Tocatta And Fugue In C64
January 19, 2020 7:05 PM   Subscribe

"It struck me that, at least in theory, organ pipes should generate quite primitive sound waves. If so, how come a church organ doesn't sound like a chip tune, which is also built up from simple waveforms? Well, actually it will, if you remove the church."
posted by mhoye (25 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
That is a very cool insight.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 7:31 PM on January 19 [5 favorites]

Oh hey the TTY demystified guy!
posted by genpfault at 7:43 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]

Slightly disappointed this isn't a recording of a C=64 hooked up to a loudspeaker inside a church but very cool insights in the write-up about how it's no less work to do this right using a computer than a physical instrument.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:48 PM on January 19 [13 favorites]

Also slightly disappointed this isn't a recording of a full church pipe organ being played in a vacant field.
posted by hippybear at 8:14 PM on January 19 [53 favorites]

Although after typing that jokey comment, I got to thinking just a tiny bit and I found the Super Mario Brothers Theme being played outdoors on a Calliope, which is also a pipe organ. You be the judge!

I suppose for true comparison we'd want to hear a calliope being played in a church. I'm not finding any recordings of that immediately, however.
posted by hippybear at 8:20 PM on January 19 [4 favorites]

Relevant: David Byrne's TED Talk is one of the only ones that has really stood the test of time.

Tangentially relevant: David Byrne's installation Playing The Building. Video of a tour of the installation by Byrne.
posted by hippybear at 8:28 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]

And like a pipe organ, no two SIDs sound exactly alike (due to capacitor variance and other mysterious factors, at least the 6581s)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:11 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]

Somebody clearly needs a nice tone wheel Hammond.
posted by wierdo at 10:22 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]

no two SIDs sound exactly alike

Isn't that just the filter that varies? Rob Hubbard told me he never used the filter for that reason.
posted by w0mbat at 10:45 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]

Slightly disappointed this isn't a recording of a C=64 hooked up to a loudspeaker inside a church

Well, the guy did create the Chipophone, a homemade 8-bit synthesizer built into an old electronic organ for playing chiptunes live. (It has a limited number of channels like a C=64 and if you try to play a chord with more notes than it has channels it will automatically break it up into those rapid warbling arpeggios characteristic of many chiptunes.)
posted by straight at 1:41 AM on January 20 [5 favorites]

Really these tracks should serve as an inspiration for somebody to design a retro game that honours them.
posted by rongorongo at 2:40 AM on January 20

Well, actually it will, if you remove the church.

I would love to see this tried experimentally. Like, find an actual disused church in the middle of nowhere and carefully dismantle everything but the organ. Huge stacks of cash have been thrown at stupider art.
posted by phooky at 6:07 AM on January 20 [7 favorites]

Great link, thanks for posting.
posted by theora55 at 6:14 AM on January 20

Seriously, though, it isn't just the church that is missing, it's also the sympathetic vibrations of a good number of the other thousand pipes in the organ, among some other physical effects that aren't captured by simple synthesizers.
posted by wierdo at 6:26 AM on January 20 [8 favorites]

His website is struggling; here's the first track on Youtube (some pirate's channel).

Like phooky and hippybear I want to hear what a pipe organ sounds like without the church around it. I believe the sound is simpler, but I still bet it sounds more like an organ than an 8 bit chiptune. I don't think an outdoor calliope counts; those are built for outdoor play. For that matter I imagine the cabinet / carriage for the calliope is doing some reverb work?

I also want to hear some classic arcady sounding chiptunes played through his cathedral reverb simulator. This Bach piece really sounds just like Bach on organ to me, it's spooky.
posted by Nelson at 7:37 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]

I made the mistake of trying to tag this album on Musicbrainz … never choose Bach for your first attempt at adding classical music to a metadata db.
posted by scruss at 10:05 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]

David Byrne's installation Playing The Building

More Food for Buildings and Songs
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:40 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]

Having visited a large pipe organ workshop where we were given a demonstration of several different scales and types of church organ in a pretty acoustically dead workshop space, I can confirm that church organ minus church does in fact not equal chiptune. It just sounds like a church organ without all the room reverb. It is a bit less grand, I suppose, but fundamentally very much still a church organ.
posted by Dysk at 11:45 AM on January 20 [6 favorites]

Isn't that just the filter that varies? Rob Hubbard told me he never used the filter for that reason.

Please elaborate re: how you know Rob Hubbard?
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:36 PM on January 20

posted by swr at 2:46 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]

I cannot tell a lie. I don't like religions, organ-ized or not. But there had to be -some- positive outcomes. One was humanitarian works. Another is those amazing acoustic spaces.

I like them a lot more than I like church organs. So yeah, lets move church organs out in a field for nature to play with, and replace them with C64s in those amazing acoustic spaces. And I will show up, and I will be moved, and my soul will be healed. Amen.
posted by Twang at 4:22 PM on January 20

Nice to see the Passacaglia and Fugue as an example in here---if you like, you can listen to an early minicomputer play the same piece at MIT in 1964, at a tempo much less ponderous than the rendition here! This is among the earliest recordings of computer music extant. From the page:

This was the kind of music the Harmony Compiler and music-playing software was really intended for. At the time, baroque music was experiencing a surge of popularity, and the organist E. Power Biggs was at the height of his fame. In Cambridge, your typical Harvard Square emporium probably used a KLH radio tuned to WCRB to provide high-class baroque Muzak. (The Pachelbel Canon was not discovered until much later, however.)
posted by Chef Flamboyardee at 4:37 PM on January 20

So this is relevant to me - I've been spending a lot of time deep in the world of synthesis, and I have a particular love for the sound of a LSFR, probably familiar to anyone who spent time with an Atari 2600. I use it liberally - and if you throw the right reverb on it, it sounds astoundingly like a pipe organ, giving it more depth and moodiness than you'd ever expect for such a primitive and harsh form of synthesis.

Reverb is magic - you can take a cheap square or triange wave generator and give it a little reverb, and it often sounds bigger, fuller and more "real" than a flagship Moog run dry with no effects whatsoever - at least, to anyone not a total synth nerd.

Conversely, I'm sure if you were to play a pipe organ in an anechoic chamber, effectively removing the church, it would sound much different than you would expect.

The SID chip still seems to be the "holy grail" of chiptunes for so many in those circles, and while there have been attempts to make clones like the SwinSID (which is an ATMEGA processor at its core, similar to what you'd see in a lot of Arduinos), it's still not perfect (but damned close). Definitely, it's the inconsistency of the filter that is a very desirable thing to some, but for others, it's that whole vague "warmth" thing. SwinSID is close enough for me if I want to do things with hardware compared to actually trying to find a SID chip, Plogue Chipsounds is the best software implementation I've seen and sounds quite good. Additionally, there are a handful of synths that provide digital clones of SID chips - notably, the Elektron Monomachine, which is out of production and becoming harder to find. As far as I am concerned, they are all quite good - I feel like you are getting into "directional audio cables made of unobtanium" territory if you are looking for more than these, and a lot of those subtle differences get washed away as soon as you start running them through any effects.
posted by MysticMCJ at 1:55 PM on January 21

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