking retrenchment! ... All these prices are only the home flavor; there are commercial performance licenses or something so you can pay through the nose for playing before vast audiences. ... But do check the site; prices vary, often lower!

Installing the Free Hauptwerk Paramount 310 Theater Organ

After the seasons have changed and you’ve installed Hauptwerk and run it, don’t install the free classical “St. Anne’s” pipe organ it comes with; I think it asks? — only because, like everything else Hauptwerkian, you can probate your will while it goes on. ... No, once the thing is running, goto “File / Install Organ or Temperament ...” and use that to install the “Paramount 310” file you also downloaded. And you can work on that boat-in-a-bottle you’ve always wanted-to. ... I hasten to note the “St. Anne’s” organ is charming, if a little eccentric[19], but well worth its timeless installation....

Once I installed the Paramount 310, it seemed I had to load it every time I ran Hauptwerk, with the “Organ“ menu. But it loads much faster than the original install, as they promised, and there is actually some way hwerk can be configured to load the “last” organ automatically, somewhere in the hwerk manual and menus....

Your Screen is Too Small for Paramounts/Hauptwerk

The Hauptwerk Paramount 310 screen as far as I’ve been able to determine in careful scientific tests doesn’t fit any computer I own. ... Which, to be sure, max out at what I thought was “high-definition” 1920x1080. Hauptwerk has numerous panels, fascinating and amusing I’m sure, which actually get in front of the main screen! — they don’t “float” to the back, like all other software in creation. ... My screenshot above is the best I could do, with the “All Tabs” (i.e. stops) screen, which is what you probably use while playing.

On the bright side, the stops in the “Console” tab are not only unreadable, but inoperable; I’m not intended to use them for setting stops (as in the simple-minded single-screen Miditzer). Which is a tremendous relief, since they’re so very small. ... I eventually installed Hauptwerk on my humble “Miditzer” 13’’ laptop, and closed most of the panels (click the “X”s; the “View” menu probably gets ’em back), and then I had to squint at “All Tabs” — where I am supposed to click the stops — to see anything. ... After a week or two, I realized the window is resizable, if only a little bit, but still enough to make the text on the stop tabs more legible. ... Legible or not, I’ve prepared numerous Paramount 310 stop-combination presets by peering, which I can set off with my Nord buttons....

Physically larger screens — 21’’-and-up desktop LCDs, as opposed to my pitiful laptops — alleviate the squinting problem considerably. But not the screen crowding; Hauptwerk’s screens don’t fit. ... Oh I get it; they were probably designed for the holy Apple super-giant 27’’ 2560-by-1440 ultra-def stuff....

All Buttons?

Finally I noticed the “All Buttons” tab, which might be more legibile; I’m not sure, and the abbreviations confuse me. And if I mouse the Paramount 310 “All Tabs” window to more-or-less fill my 1920x1080 test computer screen, it flips itself to a better horizontal layout — unfortunately leaving no room for any other window. ... So I must conclude the Hauptwerk Paramounts are intended for large multiple screens and/or elaborate MIDI consoles, but the free 310 at least was workable on my 2010 four gig RAM laptop’s pathetic 13’’ screen + squinting. ... And Hauptwerk’s supposed to be usable with a console and no computer screen, which will certainly solve that pesky screen size problem, and of course many hwerk illuminati think a powerful Macintosh desktop with the super-giant screen and dedicated MIDI/audio card(s) is the right stuff and smirk at small screens and pitifully-tiny Windows laptops. ... Too bad Apple stopped making that stuff years ago — at least, the plug-in card PCs....

I, of course, have no giant console, but I am blessed with the Nord which at least has lots of buttons which work OK for controlling the Hauptwerk combination presets. A fundamental challenge of the virtual organs is operating the stop tabs; with the mouse it’s virtually impossible during even my performances, and even with many buttons one can usually only hope to control the combinations. “Winging” it with low-rent buttonless MIDI keyboards would probably be tedious....

But then quite belatedly I discovered to my amazement that both Hauptwerk and Miditzer can use PC keys for many of these things....

Windows System Restore Verboten + Other Dire Warnings

My HauptwerkInstallationAndUserGuide.pdf says on PDF page 24 “Please don’t use Windows System Restore after installing Hauptwerk, since it might delete or revert some of Hauptwerk’s files and not others, leaving Hauptwerk in an unusable condition, while also preventing Hauptwerk’s installer from being able to run to repair the installation. ... Which is bad.[10] ... And I will add that Hauptwerk’s copy-restriction dongle, when I eventually got one, did not fill me with delight....

And while I’m dissing the thing, its occasional electronic convulsions don’t send me off into furious rants, which I’m saving up for some appropriate future occasion. ... For now, if I adjust who knows what to be greeted with a fusillade of crackling noises I just figure I did something wrong, exit and re-enter the program, and try to be careful....

I did subdue persistent crackling — on the Paramount 310 pedal notes — by lowering the “audio” on the “Audio, MIDI and Performance” window; when I made it -13 (instead of the supplied -10) crackling subsided (but see further esoteric delvings). ... Then I had big-time noises when I recklessly canceled the “St. Anne’s” organ loading — it let me do it! — and loaded the Paramount 310 instead. On that memorable occasion I was crawling around the floor again, trying to find an awful right-channel metallic whining noise before I realized Hauptwerk Was Angry. ... And I exited and re-entered the program, and all was serene and beautiful again after a few minutes....

The occasional absolute silence is perhaps more alarming; maybe not the virtual organs’ fault particularly but the Wonders of Windows and never ever happens on a Macintosh — at least not on my Mac since I didn’t install Hauptwerk there, which does avoid problems. ... Most of my sonic imbroglios went away with exits and re-entries, reboots and power cycles; except when they didn’t. ... And after a few months relatively incident-free, I don’t feel so threatened....

The Flakiness of Hauptwerk and Miditzer

If you get upset at these minor electronic trifles, perhaps after paying for the software, perhaps while playing before hundreds of people — which seems unlikely to happen to me — try the free version for a few weeks ... or years. ... Although I don’t know how you’d test it. ... I mean really, the beloved Miditzer certainly has its crochets, but after two years neither has done anything pathological, at least not persistently.

The Amateur Organist’s Dream

... But I still dream of a modern home organ with a single on/off switch that just works. ... Sadly neither Miditzer nor Hauptwerk come anywhere near that ideal, to which the VTPOers seem actively opposed, but the music is so beautiful and I am more-or-less content. ... The worst part by far was still the ordeal of installation; but the day-to-day operation has never really seemed to entirely settle down....

Example A: Hauptwerk Restore Effed

One dark day, I screwed-up a registration, and then I thought I was restoring a previous registration but instead restored the original set-up or Heaven knows what. ... I’m not claiming I did it right; I’m claiming that after playing this thing for a million years, it still requires absolute very careful attention to avoid blowing up Pittsburgh. I’m typing this entire entry while it very slowly restores some hideous Paramount 320 from who-knows-where....

... Should’ve loaded old combos, you sniveling ignoramus ...

So what I was supposed to do was “load” an old registration setup. What I did was restore an entire setup from a year or two ago, and now nothing works. The software does warn you emphatically to save your current settings before restoring — because whoever wrote this program message knows it’s almost impossible to understand what it’s doing and why — because lusers are so dumb you know?!?!? ... If it’d been written by a human being, (1.) it wouldn’t let you “restore” if you didn’t save first, and (2.) it would start-off with the message “To restore combinations our idiotic latching ‘set’ feature has trashed, use the ‘Load’ button in the ‘Registration’ screen, you sniveling ignoramus”....

I guess I’m supposed to festoon the console with post-it notes saying DON’T RESTORE WITHOUT SAVING YOU DOLT and USE COMBO LOAD INSTEAD and perhaps I’ll get around to that someday. Or perhaps I’ll just spend more time with my beloved Mitz 260SP. ... What I will probably never do is upgrade the Hauptwerk software to the latest version; my fear is too deep.

... But in the day, it only took around half an hour to restore my meager settings. ... Well, the first draft; subsequently nothing worked, of course. ... And the fact that I am so unused to this procedure is presumably because I share the non-human origins of the software’s creator and have been able to mostly outwit it so far. ... But I’m still never upgrading Hauptwerk. ... If for no other reason than after today’s Hauptwerkian hissy-fit, the intricate mechanisms I’ve so carefully hacked to make the thing not as extravagantly-stupid as out-of-the-box — all, of course, immediately failed, and are demanding careful reconstruction — I shudder to think what chaos a different hauptwerk version would wreak. The thing is like the angry crazy dwarves in Scott’s The Talisman. ... So I guess I still haven’t attained virtual organ serenity, at least with the cranky frightening Hauptwerk....

Configuration: the Admirable Hauptwerk Auto-Learn

Anyway, after discovering your computer screen is too small for Hauptwerk, you can configure. As opposed to the childlike Miditzer, the admirable Hauptwerk “learns” your MIDI gadgets: you can right-click on, say, the Hauptwerk Paramount 310’s upper Solo keyboard (i.e. in the “console” view), and if it’s in a good mood, Hauptwerk offers to “Auto-detect MIDI/Trigger settings for keyboard: SOLO ...” and then I got to follow a simple procedure on the screen where I’d press the lowest and highest key on the Nord swell, and then press a key softly, and then loudly, and it’s done. ... Comparable auto-learning features are available for Hauptwerk swell pedals, stop tabs, combo buttons, and probably most everything....

The Paramount 310 has three manuals, which seemed a little hard on my 2-manual Nord, but not really: theater organs are “unit” deals anyway and I just assigned two hwerk manuals to one of the Nord’s — until the advent of my dubious third keyboard.[23]

Playing

Then, you play. I played, so appropriately I think, Stormy Weather. ... Not in a Bill Irwin arrangement! ... Actually, it was somebody’s “Lowry Organ Masterpieces” or something, intentionally without Hammond registrations in spiteful antique anti-marketing, which is what inspired me to abandon my Nord B3 and play it on the Miditzer in the first place, since I have an atavistic desire to do what the organ book says, even ’though I mostly use the registration I want anyway....

But for me, at least, I have to play actual music to tell how it’s going. Just poking at the thing is always confusing, theater or classical; I can’t tell if it sounds good or what. ... So I played Stormy Weather on both the Miditzer and the Hauptwerk Paramount 310, and they both sound wonderful!

Paramount 310 Blower Noise

And here’s a tip ’n’ trick which wasn’t in the HauptwerkInstallationAndUserGuide.pdf — which, of course is the Hauptwerk manual, not the 310 manual; which I don’t think exists....

Anyway, the Paramount 310 comes with a lovely blower effect, so you can hear the virtual air wheezing through the mechanism as you play, but after a while I decided there was enough noise in my living room and clicked it off with the “Blower” button, at the “tabs” screen lower right-hand corner. But that doesn’t “stick”; it turned on the next time I loaded the Paramount 310.

To make it stay turned-off, you right-click on the blower button, select “Adjust MIDI/trigger settings manually...”, and then at the top on the right of the form that shows-up, there’s a check box “Switch defaults to ’on’ state”. Uncheck that, and click OK, and the next time you start the Paramount 310 your virtual blowers will blow no more forever, at least by themselves until you click them on again with the “Blower” button.

... I first used the top menu “Organ | Load organ, adjusting rank audio/memory options/routing” and disabled the three blower “ranks”. ... When that didn’t work — the blower noise got quieter, but not silent — I begged at the Hauptwerk forum, was promptly answered, and here we are! ... My inferior strategy was defective, aside from being more difficult, because I forgot to suppress the “TremBox” ranks also. ... I am so contrite....

... And then in the wandering months I couldn’t find a blower button on the St. Anne’s free demo organ, so I went the “adjusting rank” route which like many things hauptwerkian takes a half hour (apx) to “reload” the organ, but that seemed to do the trick. But as well as “Blower” whatever, I disabled “tremulant mechanism” or something, and a few others; “stop” noises, whatever....

The Menacing Alt Config

This Hauptwerk feature always gave me the creeps, and I recently realized that’s maybe because it appears to be mentioned only twice in their otherwise voluble documentation; the most prolix was the section “Understanding the configurations” and it did not succeed in that with me. However I must admit that once I tried one of them — in a typical hare-brained scheme to use my third keyboard as a Paramount accompaniment to the Nord’s Hammond emulation, for bells at least — it seems to work great! ... I could still play my other Hauptwerk organs including my “regular” Paramount, even ’though the alternate’s got all the keyboards rearranged....

* * *

Book: All About Hauptwerk

By Kenneth A. Spencer, who is a proud cog in the Hauptwerk industry. His <$30 (@ amazon) book started with filler about the wonders of reed instruments, pipe organs, Hammonds, & etc., but there appears to be a good deal of actual information on obtaining and setting-up Hauptwerk (with Windows) and the requisite MIDI debris and, really, it’d be churlish to complain about a $30 book if you’re at all serious about getting involved in the menacing world of Hauptwerk & virtual organs — it’ll be but a tiny bit in the general scheme of things, even if you stick with the free version.

But then again, if you’re going on the freeway you could start by reading the free Hauptwerk PDF manual. ... And it should be noted that software is often documented in PDF files not just because it’s annoying — although surely that’s a factor — but because the software, being so EZ to change and all, will be changed. Frequently. And then the printed book’ll be out-of-date, but of course the PDF’ll be updated in a little while, or within a few years or decades, surely. ... Mr. Spencer’s book is about Hauptwerk 4.2 which is I believe the current version @ 11/15. But, for instance, he attempts to show us how to use a Windows PC for hwerk, and refers to the “Start” button, which as all us attentive hacks know was expurgated from the repulsive Windows 8.

A little later he seems to advise us (on page 77) to “use an administrator account ... for running Hauptwerk” which I never do and which seems like a really bad idea; perhaps he meant “installing”, although even that advice is obscure. And then he goes on again about clicking on “Start”. ... I’ve done my best to avoid knowing more than I must about the intricacies of Hauptwerk so when I thought he was goofing again, it was just my ignorance, and against my better judgment I learned something — about “Load organ, adjusting rank” although the information still seems useless. ... Most users can at least hope that the several pages later on, all about MIDI devices, messages, etc., are also useless since, as he eventually concedes, Hauptwerk’s got the beautiful auto-learn which is supposed to make knowing all that stuff obsolete. And even then, some of his prescriptions do not comport with my encylopedaic wisdom. But then, I got the old version....

So the book is a geeky kind of pleasure, with lots of factoids/opinions about the product and how to use it — covering classical pipe organ sample sets as well as theater organs. And after all, it is the only printed book on Hauptwerk ... However, he doesn’t seem to offer my primo bit of hauptwerkian lore — start with the Mitz, because it installs in under a half-hour, including download....

The Philosophy of Bigger Sample Sets & Computers

One of the annoying aspects of Spencer’s book is Chapter Seven (p 103) where he explains how to custom-build / specify a hot PC to accommodate Hauptwerk; his recipes of components and qualifications go on for pages. This is a common style at the VTPO forum, amongst the virtual organists. ... I, on the other hand, ran and run the Hauptwerk Paramount 320 on ~$600 laptops, not particularly hot PCs. The current one has 8Gb of RAM; the previous, 6. The CPUs are equivalently humdrum, and all the I/O is done via USB (and USB hubs) and USB MIDI. And despite my pitiful hardware, polyphony isn’t constantly dropping-out, latency rearing-up....

I call it the Mighty Organ syndrome. People think they want a 50-rank organ in their living room but that’s just stupid. It’s a hobbyist/enthusiast symptom; they want to collect ’em all. It’s just like the high-fidelity lunatics: you can’t have a 100-piece orchestra in your living room, it will never sound like that. It might sound like something extremely loud, but it won’t be like being there. The sample-set lunacy is just newer, rawer, and sillier. It’s a tasteless quest for bigger/louder.

And unnecessarily expen$ive, which does seem to be a recurrent theme in the modern man-cave hobby market segment. ... I mean, there is rubythevtpo.com, which is wondrous and expensive and I would never wish to dim its brilliance, but surely telling people in a beginner’s how-to that this kind of thing is normal — well, someone might believe it!

Grand Summing-Up

All about Hauptwerk is an enthusiast’s book about a gadget he loves. And it has an index! The only thing comparable I can think of is my beautiful intelligent all-but-omniscient web site, what you are viewing now, which doesn’t (have an index; but you can of course search). ... As I was skimming through Spencer’s book and thinking dark thoughts about his relentless plans and grandiose specifications — he assumes you got the insane millionaire version, of course — as I was skimming, I say, I was overcome by a weird desire to go out to the shed and resurrect my 32-note AGO MIDI pedal board and perhaps elaborate it with a Behringer FCB1010 he mentions, for a complete collection of toe-pedal toys and MIDI volume controls. ... So I took some ibuprofens and went into a dark quiet room — and I think the danger is past. But the book might affect you in similar troubling ways....

* * *

Endless Quibbling: Miditzer 216 versus Hauptwerk Paramount 310

Miditzer’s latency makes it harder to play. But because my heart is pure and I kept playing or who knows, I finally discovered that when I launch into Stand By Your Man or the Wiffenpoof Song sometimes I just forget; the latency disappears somewhere — I play as badly as ever, but latency somehow isn’t a problem. ... And I can deal with Miditzer’s computery programming challenges better than the average techno-peasant, so Hauptwerk’s “learning” mode isn’t so enticing. ... And I don’t like programs or machines running all day and night, and Miditzer is more suited to stopping and starting, which it does much faster; including the little convenience of remembering the stops I had on yesterday. ... And my classical organ yearnings are filled more than adequately by my foresighted purchase of the Nord C2 with its achingly beautiful sampled baroque emulation. ... Finally, I like the way Miditzer sounds. ... So if I could only have one — it’d be Miditzer.

But I can have both! And they were both free! ... But I can feel my character building as I somehow ignore Miditzer’s obviously inferior latency.

Sounds

Youtube is replete with Hauptwerk Paramount and Miditzer videos. The Paramount offerings sound a little classier, but probably because the Miditzer perpetrators tend to have lower-rent audio equipment, particularly since the POW promotes professional demos. My experience is the two are comparable, with the edge to Miditzer, but of course that’s me, playing badly. ... One impressive Youtube video is “J S Bach BWV 655 Miditzer 216 midi Virtual Organ”; it’s really lovely and classical! ... Or then “Misha Stefanuk performs Somewhere Over the Rainbow on the Paramount 320 Theater Organ” is very nice too; and he has a real video camera and everything. ... “Over The Rainbow Played On The Miditzer 216” is the low-rent competition: no reverb, no video — but a very plausible-sounding theater organ, and actually a few commenters complain about how good it sounds, presumably because they couldn’t make their Miditzers sound like that.

Note that the free instruments are the “Miditzer 216” and Hauptwerk “Paramount 310”; but Misha there for instance plays the extra-cost Paramount 320, and numerous Youtube Miditzerim use the (virtual 3-manual) “260SP”....

One dark & stormy night I was agonizing over my reverb, disappointed with how honky the Hauptwerk Paramount 310 seemed. But that was in the evening, when I was weak and witless. In the bright morning I turned the reverb to my usual super-wet setting and played It’s Almost Like Being in Love with a fullish 310 organ, and it was wonderful! Big loud brassy, I could almost see the art deco auditorium! ... I finished off with a quiet Autumn Leaves on the 310’s breathy tibia + a concert flute accompaniment, and it almost brought tears to my ears....

In the great Manichean struggle of Hauptwerk vs. Miditzer I have changed sides at least twice, which is pretty good for a novice virtual organist. My amateur standing is untarnished I believe. ... But nevertheless, at the end of a year or two I still prefer the Miditzer, now the 260, as compared to the Paramount 320. The Mitz is just nicer — which is presumably what Miles and Henry were trying to do, as opposed to the authenticity, numerous ranks, and/or warts (!) which are the professed goal of the Paramount Organ Works. I find it easier to play “theater organ-sounding” stuff on the Miditzer. ... My playing is no better than dubious, and my sound system also, at least compared to the exalted VTPO standard, so perhaps I would wholeheartedly recommend Miditzer to those with limited keyboard skills and cheap sound systems, if it weren’t for the Mitz’s more difficult configuration and of course that devilish latency.

... I think it’s mostly that “mighty organ” thing: typical organ fanatics, at least the (appropriately) noisier ones, seem obsessed by the giant hall-filling flavor of the instrument. The admirable Jack Moelmann’s Radio City extravaganza apparently included a much-beloved, by him at any rate, attempt to play with every stop tab on. In contrast, I am a humble quiet fellow more inclined to the subtleties of a tibia or two. And my audio system reflects these simple inadequacies and is ridiculously under-powered compared to the VTPO ideal (as is practically anyone’s)....

The Insane Millionaire version of Hauptwerk/Paramount includes elaborate mechanisms for sending notes to different speakers, a continuation of an ancient electronic organ dichotomy between speaker trickery versus better sound. VTPOers themselves deride such gimmicks of the past, including Leslie-style rotating speakers, at least for theater organs, and there’s even a depised phoney “pipe rack” speaker gadget. ... But their ever-more multiple channel sound is still “in”, and after all, the holy stereo itself is that kind of gimmick; why don’t we just rely on super hifi monophonic sound? — and indeed there is a hi-fi lunatic fringe out there amongst the “high-end” — which sobriquet is I suspect a drug reference — who are devoted to that ideal....

So then, if you really want 36 speakers and four subwoofers, Hauptwerk’s probably your virtual organ! ... Bon appétit. ... But see The Final Battle for even more of my exciting, dubious, & ultimate conclusions. ... Which were unmistakably foreshadowed by ...

Sample Defects & the Perfectly-Normal Warts

In April 2014, a principal (!) of the esteemed Paramount Organ Works wrote on the VTPO forum

... All of the [Paramount Organ Works] VTPO iterations are intended to be replicas of Pipe Organs and as we all know, pipe organs are seldom particularly even, not even with the best regulation in the world (which many don’t receive).

When attempting realism, organs are recorded “warts and all” which will include unevenness between pipes and ranks, pipes that don’t quite “speak” properly, chiffs, etc. etc.

We have removed gross errors from our sample sets where possible, but smaller unevenness in some cases has been deliberately left alone. If everything was perfect, the organ would sound far from real and rather sterile.

If you want to correct uneven audio levels in pipes, you would need to use the voicing capability in Hauptwerk Advanced edition. Details are to be found in the relevant sections of the Hauptwerk User Guide which itself can be found by clicking on the “Help” tab within Hauptwerk.

... which sounds plausible — but debatable. ... I imagine, for instance, the theater organ purchaser in 1925 debating with the Wurlitzer sales organization, when they explained such defects in a new organ that way. And I believe other VTPO postings have indicated the POW organs aren’t replicas of individual instruments, but include samples from different organs, which makes the “warts & all” theory even more obscure — is it supposed to be an authentic “frankenstein” organ? ... Perhaps they select the most illustrious warts from the group?

Phony Warts

No; the reality is that all sampled instruments, from trumpets to ridiculously expensive piano VSTis to our beloved virtual organs, will execute on a spectrum between ugly and good, like the rest of our sad mortal world. Describing an ugly electronically-simulated musical instrument as “replicating the original” is not an explanation but an excuse. ... Not that I’m suggesting in the least the Hauptwerk Paramounts are ugly or need excuses; indeed, that is the dubious enthusiast’s suggestion! ... But undoubtedly certain aspects of Paramount’s and other simulations — notably the tremolo — are obvious compromises, some perhaps inevitable, some doubtless avoidable with more work aka money. ... Life is like that — but don’t tell me it’s good because it has warts[21].

Warts and Compression

And then I finally noticed the Paramount 320 piano is compressed! It’s been tampered-with! ... Despite a no-doubt warty decrepit original, this one has punchy attack and extra-long sustain! ... How can this be? How does that preserve the sacred warts!?!?!?

Miditzer Toys!

The Miditzer “toy counter” — oogah, bird tweet, phone ringing, my beloved gong, etc. — at least the 260SP flavor, is definitely superior to the Hauptwerk Paramount320’s. ... Or louder, anyway, particularly after I made them so, facilitated by dangerous software. ... Shockingly, I’d have to pay Hauptwerk $100s to even try that! ... Although I’ve found leaving the Paramount 320’s swell and great shutters closed — i.e., softest, which is the default whenever the program starts — and setting the audio to zero decibels (louder), makes the gong at least almost audible and also, as a bonus, turns-down the treble! (probably).

The Faithless Organist and his Electronic Instruments

As I played my Paramount 320 recently, sprucing-up my wretched registrations, figuring-out intricate software mechanisms to save the combo setups somewhere I can actually find them again — it was good. ... So I guess I’m an atheistic virtual organist, and will believe in nothing but beauty. ... But I’ll continue to sneak off to the Miditzer in the sultry night. ... Or, for that matter, turn my attentions to my beloved chord organ, newly reverberated, to the accompaniment of which I occasionally warble I’ve Got a Pocketful of Dreams and other harmless ditties. ... Or the Yamaha piano in the corner, where my fumbling renditions of Where the Blue of the Night or Moonlight Becomes You sometimes stir me to quietness. ... So it is a hard life....

And I suppose this is the spot to admit that even after buying the Paramount 320, it hardly sounds so much better than the free 310 — with, after all, my generally softer tibia-esque tendencies and pitiful un-splendiferous audio equipment. ... And the warts....

The Uneven Warts of the Paramount

... And I discovered the ridiculous warts claims of the Paramount partisan — are true! ... For instance, there’s a “clunker” at the F above middle C on the Paramount 320 “glock”: an obvious “tap” that shouldn’t be there. ... I’ve been playing this thing on and off since 1/13, and not until 8/14 did I notice! ... Or perhaps it’s more like, maybe some of the ranks were a little cranky, but I assumed that was just accidental. ... Now I can believe it’s intentionally slipshod even as the partisan claims — that in actuality it would’ve cost too much to fix these “authentic” things! ... Maybe it’s OK with the target market of decrepit real theater organists — what they’re used to! — but as a decrepit elderly incompetent organist who only gets to play chintzy electronic imitations, I’m not! ... Neither the beloved Miditzer nor my costly Nord’s baroque actual real sample-set are “authentic” in this way. ... Well, except Miditzer shares the Paramount’s inauthentic tremolo — and also the Mitz has far more authentic latency!

I hasten to add the overall Paramount effect is still lovely; my $350 Hauptwerk/Paramount 320 virtual theater organ — or the free 310 — is not obviously broken because, just as the fellow averred, there are no “gross errors” — presumably stuff so obvious it’d make the instrument unsaleable, at least at the Hauptwerk/Paramount extortionate prices. ... The enthusiast’s excuse about how fixing these things would make “the organ ... sound far from real and rather sterile” is just intentionally-deceptive babble; my Nord baroque samples don’t sound sterile, despite their no-doubt shameful lack of obvious defects. Heck, the Hauptwerk “St. Anne’s” classical organ is also pitifully bereft of warts....

... But such preposterous pretensions might explain the strangely-intense VTPO hostility to my beloved Mitz, so inadequately without obvious faults to call its own. ... See my Final Battle for still further endless ditherings....

* * *

Sampling versus Miditzer: the Bitter Question

Amongst the virtual organs of my acquaintance Miditzer is alone, in that its sounds were created by a person, the admirable Bruce Miles who explained in a Wed Sep 5, 2012 VTPO forum posting:

I originally created the soundset ... used by Miditzer about 13 years ago using an antique German application Klangsynth. I didn’t have access to sample a real theatre organ and the sounds are entirely synthetic with only my ears to transfer the theatre organ sounds from recordings into Klangsynth and thence construct the samples. I think I cheated slightly with one or two of the percussion sounds and based them on real samples. Still, there’s not much you can’t create with Klangsynth in spite of its creakiness although tremulants are easier to add in the console software.

In contrast, Hauptwerk and GrandOrgue and my Nord built-in baroque organ for that matter, and doubtless other virtual organs unnamed or unknown, are sampled from real life: a fellow takes a microphone, points it at some pipes, and plays notes, recording the result, usually in a computer. And generally taking forever and a day to do so, hence the exorbitant $ toll for the parade of Hauptwerk Paramounts. And a perpetrator of those very samplings posted something in the VTPO forum about how they still make only pennies an hour doing it — which presumably is why there are so many warts. ... But I doubt the construction of Miles’ sounds was a walk in the park....

The Tibia

Anyway, in defiance of all VTPO decency and reason I persist in opining that the Miditzer 216 and the Hauptwerk Paramount 310 sound comparable! ... For one thing, it does not follow as the night the day that sampled organs are better than Miditzer; it depends on the sample, and what Miles did in 1999 — and how many warts are sampled....

The theater organ for me starts with the tibia, a lovely hollowish-sounding flute, usually tremoloed to what normal people might consider excess. ... The Paramount 310’s is nice, but there’s an obvious grittiness, and listened-to closely I can hear distortion throbbing with the tremolo. The Miditzer tibia has no such artifact, presumably because Miles didn’t add such an effect. Sometimes the 310’s tibia sounds annoyingly gritty; sometimes it’s a lovely breathiness. And sometimes the Miditzer’s is sweet and throbbingly pure; sometimes dull. ... Actually I realized recently they’re probably different flavors; I noticed a Wright piece with a more “mitzish” tibia, flute-ier, hollower compared to the kind Paramount sampled, and which are also more common on the Wright CDs. ... But I’ll settle for Miles’ taste — and obvious neglect of authentic warts.

Design, Defects, & Tremolo

I used to stridently defy Heaven’s order and aver that sampled organs have to be designed just as Miditzer was — that sampling doesn’t somehow make them happen magically. ... But then I was beaten by obvious agreement as I trolled the forums + the HauptwerkInstallationAndUserGuide, where the acres of tweakery and adjustment make it perfectly clear that not only are the organs designed for better or worse, but the users, if they’re insane millionaire Hauptwerk users at any rate, get to discipline every note if they want. ... And judging by the VTPO forum, they do; every note, all the filters and audio channels, and everything they can get their virtual hands-on. ... Even I adjust the Mitz ranks’ relative volumes, but I didn’t even have to pay extra. ... And indeed, I finally learned that the POW agrees that their organs must be adjusted if you want to “correct uneven audio levels in pipes”....

Sour Tutti?

So apparently, aspiring virtual organists are sometimes dissatisfied with the out-of-box experience, as am I: my Paramount full organs sound sour unless I turn-off a tremulant or two. ... I want my virtual organ to sound like George Wright’s Chicago Volume One CD, all loud and juicy and reverberant and not obscurely out-of-tune. And the forte and fortissimo combos supplied with the Paramount 310 come with the “solo” tremulant off. ... No doubt some actual theater organs require such measures, at least after decades of decay, but they probably weren’t designed that way — it’d’ve been an obvious competitive disadvantage....

Reverberation & Loudness

The movie palaces of yore were designed — as are today’s movie warrens — to be dry; non-reverberant. ... But as far as I know, that would be movie palaces as retrofitted or created for the talkies — the nemesis of the theater organ. ... Vaudeville, the predecessor to movies, might’ve also leaned to dry sound, from the same intelligibility motivations, but it’s likely the intervening silent movie decade or so favored a wet acoustic, to make the theater organ louder and, hence, cheaper....

Whatever, I and many George Wright CDs reverberate, probably for the same reason: to help the illusion of loudness. ... I don’t really want fifty or even 5 ranks in my living room; it would be too loud. But I want it to sound loud, and reverb helps that: a psychological trick that can make what I’m hearing sound further away, because of the large space implied by the reverberation. ... And completely unreliable subjective tests prove it: I’d all but abandoned full organ registrations because they’re just too loud in my human-sized living room, but then one bright morning I tried an even wetter reverb setting and it worked better! I played the full organ softer, but the lengthier wetter reverb seems to make it sound majestic and loud, albeit off in the distance....

And anyway, I think reverberation in itself is beautiful.

Hall Sound

And just to nail the coffin on my pretended virtual theater organ expertise, I think both Miditzer and Paramount can benefit from turning down the treble, without which they are apt to be shrill, particularly the fortissimo. Although turning-up the reverb tends to help with that. ... I suppose it could be my working-class speakers, but even with headphones Mitz and Hwerk sound like pipes up close. ... But ideally I would listen from around row 20; as do many theater organ CDs. ... Hence, reverberation and/or some treble diminution. ... And wouldn’t a close-up sound only be in a residence or other small installation? ... Part of the historical point of theater organs was the console could be anywhere, so I would guess that many organists got a hall sound, anyway, along with that pesky latency....

And then again, it occurs to me that maybe my analog volume control could be the snake in the pipes, since the MIDI controls usually used with the virtual organs low-pass softer volumes and maybe I’m just compensating for running them “full-open” like I do. ... But even the fully-open swell at the 20th row wouldn’t sound like that, at least in a historic silent movie palace....

Tremulants: Virtual vs. Real

The tremolo effect is key to the characteristic theater organ sound and there are two virtual ways to do it:

  1. With two sample sets for each stop, i.e. one “straight”, the other tremoloed. Such an approach doesn’t provide synchronization: the multiple notes in a chord will not tremolo together. ... But actual pipes do, and you can hear it easily on George Wright and other CDs. ... It isn’t subtle; it is the obvious sound of a single mechanical device varying the air supply for multiple pipes together, producing a lovely “chuggy” synchronized tremolo in chords. (There are other murky corners in sampled tremolo.)

  2. Alternately, computeristic trickery can “manufacture” the tremolo in real-time (providing synchronization and avoiding other problems). But such a practice is not faithful to the holy sampling faith, and without added financial grease aka R&D it might sound mechanical compared to #1 (i.e., sampled tremolo, like the “authentic” warts, is actually cheaper).

Wrong!

What’s funny about this is that, despite forum moaning about the too-crude Miditzer versus the elevated Hauptwerk Paramount sampling, both do theater organ tremolo wrong! ... I never noticed until I happened upon the topic in a 2004 (!) post. ... And now that I’m paying attention, I suspect the randomizing of what was originally synchronized could be one factor in sour Paramount tuttis. ... But I must emphasize that the difference is hardly striking unless listened-for, and even then, on balance the individual note sampled tremolo mostly sounds as good as the synchronized flavor. Or better! ... But still, definitely not authentic — no matter how many other warts it’s accompanied-by.

Allen Robotic George Wright Tremolo

I have puzzled and wondered for many moons how Allen Organ deals with troubled tremolo — but it seems I had the answer all along! ... I just listened to Little Boy Blue on the Allen CD Let George Do It...Again!, and it sounds to my sensitive ears as if they’re doing the right thing. With Allen’s money/brains they can implement strategy #2, with whatever verisimilitude / ornate elaborations it requires — for instance, the organ probably would have multiple tremolos, for different divisions/manuals. Hauptwerk + our poor warts-challenged Paramount Organ Works just doesn’t have the resources for that kind of moon shot....

The Allen recording is of a zombie George Wright playing the Allen model GW4 theater organ from beyond the grave, through the magic of computer gimmickry. But the tremolo sounds chuggy. ... Although I wouldn’t buy the organ without checking further....

Miles’ Miditzer Tremolo

... And this just in: while groveling in Miditzer’s antediluvian soundfont, I discovered the tremolo was far more rococo than I had imagined in my ignorant bliss. At least with the tibia, Miles didn’t make different samples with and without tremolo, but implements the effect with different soundfont “instruments” (using the same samples) where the “Mod LFO” parameters are specified differently, or something. ... Seeming to produce a volume + pitch effect, which is what I hear in real theater organ tremolo anyway. ... But even ’though it’s machine made, it still isn’t “chuggy”, like the real thing.

* * *

The Final Battle & uneven warts: Paramount vs Miditizer

The reckless Paramount enthusiast’s warts argument o’er-stepped his mark with me at least, as I realized a persistent annoyance of the Paramount 310 & 320 was indeed shoddiness in the ranks. ... It’s why the Mitz feels easier to play, particularly with my (sometimes) preferred lower stop counts — because the notes are even and predictable; and the Paramounts’ not. ... My ignorance is vast, but I think it a certainty that Allen’s $50K-&-up virtual theater organs are tragically bereft of such rambling ranks (as is my Nord sampled baroque organ; and the Hauptwerk freebie St. Anne)....

The warts are “correct” inasmuch as many of the organs even the super-human Mr. Wright played probably had equally shoddy assortments of poorly-voiced pipes, at least after decades of neglect. And a common solution would be larger registrations — it averages-out the faults — and such is the obvious tendency of most of the theater organ enthusiasts anyway. Although examination of the Wright oeuvre will reveal, I think, that he played more single stops with his later “salon” instrument and maybe some other machines with better maintenance.

Before the warts revelation, I had already felt that Paramount+big registration==good versus Miditzer+soft==good, but now I understand why. Although the implied corollary, Miditzer+big=bad, isn’t so true, although the Paramount big registrations are better than the soft stuff — when I remember to turn-off the right tremolos. ... And thus you also get to the giant audio systems so beloved of the organistas, so much better for big registrations, ergo for Hauptwerk/Paramount.

Imaginary Slogans

So, with Paramount you get the ranks of a real theater organ! while Miditzer provides the regulation of a good theater organ! ... And you can get both, probably, via spending vast sums with Allen or someone. ... At least until Nord makes one of these things. ... But now that I got up-to-date on the warts situation, I’ve started registering everything on the Paramount 320 with at least two stops: the breathy tibia will always be accompanied by a flute and/or diapason, and the result feels more playable. ... So maybe my Paramount problems were just a foolish affection for the lonely tibia? Which, however, I will certainly not renounce?

... Presumably at least some of the insider know-it-all VTPOers are well-aware of Paramount’s shoddy sampling and quality variations, but don’t care to share because it would be negative — which of course just inspires me — but would also violate some victory-at-any-cost supposedly pro-theater-organ party line. ... So I’ll take the low road, with my astonishingly-childlike sans-obvious-defects not-even-sampled-like-an-adult Miditzer, and for that matter all the second-rate music and instruments I naturally gravitate towards....

Verisimilitude?

But the real question is: how come all this stuff doesn’t sound as good as a George Wright CD on the hifi? ... I mean, I know why mine doesn’t (can’t play) but the VTPO organists are always delving delving to make their Hauptwerk/Paramounts sound “better”....

& Quo Vadis?

So then, what are we here for? ... Well, I just want to have fun with my home electronic organ. The ever-striving VTPO denizens and console tinkerers are devoted to sacred endless tweakery! ... The two pursuits are related, and overlap occasionally....

* * *

The 3-Manual Miditzer 260SP

When I finally found my way through the Miditzer wandering web site to obtain the advanced (and crashy) Miditzer 3-manual 260SP model and donate a relatively meager $100 (at least compared to the hwerk fare) — I can report that it is a little better than the already lovely model 216: while my charming pp tibias seem the same, the loud FF stuff is a little more FF! ... And actually the download might be here this week.

... As with the Hauptwerk Paramount 310, I just assigned the solo and great manuals to the Nord’s swell, and it didn’t seem to hurt anything in the unified theater organ.[23] ... Many of my Miditzer judgments in these web pages are based on playing the 260SP; overlap between it and the 216 is extensive, but there are additional virtual ranks. I address the ridiculous peculiarly-Miditzer technical challenges of both virtual organs inadequately elsewhere. ... But ...

The 260SP Crashes

One of the ridiculous technical challenges I will inadequately address here is the Miditzer 260SP’s licensing scheme, which seemed more than a little huffy with UAC, but once I managed to get it licensed it worked OK — at least on the Windows 7 laptop I usually play. On a Win7 test desktop where I installed it first, it continued to hard crash regularly, which I really haven’t seen in a while — buzzing graphics and all, requiring reboot! ... This is the 260SP only; the free 216 installs without sturm und drang, which you must pay extra for....

A Fix?

I am guessing what happened was something like this:

  1. As is usual with my careful random practices, I installed the 260SP on my test machine first.

  2. It was highly cranky, presumably the licensing scheme. Somewhere in the chaos, Windows 7 probably offered to run the 260SP program with administrative privileges, and I foolishly agreed. ... Don’t do that. ... Further random research indicates Win7 will foolishly suggest administrative privileges for any new copy of the 260SP exe file; like the man said, don’t. ... Maybe Windows does that after registering the 260SP in the obligatory elevated state?

  3. I really wanted to support the admirable Miditzer establishment anyway, and so I paid the freight and got my magic number, and managed to register the thing.

  4. Then I jejunely installed on the main Nord Imperium downstairs, licensing it without delay, but never agreeing to the satanic administrative deal as far as I remember.

  5. The result, as I now recollect in tranquility, was the test system 260SP crashed fairly regularly, but the downstairs one never did. Uninstalling/reinstalling the test system 260SP didn’t stop the crashing.

  6. Uninstalling, deleting the test system 260SP directory, and running the perilous Windows “regedit” utility and eradicating most traces of “Miditzer260SP” I could find in the registry — and reinstalling: that appears to have fixed it.

  7. After that, Windows again offered to run the 260SP program with administrative privileges, presumably because of its lingering registration convulsions, but this time I turned it down. It didn’t make that offer on the previous uninstall/reinstall adventures, so I assume in those episodes Windows retained the administrative poison through the process, but that the dangerous registry spelunking finally fixed that. ... Actually I suspect there’s some way to defeat the inadvisable privilege-escalation without regedit torment, probably involving right-clicking; but I will probably not live long-enough to know what it is. ... And from time to time apparently, even downstairs, the 260SP gets stressed somehow and Windows will wonder if it’d be fun to run with administrative privileges, but I won’t be fooled again....

These details are hazy; particularly, I’m assuming the satanic privilege business happened in the past because it happened after the uninstall, directory-delete, registry harrowing that I conducted, and I vaguely remember something like that but of course wouldn’t swear to it. ... Whatever; I think I fixed it, at least it hasn’t done that for months. Even while I seriously tormented the poor thing with dangerous software and risky latency testing....

I guess the moral of this story is don’t agree to run the 260SP — or probably any Windows program — with permanent administrative privileges. Official Miditzer recommends administrative privileges just to get the 260SP installed, but in a safer way, by turning-off UAC, but then turning it on again (?). ... My lack of telepathic insight failed me again in this case, so I took the hard road.

Other Angst

... Months later the 260SP hung-up, again, and I had to reboot to set it free, but it was without screen buzzing or other symptom; it just wouldn’t play anymore, and I could see it sulking in the task list. This happened because, apparently, I played/looped a MIDI file and then distracted it, cruelly stealing its program focus which one doesn’t normally do with a sensitive virtual organ. I imagine it shares the failing with the other Mitzs and maybe not with the refined Hauptwerk, and the 260sp played the MIDI file fine if I didn’t bother it....

The Solo Manual?

After all that, I got a third keyboard and discovered the fabulous Solo manual was undernourished! It had fewer stop tabs, fewer internal couplers — nada! Pale & anemic, compared to the Great and even the Accompaniment. ... Then after a year or so of obvious mental stagnation, my irrational aversions settled-down a little, and now I routinely set-up contrasting registrations on the three manuals, in amateur style....

Treats

And it has pizza....

* * *

Raining Hauptwerks: a Barton 3/7, 3/10, 3/12

This just in: VTPO conspirators have created a Hauptwerk organ at http://www.mtosnc.org/barton2.html — and it’s lovely! ... Installation wasn’t even a grinding terror, since I’d already suffered through the Horrors of Hauptwerk, and this’s just another slot. ... And it’s free free Free — well, more-or-less; I think it only works with the paid-for $250 Hauptwerk. ... In my brief but definitive I Can’t Give You Anything But Love tests, the “3/12 Voiced” was a more than worthy contender....

The 3/17 Billmire Residence Robert Morton

This page has another lovely offering for the non-free Hauptwerk enthusiast, and Melotone Sound Productions wants $99 for themselves. But you get to download it without paying, so it’s a try-before-you-buy kind of thing.

* * *

Miditzer 160C

Google for it in the Miditzer maze somewhere (or maybe here), but it’s absolutely free. ... Wurlitzer made this thing embedded in an upright piano; Mr. Henry’s imitation has an entire virtual piano with its own stop tab and touch sensitivity; + a respectable Wurlitzer-style virtual organ.

I had a photograph of a similar object on a wall for years — this picture, as it happens — under the impression it was some kind of one-off freak, but now I know it’s just another Wurlitzer. ... But 160Cs are rarer than the other theater organs; except for Mr. Henry’s electronic emulation. ... Although apparently Wurlitzer made a bunch (as per the text accompanying the picture); it was relatively cheap. ... The 160C is the deluxe version, with six ranks; apparently the majority (of around 500 “piano consoles”) had three....

The virtual 160C is even more wacko than the average, because to really make it go you’d want an 88-key MIDI keyboard and a 61-key upper manual. But that might well fit better into the wandering home organist’s hopes ’n’ dreams, since you might already have an 88-key Yamaha or Casio, and you could just add another cheapo keyboard for the upper manual. ... Of course then there’s the odd pedal board; and the usual endless technical agony. ... But at least my sustain pedal got used! ... Sadly, latency excuses won’t work here — the prototype piano/organ was obviously played near-enough the pipes for piano-level latency, or it would’ve been unendurable, but the estimable Henry’s imitation still of course shares the Miditzer’s delay — organ voices and piano, so at least it’s not harder to play than the 216....

Another obscure treasure is the Miditzer 150 (or google it?), a “5 rank instrument typical of many of the Wurlitzer theatre pipe organs installed in smaller theatres.” ... Collect ’em all!

Miditzer 216 Version 1

But at last @ 10/15, version 1 software of the glorious Miditzer 216 is somewhere on the Mitz site — or maybe not, I couldn’t find in a brief search @ 7/31/17 — in an alpha state but seemingly quite playable. Improvements include the inspiring graphic shown, and Fluidsynth (sound) updates.

* * *

Virtual $0?

Because of my saintly character I paid Hauptwerk’s $250 “basic” fare, if I still balked at the insane millionaire version and the seemingly-endless parade of enhanced Paramount flavors, although I eventually caved-in for the 320 upgrade @ $100. For comparably edifying reasons, I paid the $100 ticket for the Miditzer 260SP, which got me a more amusing — and dangerous!Miditzer!

But a universe of virtual organing is available for free. ... But only if I don’t count the 6 or $7K I spent on my glorious Nord Imperium; or the ceaseless and expensive projects the virtual organists pursue with their consoles and vast audio systems....

In short, there is no free lunch. ... I paid a pittance to the virtual organizations to keep their spirits up — but it’s a tiny fraction of the real cost you’re likely to incur with the virtual organs....

And it’s worth every penny....

Other Voices, Other Times

Goto the VTPO forum and see how silly all my ideas are, if the fellows are up to it today. The more ecumenical Organ Forum is still going, and the Miditzer and Hauptwerk forums, and the Dutch guy’s Hauptwerk site, where the forum’s in Dutch of course. ... And we’ll always have (won’t we?) the American Theatre Organ Society, whose conversion to electronic tolerance was so deeply gratifying....

A moderately amazing site is http://theatreorgans.com; I’m not entirely sure how informative it is — as with so many things, I just get confused — but it’s gaudy! But some pages play without permission. ... Somewhere in there I found a biography of Laurens Hammond thehammondorganstory.com/ which, since I’m an ignoramus, was surprising — apparently he was a jet-set intellectual type before jets. ... And the “Organ Classified Ads” were good. ... I was impressed by theatreorgans.com/walnuthill, but there may be many equally-astounding offerings. ... Most of these sites, to be sure, glitter with the dust of antiquity, the ruined temples of our time, with chirpy notices of exciting doings coming up in 2009 and pictures of theater organs played last who knows when. ... The Theatre Organ Academy forum is pretty much in the same shape, without pretty pictures; and threatre-sf forum is only a fading wraith. ... It might appear the world of virtual theater organs — well, any theater organs — has seen livelier times. ... But then somewhere on the VTPO forum there was a video of a callow youth playing his Hauptwerk ridiculously well, so who knows?

Ruby

But let us return to tomorrowland and the state of the art at the impressive rubythevtpo.com site — just one man’s virtual organ — but what an organ!

* * *

Nord MIDI versus Behringer FCV100

The next crucial issue of the age was my external analog volume control pedal versus Miditzer and Hauptwerk built-in volume via the Nord’s supplied (with the pedal keys 27) MIDI volume control — which, I must make clear, regulates the Nord’s volume flawlessly excepting physical crochets and pipe emulation eccentricities. ... No, here I willl sing of the virtual organ software where MIDI controls the volume, but not so admirably, at least with the Nord’s MIDI output. ... In its favor, the software approach does cause the PC screen graphic of the volume pedal(s) to move up and down endearingly, at least with Miditzer, although I normally have my only-mortal screen space set to Hauptwerk’s stops so I don’t even get that gratification....

Behringer gets the virtual nod

But after months of playing, abusive physical adjustment of the Nord pedal, and MIDI tinkering[20], I concluded one glad morning that my Behringer FCV100 audio volume control was just so much superior in effect, particularly in the ppp range of which I am so fond. ... A more-conscientious MIDI pedal might provide better results, although Miditzer at least seems to have some ugly discontinuities in the piano end of the range. But the Behringer analog pedal has a little knob to set the minimum audio volume to whatever I want including total silence, and the range is smooth throughout, minimum to maximum. It is really far superior. ... Although it’s occasionally sensitive to static / low-humidity conditions, making a “bip” at first contact; at least with wool socks! All of which I thought I left behind in the frozen North, but even here in beautiful Florida the air conditioning or something can drive the humidity low-enough to cause trouble. Or something....

The virtual organs also apparently emulate the wooden shutter in a real organ with low-pass filtering, although like everything else this aroused controversy back in the day at the VTPO forum; I believe Nord — my “gold” standard — does do something comparable in their imitation baroque organ swell shutter. ... But even if the Behringer volume is less authentic — which its obviously superior range virtually so-to-speak guarantees — I still plan to use it anyway, because it sounds better. ... I should note that such vicious inauthenticity is not approved by many refined spirits at the VTPO forum, who are virulently pro-MIDI volume control. ... Which is really kind of odd — I mean, authentic MIDI?

* * *

A 1965 Allen

One day I opened A Two Organ Recital (an “Allen AO-100” LP) for the first time, which has one pipe organ, one Allen electronic — brother against brother kind-of like that Civil War thing — playing classical duets, and I couldn’t tell which was memorex! The first piece was by Solar aka “baroque”, both organs emitted charmingly chiffy flute noises and I was duly charmed. ... I’ve never really paid too much attention to this stuff, despite my encyclopedic-obsessive tone, and I only vaguely recall the Allens’ problems seemed to clump in the “mighty organ” area, and the rest of the LP may well bear this out when I hear more on the next laundry day, but so far this 1965 Allen is astonishing. With just a few primitive integrated circuits. And 200 speakers, the record jacket says....

Of course I have simple tastes. A Hammond with suitable reverb and no vibrato can do fairly plausible baroqe flute stops, at least to my innocent ears....

* * *

A Pipe Organ in the Living Room?

I’ve concluded it’s a bad plan. ... Historically, the rich did install actual pipe organs in their living rooms. But those were great halls and they had armies of servants to maintain them, and once you had that giant room the idea was you wanted a sufficiently-loud instrument to fill it — before electronic amplification.

But I live in sadly middle-class normal-sized spaces. An actual pipe organ in my living room would be a health hazard. Even a “practice” organ with a single rank of pipes would probably be too loud, and not so amusing. ... So I instead want an imitation classical/theater organ, and we are blessed to live in an age when a beautifully-realistic home electronic organ is eminently feasible — but not so ridiculously loud as a real instrument. ... The enthusiasts with their console dreams also typically get carried away with the audio, but even some VTPO posts have noted that a vast array of virtual ranks — Paramount Organ Works’ model 450 fifty rank Hauptwerk for instance — requires, at the least, many speakers.

That is, even if the ranks are virtual, fifty of them should make a very loud noise. ... Or consider the reverse: if the audio is adjusted so that the full-organ Hauptwerk 450 is only loud enough to, say, annihilate your canary, then some single ranks would be inaudible! ... Not that I abhor audio trickery, compression, reverb, whatever seems like fun, which might well make a model 450 ravishing in a reasonable space. ... But sadly, even in a virtual world, there are practical limits....

* * *

Broken

I ordered two of these lovely plastic name plates from somewhere in the internet for around $30. They appear to be cunningly designed to curve-down a bit in the middle, so when you screw them on they’ll lie flat and not bow-out in an unsightly fashion. But I of course had no intention of screwing anything onto my precious Nord, so I cut-up some flexible magnet adhesive plastic, attached it to the back, and made my own Miditzer Magnet! ... But it tended to skitter around on the Nord, because of the slight plastic upcurve to the edges, and so I would bend it back most mornings, so it’d lie still.

And then one sad day when I was cruelly exercising it in this wise, it broke. ... Oh the reverberating significance of it. The bleak sorrow. Of course I had the second one as a backup, but wasn’t I doomed to just repeat the tragedy? ... But then I realized the broken nameplate, with the magnetic stuff still holding it together, worked better than the whole! — because the magnetic plastic held it together enough so there was no visible trace of the break, and now it’ll always lie flat with a nice tiny discreet joint in the middle....

There’s some kind of high moral lesson whistling around in the shrouds there somewhere....

— the once-and-future-organist & programmer
Monday 8/14/17 9:30 am