Acoustic vs Synth

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Acoustic vs Synth

Post by wurly60 » Fri Nov 22, 2013 3:25 am

Hello Everyone,

Please excuse me if this topic has already been discovered. I tried searching some key terms to see if I could find any info on my question but haven't. So I will ask. I am in the pipe organ business, theatre organs like the Mighty Wurlitzer if you are familiar with them. They were invented around 1915. Alot of people seem to be calling these the "original synthesizer". Well first part of the question. In order for a synthesizer to be called such, the sounds produced have to be electric or electronically created wave forms? Part of synthesizing from what I looked up is imitation. In the case of a theatre organ it was in fact supposed to imitate an orchestra. If you look at the stops, they are names of orchestral instruments. Can a synthesizer in fact be acoustic sounds like that of a pipe organ? Also now they have sampled pipe organs and digitally have created these instruments and sound pretty close to the real thing. This would be a synthesizer in this sense because the sounds now are being reproduced electronically? Sorry for all the questions. Just seems the term synthesizer is becoming more and more loose with technology.

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Re: Acoustic vs Synth

Post by commodorejohn » Fri Nov 22, 2013 4:00 am

I think usually when people refer to organs as "early synthesizers" they're talking about Hammond-style drawbar models, which produce sounds by variably mixing sine waves (or close to sine waves,) a simple form of additive synthesis. I've never seen acoustic organs labelled as such, though I suppose there's a case to be made for it (since you are creating complex sounds by adding together simpler sounds, though the individual timbres on an acoustic organ tend to be more complex than the Hammond's tonewheels produce.)
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Re: Acoustic vs Synth

Post by mpa1104 » Fri Nov 22, 2013 5:44 am

My memory is hazy on this, but I recall Robert Moog saying in an interview that the actual term "synthesiser" was coined not by him but by ... possibly Harald Bode or one of the other people Moog was associated with in the early years.

Given that academically, the word "synthesise" means to combine elements to create a single, compound element, or as some sources say, it is to create something artificially (or by artificial means). Either way, by my reasoning, Synthesis does not pre-suppose the use of electronics.

Commodorejohn's point above about Hammonds is of course, correct, and yes, the pipe organ's tones are indeed much more than just simple sine waves (and I don't say that to belittle the Hammond's sound in any way since that instrument is unique in it's own right as well).

Traditionally, at the organ, one must know what are the most effective combinations of ranks in order to produce a particular registration. I therefore don't find it unreasonable to suggest that, from a certain standpoint, this is a type of synthesis, in that it involves combining separate elements (in this case sounds) to create a compound element (sound).

Whilst blowing air through a length of pipe isn't really "artificial", this is still nonetheless, a synthesis. For example, if you have a single Cornet stop on an organ (usually a 4 or 5 rank mixture type), you can use that distinctive solo register simply by pulling out that one stop. If on the other hand, you do not have a Cornet stop, but do happen to have several individual mutations on a division (usually a Positif/Choir manual), you can just as effectively "synthesise" a Cornet registration by combining Flutes 8' 4' 2' with a Nazard (2 2/3') and a Tierce (1 3/5').

I still happily argue that the organ is - aside from being the first ever keyboard instrument - the first ever "acoustic additive synthesiser" since it uses the same principles as additive synthesis (but yes, I am happily biased toward the instrument!).

As for the idea of synthesising having to incorporate "imitation" I personally feel that is a bit erroneous. The original synthesisers were designed with a view to create completely new and unique sounds. Yes they can - and have a little too often - be used for imitation. With today's ROMpling technology however, the whole idea of using synthesis to imitate is rather moot since it's essentially digital playback of an actual sound from a keyboard. I don't regard (and I gather quite a few others don't either) today's ROMplers as synthesiser UNLESS it has the capacity to manipulate those samples and combine them with others to create a composite "new" sound.

If one was being really pedantic, it could be argued that the earliest of the pipe organs, once they started naming ranks, were "imitators" because most of the ranks were named after exisiting instruments of the time (or in times past) eg, Diapason, Gamba, Cor de Nuit, Salicional, Pousane, etc, etc, etc. But even then, it was the combination of these individual sounds, at different octaves, and more particularly at other intervals between the octaves, such as 3rds and 5ths (ie, in order to emphasise overtones in the harmonic series) that gave the organ its capacity to produce "new" sounds through a process of synthesis.

The Wurlitzer and other theatre organs really just extended that idea. Knowing that many of the larger theatre organs have other "real" instruments inside them, ie, not just pipes, but real pianos, percussion instruments, traps, sound effects, etc, it did in effect, make them the first ROMplers in a way (even before the Mellotron!)

Just realised I have gone on a bit! Hope that answered some of your queries :)
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Re: Acoustic vs Synth

Post by vicd » Fri Nov 22, 2013 7:31 am

I might be wrong, but I believe there's one major tonal control difference between classical (or theater) organs and synthesizers: you can't mix the stops at different levels, they're either "on" or "off" - is that correct?

To me this is more of "layering presets/waveforms" than "synthesizing"....Same goes to transistor organs with just switches for stops, and no drawbars.

Another point - a usual organ does not have control over how individual tones behave/evolve in time, does it? If that ever happens, it's at best "built into" the pipe's design? Well, there's the tremolo thing, but anything else?

So, If all the above is true, I'd put them amidst baselevel romplers :mrgreen: "Building from blocks" vs. "freehand drawing".

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Re: Acoustic vs Synth

Post by Bitexion » Fri Nov 22, 2013 8:23 am

I'm thinking the Hammond B-3 is a kind of mini version of a pipe organ..sort of like the Minimoog was the miniature version of the Moog Modular systems. A hammond has 8 drawbars for each keyboard, but a pipe organ can have over a dozen drawbars for each keyboard, and often contain 3 or more keyboards too. Am I right about that?

And of course, the hammond organ generates sound electronically rather than pushing air out of massive pipes.

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Re: Acoustic vs Synth

Post by commodorejohn » Fri Nov 22, 2013 9:01 am

vicd wrote:I might be wrong, but I believe there's one major tonal control difference between classical (or theater) organs and synthesizers: you can't mix the stops at different levels, they're either "on" or "off" - is that correct?
That's my understanding, but people more knowledgeable can feel free to correct me. It would make sense, I think, since partially closing a mechanical stop would deflect the air coming into the pipe, which might play havoc with getting a wave going in it (think blowing at a bad angle on a transverse flute.)
To me this is more of "layering presets/waveforms" than "synthesizing"....Same goes to transistor organs with just switches for stops, and no drawbars.
I dunno. They are preset sounds, but they're a lot closer to simple waveforms than to full-fledged individual instruments. If we consider the Martenot to be a synthesizer, I think you could make a case for this.
Another point - a usual organ does not have control over how individual tones behave/evolve in time, does it? If that ever happens, it's at best "built into" the pipe's design? Well, there's the tremolo thing, but anything else?
Good question. Hammond organs have the "percussion" tabs which cause a short attack/decay phase on select harmonics, and can layer the vibrato signal with the dry signal to produce a chorus-type effect, but I don't know what all a pipe organ has for this. Organ tones definitely are much more static, though, at least when discounting the acoustic environment. That's why playing technique is such a key thing with them.
Bitexion wrote:And of course, the hammond organ generates sound electronically rather than pushing air out of massive pipes.
Electromechanically, actually - at least on the good Hammonds. Vox, Farfisa, and other "transistor organs" generate their sound electronically, though.
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Re: Acoustic vs Synth

Post by Bitexion » Fri Nov 22, 2013 9:21 am

Also a pipe organ is harder to play on, because there is a notable delay from when you press the keys until the sound comes out the pipes. So you kind of have to learn to play "with lag".

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Re: Acoustic vs Synth

Post by mpa1104 » Fri Nov 22, 2013 9:32 am

vicd wrote:I might be wrong, but I believe there's one major tonal control difference between classical (or theater) organs and synthesizers: you can't mix the stops at different levels, they're either "on" or "off" - is that correct?
Yes, pretty much. The only form of volume control is if the ranks of a manual are enclosed in a swell box (which can also act in mild way as a filter).
To me this is more of "layering presets/waveforms" than "synthesizing"....Same goes to transistor organs with just switches for stops, and no drawbar
Certainly a fair point. Although it is possible to create resultant tones through a form of acoustic heterodyning, particularly using some combinations of pedal stops.
Another point - a usual organ does not have control over how individual tones behave/evolve in time, does it? If that ever happens, it's at best "built into" the pipe's design? Well, there's the tremolo thing, but anything else?
Not really no, apart from the swell box I mentioned before. Some organ builders do include control over the speed (and sometimes even depth) of the tremulant (so an adjustable LFO in synth parlance).

The points you've made are certainly the sorts of things that most of us here would expect of a synth's internal workings (ie, the ability to manipulate tones with filters, envelopes and LFO's etc) but I was thinking more of the organ at the simplest, or "base level" definition of synthesis, ie, the combination of individual elements to create a composite element (so, without additional processing of those individual elements before they are combined).
Bitexion wrote:I'm thinking the Hammond B-3 is a kind of mini version of a pipe organ..sort of like the Minimoog was the miniature version of the Moog Modular systems. A hammond has 8 drawbars for each keyboard, but a pipe organ can have over a dozen drawbars for each keyboard, and often contain 3 or more keyboards too. Am I right about that?
Well the Hammond was originally designed as "replacement" for churches that couldn't afford pipe organs. But yeah, a decent sized cathedral or concert instrument will have a handsome amount of ranks per manual, and upward of 4 manuals. Plenty of larger instruments in Europe and USA are 5 or more manuals
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Re: Acoustic vs Synth

Post by mpa1104 » Fri Nov 22, 2013 9:33 am

Bitexion wrote:Also a pipe organ is harder to play on, because there is a notable delay from when you press the keys until the sound comes out the pipes. So you kind of have to learn to play "with lag".
Depends on the builder! :D
On a mechanical action instrument (most of which will have the console attached to the organ), it's very direct. Whereas on an electric action instrument (especially older, ailing ones), there can be a delay between the key and the opening of the pipe palette. If that sort of instrument is in a large acoustic, then that can be an added headache. One of the worst ones I ever played had almost a half-second delay between key and pipe - bloody awful.

But with a well built mechanical action organ, you can play with as much agility as a piano. This French beauty for example:
Image
is a couple of hundred years old, an absolute jewel in the crown of organ building (probably the best instrument in the world) and is surprisingly easy and responsive to play.
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Re: Acoustic vs Synth

Post by madtheory » Fri Nov 22, 2013 11:16 am

Where is that organ mpa1104?

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Re: Acoustic vs Synth

Post by mpa1104 » Fri Nov 22, 2013 11:50 am

St Sulpice in Paris. Originally built around 1780 (I think) by Cliquot, then restored and enlarged almost 100 years on by the incomparable Aristide Cavaille-Coll, builder of the most highly-regarded instruments in the world. Oddly enough, with all the advancements in technology since then, essential organ building really hasn't improved greatly beyond C-C's exceptional handiwork.
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Re: Acoustic vs Synth

Post by Reginator » Fri Nov 22, 2013 1:16 pm

I Google'd the organ of St Sulpice and the argument could be made that it's an early synthesizer:

1) The organist and his assistant were using what looked like a patch sheet to set up the sound.
2) The source of air is the oscillator (analog for sure!)
3) The pipes and inner workings shape the sound (pitch & filter)
4) The keys gate the sound on and off.
5) If you want a different tone you have to re-patch or tweak in real time.

Also if the designers intent was to make an instrument that imitated an orchestra then he would have used the technology available at the time: air and pipes > transistors and capacitors > chips > software.

Btw, St Sulpice's organ sounds massive!! :keys2:

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Re: Acoustic vs Synth

Post by wordsdrawnigh » Fri Nov 22, 2013 3:16 pm

where is all the steam-punk pipe-synth pop?

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Re: Acoustic vs Synth

Post by commodorejohn » Fri Nov 22, 2013 7:27 pm

wordsdrawnigh wrote:where is all the steam-punk pipe-synth pop?
Give it time.
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Re: Acoustic vs Synth

Post by wurly60 » Fri Nov 22, 2013 8:26 pm

Thanks for all the replies so far! Seems to be a head scratcher. See I always thought that a synthesizer's definition was to create or imitate sounds of an orchestra or other instruments but that doesn't seem to be the case exactly. Just so many variations on the term. To answer some questions about how a pipe organ works in regards to manipulating sounds... No, you can't alter the sounds of pipes on the spot at the console nor the tremulant for the most part. It would take physical altering to both to change the sound. Tremulants are easily adjustable on the trem unit itself. On tracker style organs like St. Sulpice, because it is all mechanical, yes you can in a way change the pitch of the rank of pipes by pulling the stop part way out which is only pulling the valve part way out restricting air to that stop. So in that sense, I suppose you are altering the sound, just doesn't sound so good. In electro pneumatic organs, yes, the stop is either or or off.

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