The Notes of Nord

0. APOLOGIA / EXCUSES / INTRODUCTION: This endless excursion into my beloved home electronic organ isn’t much of a “How-To”; more like a “Who Done It”. ... It’s what I would’ve liked to have found on the web when I began these adventures. It’s too technical, although probably not enough, but I of course was born knowing these things. ... Many of the normal will — and should — balk. ... As I complain elsewhere, it turned-out to be a lot like work. But it’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. ... Executive Summary: I got a Nord C2 “combo” keyboard for its astonishing sampled baroque organ. But then I melted at the beautiful schmalz of its clonewheel imitation Hammond; and then found a brave new world of computer virtual theater organs in Miditzer and Hauptwerk.

... And I ask forgiveness for my would-be omniscient judgments in these endless musings, which are of course all my own, and in addition appear to have no common ground with almost all decent thinking regarding sampling and tone generation, and organs for that matter. ... At least I know what I like: I am a home organist; I think the Nord C2 makes an excellent home organ, with the addition of a few amazing and amusing accessories — most importantly, amplification / speakers — that I will blather about endlessly. I have no professional pretensions, Heaven knows; I enjoy sitting at my somewhat eccentric lash-up playing music, badly. I believe our world would be a better one if more people did that, but I could easily be wrong. ... For instance, they probably wouldn’t really have to play badly....

VIRTUAL EXCUSES: BUTTONS, KNOBS, CONTROLS ’n’ CONSOLES

When I began my Nord C2 pilgrimage in 2011, elaborate consoles and herds of loudspeakers ruled at the VTPO forum, where the most dedicated and visible of virtual organists assembled, craving not only vast audio resources but also substantial “authentic” consoles to such an extent I felt I had to apologize for my simple tastes. ... But at least some of the photos @ pcorgan.com (down the page of course) betray similar regrettable tendencies, which may well represent the virtual silent majority, quietly enjoying theater/classical virtual pipe organs played on systems without the slightest pretense to historic authenticity or even resemblance.

FUN?

A letters-column spat in the 5/13 ATOS Journal (Vox Humana, also previous issues) saw the virtual forces defending fiercely their cause against a previous issue’s epistle demanding a pipe-only ATOS. The virtualistas’ unanimous professed goal was something just like a real theater organ, which is ridiculous if endearing, and to be sure there were concessions that such might be an ideal. A secondary line was the need for practice. And the letter writers might indeed have included an unusual concentration of actual theater organists; but the realities of this sad mortal world are even for them there are only a few theater organs and it is unacceptably costly just to turn the things on, so actual theater organ hours played will be overwhelmingly on virtual instruments or worse.

But no one stood-up for playing a home instrument that sounds like a theater organ just for fun, despite the likely prevalence of such an unwholesome practice. So I will. My simple audio ideas are, approximately, adequately louder than too loud. And if I had a vast heated / air-conditioned barn, I’d love a few 3- or four-manual consoles. Which’d still be inherently limiting, the obvious case being the theater organ versus the Orgelbuchlein — although I finally played Das Alte Jahr Vergangen Ist on the Miditzer with a reed and a tremolo tibia and it was ravishing. ... But nevertheless, the Deity gave us computers and computerized equipment like the Nord C2 just so such limitations could be minimized, and I want that luxury, and could easily ignore the sultry call of the giant console for that reason alone if sloth were not enough.

THE CONSOLE BURDEN

The console-obsessed must enjoy the musical impediments they put in their own way, with their endless intricate wiring projects and 3- or four-manual consoles of varying decrepitudes. ... A perennial thread at the VTPO forum went on and on about console tab-flipping relays (SAMs?) I’ve actually seen the full raging debate twice! ... Conventional power supplies with huge capacitors versus a battery and/or sometimes-menacing “super caps”: which best to supply the massive currents to reliably flip all the tabs to off with the cancel button and make a satisfying clonk. ... An apostate averred he would clonk no more and use indicator LEDs, but he was the minority while the others joyously pursued the hunt with glad shouts. ... I suspect these devoted afficianados wouldn’t think much of my store-bought equipment....

CHEAP

Like an innocent child, I imagined my beautiful Nord cost more than the hobbyists’ keyboards, consoles, MIDI boards, and vast wandering herds of audio equipment, but it’s really quite the opposite, reminding me of the time I encountered some good old boys helping out at the hay bailing or something only to realize with intense embarrassment that they were the local millionaires dressed in fashionable rural custumes. ... Just so do the VTPOers poor-mouth their simple preoccupations, but it’s all a sham and a delusion and they spend money like water on their beloved obsession.

... So I’m not only modérne, I’m cheap! ... And I knew decades of my wretched attic assemblage, upon which I rendered Das Alte Jahr Vergangen Ist every New Year or so; but practically nothing else. ... Après le Nord I play frequently, and would probably require aversive therapy to stop — which, in its way, is what my attic organ provided: I was reluctant to play the thing because I knew there’d be hum or silence or some annoyance I’d have to fix.

The Nord Imperium, particularly enhanced as it is with the ravishing beauty and flakiness of the virtual organs, is hardly perfectly reliable, but it does not arouse anxiety in the way of my attic instrument of the past ... usually. I can almost always turn the Nord on, and it works!without hours of audio/MIDI debugging. ... I play as badly as ever because I play badly; not because some new wacko thing has gone wrong. ... But I suppose most of the organistas play much better than I do, at least I certainly hope so, and perhaps therefore find minor daily annoyances less challenging, as indeed would’ve been the historical norm with all but the most splendiferous theater organs....

FLAKE ON

The advent of the beautiful virtual theater organs may have had as much to do with my new found musical enthusiasms as more-reliable hardware. ... But the “flake factor” showed-up at my latter-day tiny keyboard triumph which involved a tottery keyboard perched up where it didn’t belong. ... As well as Christmas bells, I got it to play the Miditzer 260sptoy counter” so I could round-out a rousing performance with a gong (along with clangorous chimes on a regular manual).

The bells & chimes I subdued eventually with my dangerous third keyboard, but the gong & drums really called for something like a real theater organ’s toe pedals and I’m sure something like that would’ve worked now and then — but it probably wouldn’t’ve been fun. ... But before taking that perilous step I realized a better way was to use tedious software magic[20] to map the toys to the top pedal notes — which I think is more fun, & most theater organists don’t use those notes anyway unless they’re Cameron Carpenter. ... And it was fun! ... And thus in my virtual home organ, software trumps hardware and works better, and is also even more inauthentic. ... And the third keyboard itself, contradicting months of long-held principles, is also at least monstrously inauthentic....

WHAT HAVE I DONE?

Now that the dust has settled, I am comfortable with my 21st century home electronic organ; I feel, for better or worse, it’s the culmination of my organ aspirations. ... When I try to imagine a more perfect organ, i.e. as opposed to my odd assortment, I am hesitant: perhaps a lovely 4-manual console in my luxurious 4th dimensional atelier might be more annoying, and less viable over the near future of unimaginable technical innovation — or easily-imaginable, like a free Barton which would conflict with the console tab engraving, presumably already conflicting with the numerous other virtual organs lurking in my computer. ... But maybe I’ll try it someday, if/when I get that 4th dimensional atelier....

I discovered my dream flea market home organ was a dubious $1500 (!) Lowrey. ... But then Sound on Sound magazine informs me (“Heritage Rock” p 190 12/14) there are special valuable “Heritage Deluxe” Lowrey models with superpowers!

FLEA MARKET SPINETS

But pitifully I sometimes still yearn for one of those adorable little horse-shoe electronic home spinet things of yore. I actually saw one in a flea market <=, but getting it home in the overhead luggage would’ve been tough.

... I suspect at least some of the hard-core virtualistas abhor my beloved home electronic organs because they’re reminded of the detested plastic phony-wood “culture” of their dumb parents, but my dumb parents were proud forerunners and already detested that stuff for which, of course, I’ve developed a perverse fondness. ... And I am severely tested, here in the spiritual homeland of discarded home organs, where Craigs list is overflowing with such, just a few minutes and a truckload or so away. ... And I gaze at the pictures, and even save the odd pin-up, to hang around my Nord Imperium — but I rent no truck....

The sounds of those things were mostly disappointing: my DK40 flute was heart-breakingly lovely, but the other voices weren’t, and I don’t know if I’d be able to stand those 70s renditions of the theater organ now that I’m been spoiled by the digital magic of Miditzer and Hauptwerk; to my shame, I sometimes even neglect my beloved chord organ....


FAKERY & BEAUTY: THE ENDLESS STORY

I’ve always been vaguely comforted by this image as it turned-up in a screensaver or as computer wallpaper at various epochs in my computer attic over the decades. ... I was stirred by the grand pretense; its fakery. In my innocence it was only an amused suspicion, but such an over-the-top device had to be deceptive: who, I would idly wonder, has four arms? ... Now that I’ve ventured my little way into the virtual organ worlds, my delight has only increased. The theater organs are wildly decorative, like peacocks; but with just the opposite of the peacock’s raucous cry — to my ears anyway — and they are indeed founded on fakery; like the theater itself, and all the beautiful things. ... And the virtual theater organ is at least twice fake! ... And makes such beautiful sounds....

The innocent passerby’s impression of a four-manual organ is power. Classical organs indeed had the excuse that additional manuals might support additional pipes, which has been approximately untrue for years but then again googling “three manual tracker” leads to wondrous worlds. ... But theater organs from the get-go had stop/rank duplicity, and the extra manuals explicitly don’t represent extra ranks, but facilitate rapid voice changes or perhaps just EZ play. ... One of the charming theater organ attributes, despite this apparent dedicated deception, is that no one is fooled; we know they’re just trying to have fun....

No one was disappointed in the raucous theater organ accompaniment to their meretricious silent movie, but to the contrary, it usually made them happy or they wouldn’t’ve paid the admission fee. ... Other things don’t necessarily work that way: those who pay the symphony orchestra fare often wish to acquire culture, i.e. to be classier. ... I know I derive considerable innocent satisfaction because my beloved sub-atomic family brought me up with classical music, so no matter how pointless the rest of my existence at least I have something to snoot about. ... But no one ever went to hear a theater organ for the posh elegance; it’s one of its enduring virtues. ... Although I suppose with the curatorialization of theater organs and their theaters, it’s probably actually happening somewhere today....

THE PHILOSOPHY OF BUTTONS AND ORGANS

“Mr. Theater Organ” Robert Hope-Jones invented the “unit” instrument long before Wurlitzer bought him out — before movie theaters! ... Actually he passed from this vale of tears in 1914, just as the Wurlitzer theater organs got going; but his Battersea Old Town Hall, UK, organ was apparently a career triumph in 1901! ... The point of his designs was to make an organ that sounded better than other organs for less money, kind-of like that evil Hammond fellow later in the 20th century. ... Hope-Jones made them cheaper by using fewer pipes and more technology, the latter mostly embodied in the console but also much higher louder wind-pressure. And his creations were despised by “real” organ builders and classical organists, then and now (although not as fiercely as electronics).

IMAGINARY PIPES

In a classical organ, every console stop usually turns-on a rank of pipes. In a Hope-Jones unified organ, every stop turns-on whatever Mr. Hope-Jones wanted it to; usually a “voice”, but almost never an individual rank of pipes exclusively controlled by the stop tab. ... My Nord electronic imitation classical organ, for instance, has a Rohrflöte 8’ and a Spitzflöte 4’, both on the swell. The real pipe organ is like that because they were different stops: two separate 61-pipe ranks. In a Hope-Jones’ unit organ, the 8’ and 4’ flutes are usually the same pipes, just arranged so the 4’ plays an octave higher, on a single rank with perhaps 73 pipes, or sometimes an octave’d get left off. ... This economy can be easily heard with the theater organ imitations Miditzer and Hauptwerk’s Paramount 310, which faithfully replicate it.

... And after all my relentless snobbery I belatedly realized my precious Nord is itself tainted: the pedal Gedackt 8’ is unified with the same-named great stop; although an SOS review disagreed, so maybe it’s really OK. ... Although the correct term is probably duplicated; or duplexed; Hope-Jones’ odious practices are referred to by the priests of organism as borrowing. ... So he almost certainly didn’t invent it, whatever it’s called, although the internet seems to do him the honor; but until his organs, I’d guess, it was regarded as a fault/cheapo short-cut; and his (and presumably others’) technical innovations in stop/key control mechanisms greatly expanded the fiendish scheme.

Note incidentally that classical organs often achieve a comparable if less flexible effect with couplers, mechanical gadgets that would, for instance, couple the keys and hence the stops on the swell manual to the great, and often at different octaves. Thus the theater organ’s only real sin is having a much more flexible coupling system, the shameful things....

HOPE-JONES’ ILLUSION

Thus Hope-Jones’ ingenious inventions create an illusion of a big pipe organ by cheating. For the same money his “unit organ” sounded better, to most ears, than the equivalently-priced “real” pipe organ. His organ consoles had numerous stop tabs — Wikipedia says he invented tabs, presumably because the old-technology draw knobs took up more room to perform the arduous mechanical action that Hope-Jones made obsolete. Which innovation also made his consoles relatively portable; by today’s standards, they require monstrous cables, but that was nothing compared to the immovable mechanisms of historic organs.

But perhaps more important to sales appeal, his consoles had vast arrays of stops and manuals and consequently looked wonderful, with relatively smaller armies of pipes. He made an illusion of vast console resources because the console, keyboards and stop tabs were cheaper than pipes. ... If stop tabs and keyboards had been more expensive than pipes, Hope-Jones might’ve tossed in herds of pipes and concentrated on somehow making the console cheaper.

COMBINATIONS VERSUS TOUCH SCREENS, TABS

Which brings us to modern times and our beautiful virtual organs: the “pipes” — my beloved cheesy despised electronic PC software renditions of pipe sounds — are cheap, i.e., $0 (Miditzer 216, Hauptwerk Paramount 310). The “console” — the MIDI keyboards and the computer to play the beloved cheesy sounds — is obviously more expensive. Particularly expensive is some way to turn the stops on and off; 100s of double-pole switches aren’t cheap, and the theater organ kind which can flip themselves even less so....

This difficulty has a sort-of authentic solution: the numerous buttons between the keyboards of typical theater and many classical organs. These buttons aren’t cheap either, and are a traditional high-end feature that provides easily-configurable “combinations” of stops, so the organist can change swarms of voices with a single poke. But in the virtual computer-screen consoles of Miditzer et al, they are practically the things dreams are made of and without cost, with numerous such virtual buttons provided. ... And in the real-cost MIDI hardware that we must fashion our actual consoles out-of, they have the advantage of being relatively generic: almost any MIDI button will do — however rudely inauthentic.

So I’m sticking with my various Nord buttons to trigger combinations on both Miditzer and Hauptwerk — software drudgery[20] required with Miditzer — and then I can concoct any stop changes I want, which is the way real theater organists work or so I ignorantly assume. ... But the crowning complexity of it all is that because of Hope-Jones’ wandering herds of stop tabs, the actual tabs would probably be used mostly to set-up combinations! That’s why there are so many combination buttons. Even a touch screen, a popular virtual organ enhancement accessory, is worse than buttons, because you still have to reach over to the screen and look at what you’re doing, which is only a little better than reaching over and fiddling with the mouse.

... The amusing EDM-beloved launchpad, a recent entry in the stop-tab-replacement puzzle, has physical buttons — which, like real combination buttons, have no physical indication that they’re on or off. Although some combo buttons show the last-used one by being lit, and the launchpad supposedly can be programmed to do that too.

And even real console stop tabs are significantly inferior to combo buttons: although they provide the definite benefit of indicating by touch whether they’re active, the organist still has to look at them, at least to find a particular tab in the vast herds on a typical theater console, although presumably the skilled practitioner learns some positions even if he still uses the combinations a lot. Which he probably would, which is why there are so many of them....

CONCLUSION: COMBINATIONS GOOD

In summary, physical stop tabs can be located by touch and provide state information; while combination buttons don’t provide or require such information but usually can be located by touch since they’re right there near the keys; and of course have physical shapes. In between these two are various unsatisfactory substitutes.

“There isn’t any particularly good solution for individual stops outside of a real console with a moving combination action. Touch screens are probably the best of a bad lot. The mouse is only useful for setting combinations and registrations before you start playing.”

— Jim Henry “Mr. Miditzer”, 7/3/2004.

Which sad reality is what drives the console-obsessed. ... By “moving”, incidentally, Henry means the physical tabs move when changed using the combination pistons, i.e. like real organ combination actions — and like the adorable computer graphics screens in the virtual organs....

MY BEAUTIFUL TOUCH SCREEN

Since touch screens got cheap/good-enough what with the pestilential Windows 8, I went nuts and installed a $300 ViewSonic TD2220 21.5’’ touch screen. In the process of configuration I managed to blow everything up (as usual) but when the smoke cleared it’s sweet if fairly dumb. It’s only a little easier or at least more fun than using the mouse, and thus has a kind-of educational function, facilitating stop tab manipulation.

But touching doesn’t actually work with Windows controls, like the minimize/maximize/close buttons, and/or the buttons on my little menu program, or anything else, because they’re all too small — which is why Win 8 has all new giant blob desktop/apps which you will learn to love with a degrading passion after your lobotomy. ... The touch precision is usable with stop tabs in both Miditzer and Hauptwerk, although not real reliably even when I’m looking at them. ... Of course I could get the 27” model ... or two! ... Or that lobotomy....

THE AMATEUR ORGANIST RECONSIDERS

So after a week or so, I’ve warmed to my 21’’ touch screen and now consider it an excellent virtual organ peripheral. The graphic representation of the organ is the next best thing to a real console, evoking in many innocents, including myself, a sense of swarm-of-stops grandeur, and poking at them with my fingers is more fun than clicking them with the mouse. It’s still not too plausible for performance, although I’m sure the touch screen is better than the mouse for that, but neither would be much good. ... The headachy illustration on the left <- gives some idea why: that’s my poor departed DK40’s stop panel compared to the “All Buttons” Hauptwerk 320 display, with the DK40 image adjusted to more-or-less life size on the 21½’’ touch monitor (the hwerk “All Tabs” is probably worse?). As shown, the DK40’s presumably average tab size/spacing is a lot more generous. Even if the screen tabs matched the size/spacing, it’d still be harder to poke reliably (because still no physical feedback). ... By the looks of things, it’s ~three hwerk tabs to two DK40s, so I’d need a 21½’’x3/2 ==> 32¼’’ touch screen to even things out....

And that, my children, is of course why the Hauptwerkian pictures at http://www.pcorgan.com/indexEN.html and elsewhere often show organs littered with LCD screens, left, right, center, hanging from the rafters — where presumably the intrepid organist relocates his Hauptwerk windows, and which is why, sort-of, there are so many of them. ... But this is not my way; I resisted two LCDs for years, until at last I fatefully fell to their dark allure....

THE MOUSE

I must also report that after a few months I noticed my beautiful touch screen sort-of quivers annoyingly with some graphic elements — my “organs ’n’ stuff” mini-menu was one of them! — and for that matter, later, general graphics faults of that kind, when it’s tired in the night. ... So perhaps the ViewSonic TD2220 is less than ideal. ... And after a few more months I reorganized my ridiculous Nord Imperium so a keyboard/mouse became more convenient and I’m afraid I find myself reaching for the mouse even when the touch screen is right there! ... But I still will touch a tab by preference and even unconsciously — it’s more fun; and so cute....

THE FEATURE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME?

But what is it about this furtive touch? ... I realized that neither my monitor nor the beloved Windows 8 laptops admit they’re touch devices! ... My computer gadgets are normally plastered with stickers extolling the virtues of the wonders within ... but no más. ... So sad ... so strange....

... But really, I only got around to this stop changing stuff when playing Over the Rainbow, which demands a switch to the saintly tibias, for the bluebirds....



1. My childhood St. Peter’s Episcopal Church is on 20th Street in New York City; and on facebook! Also the organs, on a decent web site. ... Sadly “my” instrument has been “unplayable” since at least 2005. ... But in my day, sonny, I played that organ. ... Badly, of course. ... Its stoplist is not unlike my precious Nord’s baroque clone. ... The other upstairs organ was hopelessly broken even in my ancient days....

In an unimportant way, my life has embodied the decline and fall of the king of instruments, at least the sad part at the end. ... I was instructed in the art — but assiduously never learned — by Mr. Severtson, the kindly blind organist. ... Indeed, I just realized while composing these notes the only reason he put up with me was he couldn’t get anybody else! ... Pipe organ rot had set in well by then, figuratively and actually, and I have absolutely no idea why my youthful fancy was so attracted to the thing, although my mother, like so many, was an organist back in the midwest. Although you’d think her militant atheist futurist super modernism wouldn’t’ve encouraged that sort of thing — well, that’s probably it! — I figured it’d annoy her! ... The web site says of my childhood organ, “In 1892, the Roosevelt Organ Company ... built a ... small tracker-pneumatic organ. ... In 1930, the organ was rebuilt and electrified.” ... So it was once a trackerish organ, but not in my time....

MR. HAMMOND’S FIENDISH INVENTION

Which brings us to Mr. Hammond and his fiendish invention, concocted in 1934, at which fateful moment the pipe organs began their long march to oblivion. Because, brutally, the Hammond was so much cheaper. ... It didn’t sound much like a pipe organ, but nobody cared, and with the vibrato off and decent reverb it can still sound a lot like pipes, and with the vibrato on, who cares? ... Notoriously it’s no good at reeds or strings, but they’re not used much in the average church. ... And it was so much cheaper!

... Actually the kindly Laurens Hammond was probably imitating the theater organs, just like my virtual guys, but with ’30s tube technology. And most peasants can’t tell the difference between a church organ and a theater organ with the vibrato off anyway, so naturally it was promoted as both, but the Hammond’s over-the-top throbbing chuggy vibrato is at least intended to be theater-organ-esque....

And the reason my St. Peter’s organ is “unplayable” is because Mr. Severtson isn’t crawling up into the organ loft and maintaining the thing, which is what real organists have been doing, like it or not, since the second world war and before. The web page about the organ says “a note dated 1984 and taped to the music rack lists instructions for handling the registrations” which is probably about the time Severtson’s successor left the building.

I even vaguely remember the second organ, long-broken even in my youth. The web page doesn’t explain that the entire gallery is a wreck; although I must say they have a lovely picture of things up there, and the second organ looks magnificent even in decrepitude. ... My recollections are of fear; the gallery was dangerous. ... And I suppose the then-working organ downstairs was much more attractive. ... Even today, despite an apparently lifelong affection for antique junk, I am still irrationally hostile to broken old things; because they almost never start working again, I guess; and/or I can’t fix them....


2. Speakers, Loudness, & Money ...

My home organ adventures were not without shadow, cast mostly by the speakers for my beautiful Nord C2 or, more correctly, their absence; the Nord C2 is of course supplied without speakers or amplifier. ... My early attempts with a pair of Behringer B1031A amplified “studio” monitors were fated to be too soft even with a lovely subwoofer. I note, with groveling humility, the VTPOers would’ve doubtless snickered; they favor much more splendiferous Behringers, and I don’t think they can count as low as two.

... But in my dark reflections, it occurs to me no organ speakers will ever be really adequate — compared to, say, standing on the pedals and mashing the keys on even my relatively small St. Peter’s organ: pipes are just too loud. ... Of course you’d only do that if you were a bad person, or playing contemporary music. ... There was a comment in the VTPO forum where a fellow said he had 6 sub-woofers and a physical “shaker” aka “butt kicker”, in an effort to emulate a 32’ theater organ pipe. The St. Peter’s organ of my youth stopped at 16’ — but I can remember playing that thing as a teenager, how I could feel that low pedal 16’ C — no standing on the pedals required.

... Needless to say, my subwoofer does not provide that effect, nor do I intend to augment it in pursuit of such. ... And in modern times I’ve finally attended a theater organ concert or two, with a real Wurlitzer, and I can still feel the 16’ pipes, and that’s probably the way it oughtta be....

THE BEHRINGER BUZZ

And the right-side studio monitor buzzed! ... Pitifully I crawled around the floor, and I could hear it in the metal plate on the back, as well as feel it. Without much effort I was able to tighten many of the screws fastening the plate to the wooden speaker back. A subsequent Brit music magazine tip ’n’ trick suggested regular monitor screw tightening so I guess it’s perfectly normal.

... And indeed, in my ridiculous attic studio I had a decades-old Yamaha bookshelf speaker which, speak of the devil, started buzzing a few weeks before the behringer, at a sine-wavish A4 — from the intense “bell” tones of a VSTi I used in my glorious silver bell adventures, as it happens. ... When I tracked that one down, I found it @ the mid-range of the right speaker, and “fixed” it by unscrewing the thing and putting electrical tape around the hole: the plastic tape was “gooey” enough to provide a little gunk barrier to the senile buzzing. I vaguely recall at least some speaker manufacturing included the application of official gunk for this very purpose — anti-buzz gunk — and perhaps Yamaha’s dried-out over the weary years. ... But the Behringer took only a month!...

A BEHRINGER “LOOSE SCREW” TIP/TRICK

When the Behringer screws lost their “stick” entirely and’d just whirl around in the hole, I used the old toothpick trick: I broke off about an inch or so of a toothpick and stuck it in the screw hole with a little bit of the pointy part out, and then screwed the bad screw in, which then proceeded to behave like a quality-controlled regular screw mechanism! ... This with two screws so far, so Behringer 0, toothpicks 2....

A WOLF NOTE?

I didn’t believe in standing waves. Or fairies — when they’d ask the kids to clap for tinkerbell, I’d just snarl. ... But today, I believe in standing waves. ... There was a “wolf” note on the Nord pedal F; annoying, loud. Particularly annoying on the pipe organ, but still quite noticeable in the B3 emulation. And I recklessly blamed the Behringer monitors! ... The 16’ low F is 43.65 Hz, which I decided was a typical bass reflex frequency; even ’though Behringer included a beautiful frequency chart showing no such bump! ... But I didn’t believe. ... So I got an EQ gadget[9] to crush the speaker’s supposed nasty port note. And I dutifully dialed-down 40 Hz and — nothing! ... 80 Hz on the other hand — the F an octave higher — and presto! Wolf note gone! ... And that F has a wavelength of about 13 feet; which turns-out to be the dimension more-or-less of the living room right around the beautiful Nord. ... But then I read more about room effects, and suspect my diagnosis is more of a faith-based theory. ... But whatever, that low F was too loud, and the EQ fixed it!

A SUBWOOFER IS MANDATORY

My organ was still too wimpy, so the next step was a “Polk Audio PSW505 12-Inch Powered Subwoofer”. ... The typical VTPO fanatic would’ve figured a subwoofer from the start, and now you know at least — but I didn’t. ... Aprés installation, a few times I merrily started incompetently playing a chorale prelude, and got through without noticing the subwoofer was off while I absently mused on how I should turn the thing up! ... I take this as evidence of merit: it suppressed — because I turned-down the bass on the studio monitors — various annoying distortions and, as it happens, the actual bass enhancement is subtle-enough, at least with the orgelbuchlein. Although to be sure, it sounded better when I turned it back on — and louder....

LOUD ENOUGH?

Playing, badly as ever, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love on the Hauptwerk Paramount 310, my latter-day electronic home organ in its Polk PSW505 sub-woofered incarnation seemed loud-enough, and probably louder. It definitely reached the not suitable for apartment living stage.

... But one sad day a tibia chord rattled! ... While I idyllically rendered Tenderly — a tune I identify with my beloved DK40 and its seraphic flute stop, gone but never forgotten. ... It was the cranky right channel speaker again, and I fear my beloved Behringers finally failed. ... But as I investigated, it was apparent the sound was louder on the right channel — both Miditzer and the Hauptwerk Paramount 310 seemed to place the tibias or something over there, which may well be a fascinating authentic detail or a personal auditory hallucination — actually, it showed-up on various meters in the vast Nord Imperium, while monophonic sources from the computer and the Nord’s audio didn’t do that. ... So I adjusted the volume on the right monitor down....

NOT A STUDIO

But finally my months of strife and sorrow led me to the conclusion that the “studio monitor” is not ideal for my post-modern home organ. ... The dubious music magazines recommend the things so you can render with fiendish lazerlike accuracy the appalling tripe you’ve composed on your DAW, rather than, in their typically-scathing derision, “play pretty music”. ... But my home organ efforts are pretty-much at least intended to be “pretty”, so I’d prefer something along those lines, but what? ... I labored under the deluded conviction that the obvious alternative, stage keyboard amplifiers, were monstrous objects, as they were indeed in my misspent youth, designed (as they still are) to stun with poleaxe intensity the poor demented creatures who show up for one’s modern music. And in their hugeness not so stereo, and I want my heartbreaking stereo reverb, and the ridiculous B3 whirling speaker effect for that matter! ... Although since the time of my fateful struggle, or perhaps I just didn’t notice, but keyboard amplifiers like everything else have gotten smaller and louder; although still not too hi-fi I gather, and still too big....

THE PUBLIC ADDRESS

And then, in the endless teaching lesson that is life, and after the Behringers betrayed me again, I finally realized what I was missing: powered public address aka “PA” speakers. ... That’s what the kids use for keyboards today and what, in my increasingly-embarrassingly-inept progress through audio hardware I probably should’ve got in the first place! ... The $185 Behringer B208D, for instance, costs more than my untrustworthy studio monitor, is smaller, and supposedly twice as loud....

How could I have been so blind?!? ... Well, it was easy; I don’t like proletarian speakers, even costlier ones; I was biased towards the pure empyrean ideal of the studio monitor. ... As a bonus and an obvious proletarian stigmata, PA speakers have plastic grill protection instead of the monitors’ fashionably naked woofers. ... Sound on Sound’s 6/12 (page 101) puff for a “Samson Auro D412” suggests who Behringer clones. ... SOS reviewed a 12’’ flavor, but the comparable 8’’ unit looks and prices like the Behringer, $200 vs. $185 (Amazon). The magazine helpfully suggests “similar levels of price” are available with the “Alto TS”, “Studiomaster VPX”, “Mackie Thump”, and “Laney CX” models — each and all of which may sound better/louder then the B208Ds; or worse. ... And at the 2014 ATOS convention, the celebrity virtual theater organist Pierre Fracalanza who does promotional videos/appearances for the Paramount organization showed-up to play a concert in a railroad station — for the acoustics I assume — on a Hauptwerk Paramount 450, and he used public address speakers: eight Mackie $600 SRM450s + a “large SRS” subwoofer — to be sure, a little pricier than my innocent tendencies, but still — I am supremely vindicated. ... The virtuality of the concert was apparently a first for ATOS, ushering in no doubt a new era of good feeling, or at least the audience was wildly enthused according to a biased observer at the VTPO forum.

WATTS

The funny thing is I’ve gone on and on about this loudness problem for years without once examining the wattage of the various speakers! This while I was actually paying attention to the dubious SPL loudness ratings! ... That is, the inadequate Behringer B1031As are specified at about 100 Watts each; the beautiful 208Ds, about 170 — no wonder they’re louder! ... And the Polk PSW505 sub-woofer is probably around 300 Watts — the “manual” doesn’t say, but a Polk promotional brochure includes the claim.

... My oblivion in this respect is no doubt my revered hifi heritage, first assiduously worshiping wattage in a time so distant it is unknown to me — but I can still guess — but then turning-away in despair at all the awful “music power” i.e. fraudulent numbers. ... I have here in the museum a PC speaker in its original packaging hanging on my office wall simply as a memorial of its inspiringly bogus “120 Watt” rating: if 120 Watts ever got near the mostly-facade plastic junk, it would doubtless explode in an incandescent flash. ... But in these latter days, it probably pays to check the watts; but follow the old audiophile wisdom and only pay attention to the lowest number quoted. ... I.e., sound equipment puffery, like hifi, often includes multiple Watts ratings i.e. “music power”, “hell freezes over power”, etc. basically to give the poor music junkie a ridiculous quantity to believe in, but the more likely value is always the lowest, and even then of course....

THE TRUE LOUDNESS

Two B208Ds came in working-class brown cardboard boxes not at all like the glossy four-color monitor packaging and were at least as loud as the studio monitors, and smaller. ... And I was wracked with neurotic anxiety that the sound was less hi-fi! ... As if I could tell, but I delude myself, like those golden-eared idiots with their magical platinum cables. ... But another rendition of Das Alte Jahr Vergangen Ist, and all is good; it is the true loudness. ... And I reposition the boxes, comparatively EZ since they’re smaller than the previous suspects. ... For an anxious while, I forgot to turn up the subwoofer, to “track” the louder PA speakers. But at last there was loudness indeed; subjectively at least twice as loud as too-loud! ... It got so I was setting the audio with the speakers off, i.e. using the meters on the output mixer alone, because it was really too loud — and then, only brief audio tests. ... And then, I turn-back to my newly penciled marks of sanity, and all is well at last in the Nord Imperium....

SUBWOOFER LEVEL

The simplest way I’ve found to adjust the relative subwoofer level is to make it sound subjectively “right” with my gold standard, the Nord pipe organ emulation pedals and the Orgelbuchlein — not too wimpy, not too boomy. Which also was OK with the other organs, and when it isn’t, that’s what tone controls are for....

NOISE AND LEVELS

It turns out that level-adjusting is an on-going adventure, memorably on the occasion of the Northeast Cessation of Air Conditioning seasonal festival, which occurred suddenly around 9/10/12. Whereupon I could hear the B208D whispering to itself. Which I swiftly suppressed by turning down its main level from 12 to 9 o’clock; serendipitously, the Polk woofer’s volume required the same adjustment. And then I turned up the last mixer just before the speakers, to get everything copacetic again....

The general modus operandi is to play the loudest registration — actually I missed my chance to use Miditzer’s built-in MIDI playback/record feature — with the speakers off, and adjust the audio so the level meters are near the top throughout the system. ... But note that one does have to take care that the input levels aren’t too high by themselves; it’s possible to have a mixer’s level meters looking fine, but the inputs still too high, ’causing distortion in the preamplifiers; sometimes indicated by a “peak” red LED. ... So it’s not so very simple. ... There is a technical term for this arcane art: “gain staging”.

Anyway, the result in my case was gratifyingly too loud, so I then just trim the last level before the speakers — or on the speakers — to taste, and all is perfect. ... Except ....

WAIT! — WHAT ABOUT THE SPEAKER LEVELS?!?!

And then, after some more weary years, I discovered the Hidden Secrets of the Miditzer’s Master Gain control and vastly increased the holy Mitz’s beautiful output, and realized one shouldn’t turn down the last mixer volume control to taste: the trick is to leave a little wiggle in the last mixer’s volume — so I can turn it up, for my soft tibias for instance — but then turn down the speaker’s “level trim” or whatever they call it — the amplified speaker’s volume — as much as possible, preferably to minimum, because these amplified speakers aren’t that quiet, no doubt my low Behringer tastes but actually I believe there’s a good deal of that sort of thing going ’round, anyway I assume they’re designed, or at least the Behringers are, to get the maximum speaker loudness with the speaker level trim at minimum and a hot-enough signal....

IT WASN’T THE B208D HISSING!

Finally, in my endless voyage of speaker audio discovery, the B208Ds have done good for some months now, but there was hissing and, as noted, that’s common — but I made a silly mistake: although the noise sounded like “frying” — a changing hissing — I just assumed it was the B208D anyway. But it wasn’t! ... It was something else buried in the Nord Imperium, and in a trice I uncovered the guilt of my beautiful FEX800 reverb![27]the B208Ds were alright! ... Indeed, the loudness and over-all organ music effect has been without blemish for months now....

RATTLING

A constant menace is things in the beautiful Nord Imperium making noise on their own, in sympathy with the mighty organ. My beloved virtual organ is loud, if at a level hardly detectable in the clangorous halls of the VTPOers, but things rattle even for me. ... I try to verify it’s not the speakers themselves making these noises, and then give-up, but I have managed to de-rattle a few of the more noticeable decorative offenders. ... And it’s another reason to play softer....


The 2012 Home Electronic Organ aka “The Nord Imperium”

Let me now summarize with gay incantations what I have wrought, with a little help from the ingenious Swedes. ... Prices were @ Amazon.com unless noted otherwise, between 11/25/11 and 3/12 or so; mostly excluding shipping — well, in actuality, including shipping, because I paid some vast sum to be an Amazon “prime” customer, which contrives “free” shipping by more-or-less honestly including it in the original price, and which, if you’re planning scandalous home organ expenditures, isn’t such a terrible idea. ...“?” are optional, probably idiotic — that is, more idiotic — items.

A: The Nord C2: $3,062.12. ... This thing was all dewy innocence and newness in 2011, but then (2/13) it was no longer among us, replaced in the brutal free market with the new super C2D with real drawbars, which I don’t find that enticing — But wait! ... It’s back! ... At Mon 9/1/14 I noticed the C2 non-D at amazon at a higher price: $3,699.00. Which I suppose means it’s doing well, which is good for future support, availability, repair....

B: Nord Pedal Keys 27 aka PK27: $2,201.00 at Sweetwater.com. Amazon didn’t sell them. ... So including the Nord C2, that’s about $5,300 in ~2011, with the rest of the debris making-up another $1000 or so. ... At 5/4/15 the Keys 27 was available at Amazon for $2.5K; same price at Sweetwater. These things aren’t getting cheaper!

C: Behringer B208D PA speakers, two for $401.90. The right channel isn’t shown and anyway the unit that is shown is the pusillanimous B1031A which wasn’t loud-enough. ... Eventually I moved them up on a table, which improved the stereo image probably, but definitely made them louder (i.e. closer to my ears)....

D?: Behringer FCV100 foot pedal: $32.88 + my endless enhancements. Also there was a power supply I had to get from somewhere, $20? or so....

E: Polk Audio PSW505 subwoofer: $321.28 — the crowning glory of the home electronic organ, and pretty-much essential. ... So with the PA speakers that’s about (~2011) $750, + cables + exotic splitters / adaptors or something, to get the audio to both the subwoofer and the speakers.

A Power Strip for Your Powered Speakers: You definitely want a separate power strip with an indicator light for the power to your powered speakers and subwoofer, and turn it off before you turn-off the power to anything else. When I don’t do that, my speakers make VERY LOUD LOUD NOISES; amplified speakers are supposed to have gadgets so they won’t hurt themselves, but I wouldn’t count on it, and the devices have no restrictions on inflicting human injuries. ... It’s also a good plan to turn them on after the other stuff, so you can quickly abort a “million flies” situation.

... And then, in the Adventure of Miditzer’s Master Gain, I managed to turn-off the system with the loud bang — and the PC of course went bonkers! ... Another reason to avoid the practice....

F, G?: Two Behringer Xenyx 502 mixers: $45? * 2 ==> $90? Like so many busy modern folk, I had these lying around the house. The first unit mixes the Nord audio output with the computer audio. The second provides a headphone output and final volume controls.

H?: My beloved Behringer BFD equalizer[9] EQs the odd organ, and cures any wolf notes that show up. (Shown is the previous EQ.)

J?: Noisy[27] Behringer FEX800 reverb: $70.60. Originally for the Miditzer, which has a built-in, but anemic; but Hauptwerk shockingly has nothing. ... Then the FEX800 betrayed me; fortunately I had a second unit upstairs. ... But I had to research-up another reverb; I like the FEX800, but not if it’s going to mutter at me. Although I must say when I brought the offending FEX800 upstairs, I couldn’t hear frying noises until I resorted to headphones and turned-up the gain enough. I supposed it was just one of these level things, Nord Imperium versus attic squalor. ... Anyway, I tried a $100 Alesis Nanoverb 2, which was worse than the FEX800 even with the noise! ... But then an Alesis Midiverb 4 was my delight; mostly ’cause it looks incredibly cool there amidst the Imperium debris, but also it actually sounds better than the FEX800 — it was $190, it should. ... The Midiverb is also much more complicated but, like my beloved BFD EQ[9], has presets so I can dial-up one of an assortment of reverbs I’ve programmed to my exact desires, at least after I’ve figured-out how it works. ... While I’ve managed to save 2 or three programs, during the struggle it makes noises, hum, loud clicks, and it clicks even when just switching from one program to another. ... But that’s just the program adjustment; the effect is still serene and beautiful, and I suppose it’s so hard in our busy modern world for these technology companies to actually finish their projects....

K?: The glorious Miditzer 216 or Hauptwerk Paramount 310: $0. A computer for them: $500 to $5000? ... And ...

USB AUDIO aka DIGITAL AUDIO

Along with the virtual organ software + the computer, a third requirement is USB Audio as I’ve been jejunely calling it, which usage probably reflects my provincial preference for laptops. The category is properly “digital audio” with which PCs could be equipped with varying degrees of annoyance/utility long before the USB standard. However, the future definitely belongs to USB or something worse, like USB version 3 or the Apple-interface-of-the-week Thunderbolt, so I will continue ignorantly using the term “USB audio” and to heck with lore and legend....

Both mitz and hwerk can get along without USB audio ($200?) but Hauptwerk’s latency can be greatly improved with: the gadgets come with “driver” software of widely varying quality which is supposed to accomplish this. ... I originally used a Behringer UCA222 @ ~$35, but it offended with an almost-inaudible-but-still-annoying beeping noise — which I must confess I mistook for Hauptwerk’s copy-restriction tinkling triangle and annoyed that esteemed organization for a week! — so I took it back upstairs to my dubious studio where it has joined the Zoom R16 in my ever-expanding Hall of Shoddy USB Audio.[27] ... I then installed the officially obsolete EMU 0404, the antique gift of the beloved LOL which stopped working — became totally silent — after a few weeks; so I swapped ’em back, and the UCA222 continued to beep inaudibly and the 0404 works upstairs, each like a snowflake so intricate and beautiful....

Power

Some of the Hauptwerkians favor the M-Audio brand; which is entangled in loathsome Pro Tools software scams although perhaps that’s an unreasonable aversion and as soon as Amazon delivers my M-Audio 9900-65145-12 Fast Track Pro I’ll find out for myself. ... And it worked good! ... If you don’t count it occasionally making an awful noise like a million flies. ... I was so horrified the first time, I keep an eagle-eye on the meters and saw the second one coming. ... So it’s probably just some unfortunate M-Audio power-cycle reset problem — that must be why they have the on/off button on the back, and cycling it off/on has always stopped horrible noises. ... But I was switching the USB hub power along with the Nord and the organ music lights, but since I’ve left it on all day the million flies haven’t returned, so it was probably starved for power when those things happened, and too stupid to turn itself off. ... A more harmless idiosyncrasy: on reboot the software — which I downloaded from their site, never opening the CDs — occasionally emitted a cryptic debug message “TBIA The data is invalid” (“Task Bar Icon Application”!)....

Tendencies?

I think in general the USB audio gadgets tend to be optimized for getting audio into the computer, while the virtual organist wants to get it out. So the USB gadgets are encumbered with microphone inputs and other useless frippery, while the outputs are reduced to “monitoring” — listening to the wretched EDM gunk you’re supposed to have created with your DAW and the inputs and what-not. This monitoring output is never actually used in the final recorded gunk, and perhaps is shamefully neglected like so many home organist interests. ... Perusing the USB audio bazaars, I’d guess interfaces with MIDI are the more likely category for devotees of virtual instruments which require MIDI anyway — i.e., like the beloved virtual organs — and might be a little more likely (?) to produce better latency / audio monitoring....

Note that the hard-core virtual organist sniffs at USB and laptops, going for a desktop, preferably a Mac Pro, the totally obsolete model with plug-in card(s) and multiple audio (and MIDI) channels —the current Mac Pro titters at plug-in cards....

The M-Audio interface seemed annoyingly noisy and after a fair amount of wheel-spinning I found that putting one of the admirable Behringer HD400s on the M-Audio audio output to my mixer much reduced it! There’s still white noise, which I suspect is a general condition for VSTis and hardly noticeable in the modern hip-hop click-tracked recording/DJ environment or with the intentionally-noisy but beloved virtual organs for that matter, but the HD400 suppressed annoying hum and other debris....

EVER MORE USB: KEYBOARD INPUT

To confuse the innocent further, note that the modern virtual organ computer has another requirement: at least one (probably USB) MIDI input from the keyboards/pedals, so there’s some way to play the thing, for which I provide inadequate hints & rumours elsewhere — at least for Miditzer.

... Ever-elaborating USB connections often require a USB hub, a fixture pretty-much necessary with a laptop, and which I realize I’ve kept secret in this extensive technical summary up to now. ... So that’s all I know about USB/MIDI and more....


L?: My pitiful Commodore bench. Priceless. ... Which, I realized after months, was the wrong height and so went back to ...

M: On Stage KT7800 Plus Keyboard Bench: $36.91. Adjustable-height and really works quite well, once you wrap some duct tape around a foot to suppress the wobbling. ... But it’s still too wobbly, particularly extended to an adequate height, so then I replaced it with my DK40 bench which, I deluded myself, is just right. There are more substantial adjustable benches than the KT7800 for sale, but it’s probably the cheapest way to try-out different heights. ... And in the great march of organ tinkering, I finally mutilated the Commodore bench surprisingly successfully, and it was as it had been, minus two inches. ... I might add that my measure of organ bench adjustment merit is that the heel and sole can rest comfortably on the white pedals; which I confess is something that didn’t explicitly occur to me in years of incompetent organ playing. ... And then in the senseless tragedy of the 3rd keyboard, I height-adjusted it back and, I must admit, even ’though my heels do not rest so easily on the white pedals, it’s still OK....

Various Other Things: The inevitable 5 million cables. ... The ridiculous plywood table I built, and the furniture I bought — actually, I was startled to realize my homemade table wasn’t that ridiculous, because normal furniture doesn’t typically provide the required knee clearance, so it’s just as if I knew what I was doing! ... Alternately, Nord makes its own stand for the C2, and at Amazon.com you can select the “musical instrument” department and search for “keyboard table” to see a useful selection I didn’t notice until too late. ... But of course they aren’t constructed of authentic plywood.

Σ: $6,200

Anyway, it all adds up. Excluding the “?”-marked items above and the Various Other Things, to around $6,200. ... Note that, as well as my vast ignorance, this sum doesn’t include the lessons of my pitiful ignorance, for instance running through speaker systems like water until the sublime perfection of the subwoofer + the True Loudness. ... And of course I’ve forgotten numerous exciting and puzzling items: oh see to the left of the two volume pedals at “D”, for instance, there’s a piano-like sustain pedal, which for some reason the Nord combo organs support; and I had one around (since replaced with a more suitable, if less picturesque, square pedal)....

The Excellent Behringer HD400

Numerous Behringer HD400 “hum destroyer” ground-lifting stereo audio transformers @ ~$25 each seem to suppress noise/hum in many corners of the Imperium’s vast complexity. ... Most recently at the mixer input from the M-Audio interface + a different mixer input from the volume pedal. Whereupon the “too loud” level — my mark of adequacy — is also almost quiet-enough. A miracle! ... It’s not all beer and skittles, however; these things really are transformers, so they shouldn’t go next to AC cords, extensions, etc. or they make hum! ... And here I thought they were supernatural. ... But moving the HD400s a few inches away from the AC seems to fix that. ... Incidentally this proliferation of HD400s is just the Universe’s way of telling me I should’ve used expen$ive professional equipment with balanced input/ouput. ... And then in the last days I discovered the Miditzer master gain....

Monday 7/31/17 12:07 pm