“To my eyes and ears the organ will ever be the King of Instruments.” – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Superior digital organ sound comes from a combination of advanced technology and years of artistic experience sampling pipe organs. Throughout history the organ has been a remarkable combination of technology and traditional music. With hundreds of pipes, early pipe organs were the most advanced products in a community. Modern electronics have enabled the production of pipe organ sound without requiring pipes with today’s finest digital instruments reproducing the grandeur of pipe organs at significantly lower costs.
Pipe Organ Sound
Reproducing realistic pipe organ sound requires advanced technology. An organ builder’s capability in this crucial area is best demonstrating through its combination organs that include both digital voices and windblown pipes played in the same buildings. A recent Allen combination organ in Stockholm, Sweden, is an example, with the link below comparing in real-time the digitally produced voices alongside of windblown pipes.
Today digital organ tonal capabilities go beyond traditional pipe organ sound. Some organs can also produce orchestral and other non-organ sounds. A crucial test in this area is how well these sounds integrate with traditional voices in the organ and their ease of use.
The success of any organ is dependent on the room’s acoustics in which it is installed. Pipe organs were typically installed in large cathedrals-like structures with “friendly” acoustics that include hard surfaces to reflect and acoustically mix the sounds produced. The importance of the room on an installation has led to the saying: “The most important ‘stop’ on any organ is the room in which it is placed”. Modern churches typically do not offer this acoustical advantage. In the latter part of the 20th century, in an effort to overcome this challenge, organ suppliers added digital reverberation to instruments. While an improvement, digital reverb added unnatural distortions to organ sound.
Digital reverberation is no longer state-of-the-art acoustical enhancement, being superseded by convolution technology that utilizes actual sampled acoustics to recreate the sonic fingerprint of rooms, including famous cathedrals. Convolution also reproduces the sonic interplay that occurs between individual pipes played within organ chambers. Unlike artificial digital reverberation, convolution produces the real thing. This revolutionary technology requires hundreds of millions of calculations per second and is therefore not available in many digital organs currently offered.
Advanced voicing capabilities is also required so that a digital organ can be properly voiced in an installation. The capabilities of organ builders vary greatly in this area. All offer basic voicing, such as stop-by-stop and note-by-note adjustments. More advanced capabilities include sophisticated audio controls such as parametric equalization that guarantees an organ can be finely “tuned” in each installation, as well as the ability to change the actual stop sounds to new samples without the need for hardware changes to the organ.
The finest digital organs require superiority in all areas of sound production: sampling technology, sampling experience, acoustical enhancement and voicing capabilities.