Always check the plug
March 31, 2020 5:24 AM   Subscribe

In a previous video about the pipe organ at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, YouTube musician Rob Scallon noticed one of the stops was labelled "MIDI", an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. He asked if it was possible to drive the organ from a laptop set up as a MIDI sequencer, and the answer was a solid "maybe". So he went back to try it. [SLYT, 22 minutes, watch with good audio if you can]
posted by FishBike (28 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
Doesn't MIDI have all of these loads of custom control channels (CC >128 or something. I'm old) also, that map to custom parameters in whatever tone-generator you're using? I'd start spamming them with a pitchbend wheel.

(halfway through..)
posted by pompomtom at 5:42 AM on March 31, 2020


Pipe organs are amazing toys. I always thought they were the product of smoking weed. "OK, ok ok - what if we got a got and stuck hundreds of whistles into it?" "Yeah! And what if we got giant bellows and got choir boys to jump on them. Good to see that that attitude hasn't changed.
My oldest brother played organ for a church in our area in exchange for access to the instrument at other times to play Bach on it. I'd come along sometimes just to listen to him play when he could go at the instrument with less restraint. He also had occasional access to another church organ which was not as large but was in better condition. We had a Boy Scouts supper there and some of the scouts snuck into the organ loft and start playing it, not knowing that they had selected the "chimes" stop and were playing for a good chunk of the town.
posted by plinth at 6:27 AM on March 31, 2020 [5 favorites]


Yeah, MIDI has "continuous controllers" which enable you to record and control specific functions like pitch bend, modulation, and some specific things depending on the the specific thing you're controlling. But I would bet that the organ responds to note on and note off and not much else, since it doesn't have the ability to bend notes and whatnot.

This is a neat video, but it also kind of comes down to "machine performs exactly as it was designed"
posted by jonathanhughes at 6:40 AM on March 31, 2020 [5 favorites]


While all else fades, MIDI endures.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:44 AM on March 31, 2020 [6 favorites]


Is the organ in normal playing mode even sensitive to key velocity? Or does it just control dynamics with the stops?
posted by thelonius at 6:46 AM on March 31, 2020


Organs use volume pedals.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:48 AM on March 31, 2020


I think his other video of how that same pipe organ works is even more amazing. An incredible instrument.
posted by vitout at 6:55 AM on March 31, 2020 [6 favorites]


More info on the Fourth Presbyterian (Chicago) organ here. It was retrofitted between 2012 and 2016. The console is entirely new.

He mentions MIDI as “modern” - the spec is almost 40 years old!
posted by rh at 6:59 AM on March 31, 2020 [5 favorites]


Organs are awesome. Growing up there was a pizza place with a large pipe organ, but it closed and I think the organ went to a church.
San Diego is has a civic organist to play this beauty. I hope they don't get replaced with a MIDI machine.
posted by CostcoCultist at 6:59 AM on March 31, 2020


Generally, a modern pipe organ in normal playing mode is not sensitive to key velocity (the electronic actuator is either on or off) but the pre-electronic technology used to make organs work ("tracker" organs) are somewhat responsive in that since each key is directly, mechanically connected to the valve that makes air enter the pipe, you can achieve a tiny bit of finesse and articulation....that being said, I've been an organist for 20 years and have only played trackers a few times and I can't quite feel that level of control, but I know that real pros can!

Also while pipe organs don't have volume pedals per se, it's true that some have a set pipes enclosed in a box (the "swell") with shutters that are opened and closed via a pedal, which gives the player some control over the volume of all the pipes in that box at a time.
posted by Thomas Tallis is my Homeboy at 7:05 AM on March 31, 2020 [8 favorites]


Isn't this what Tim Hecker did on Ravedeath, 1972?

I saw him play that album in a church using the organ. Very spooky in near dark, the sound physical as much as audible.
posted by treblekicker at 7:14 AM on March 31, 2020 [2 favorites]


During the 'metal' piece... I saw some of those knobs move by themselves. Do organs do that? Looks like a complicated MIDI file could control the whole thing if you mapped things correctly.
posted by zengargoyle at 7:30 AM on March 31, 2020 [1 favorite]


They totally need to slip in the MIDI file for Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida for the next service.
posted by tclark at 7:49 AM on March 31, 2020 [8 favorites]


They really should have tried the MIDI out part of the equation. Let the dude play something while fiddling with knobs and stuff while recording it on the laptop.
posted by zengargoyle at 7:54 AM on March 31, 2020 [2 favorites]


Just discovered Rob Scallon and Andrew Huang this week and love them both. Their friendship is wonderful, they seem like nice people, and they each make great music.
posted by terrapin at 9:00 AM on March 31, 2020 [2 favorites]


Rob always seems like he's having so much fun in his videos.
posted by FishBike at 9:11 AM on March 31, 2020


the pre-electronic technology used to make organs work ("tracker" organs)

This makes the phrase "tracker music" delightfully ambiguous.
posted by Jpfed at 9:42 AM on March 31, 2020 [4 favorites]


I just watched both videos with headphones and thoroughly enjoyed them. Organs are amazing. I had a patient who was a pipe organ tuner/repair person, he would get contracts to go attend to some neglected organ in some far off place and he would return after spending weeks there with incredible stories. Fixing things using relatively ancient technology requires a lot of manual labor and the job just wreaked havoc with his body, developing lots of nerve and tendon problems. Part of his job was really learning the entire history of the organ, where and how it was made, and what had been done over the years by people without expertise just to keep the old thing going. So much craftsmanship involved, he would tell you that he was really just an apprentice for decades and there are very few people qualified to do this work. As was mentioned in the video, the instrument is really the entire building and sometimes tuning and maintenance would involve moving an entire array of pipes, either because the building had settled or had been remodeled or was just installed wrong.

Thanks to everyone who didn't reveal the big ending. With That Song being so overplayed over recent years, I might have skipped the whole video if that had been the hook. As it turned out, by the time they got to the end, it was delightful to hear it.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:07 AM on March 31, 2020


In Seattle back in the day, at St Marks Cathedral after their amazing Gregorian chanted evening service, the stoners and organ aficionados were allowed up in the choir loft right next to the organ for impromptu mini concerts. Just amazing being right next to the pipes.

Still trying to track down a piece by Dieterich Buxtehude that was just ok lyrically but climaxed as a showpiece for organ that ramped up to an explosion of sound with seemingly every pipe full out intense.
posted by sammyo at 10:31 AM on March 31, 2020


CANYON.MID or it didn't happen
posted by scruss at 11:12 AM on March 31, 2020 [4 favorites]


I saw some of those knobs move by themselves. Do organs do that?

I don't know how modern an innovation it is, but most organ consoles I've seen have preset buttons so the organist can quickly change the sound from one configuration of a hundred stops on or off to a completely different one. It always looks cool and kind of spooky when a bunch of the stop knobs suddenly pop in or out and the sound changes.
posted by straight at 11:44 AM on March 31, 2020 [2 favorites]


This makes the phrase "tracker music" delightfully ambiguous.

Yeah, first thing that popped into my head when I read that was “someone needs to get one of these into Venetian Snares’ hands”.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 12:47 PM on March 31, 2020 [1 favorite]


Does heavy metal in a little organ sound like Bach? Almost to my barely trained ears.
posted by Hactar at 1:01 PM on March 31, 2020


Is this the original Rain song? Rain - Rob Scallon youtube from 2011.
posted by jjj606 at 1:30 PM on March 31, 2020


It's a lot more fun when the organ dates from the 1890s and you have to build a robot to push the keys to get MIDI input.
posted by automatronic at 1:50 PM on March 31, 2020 [2 favorites]


Is this the original Rain song?

I think this one's the original original. The one in the parking garage was an attempt to get the same delay effect out of the environment instead of an effects pedal (or maybe just less of the latter).

Then more recently he tried again, but using two more guitarists playing a slightly delayed version at the same time, live. Even though they had click tracks in headphones to try to time it to, I still can't imagine the difficulty of trying to play out of time with other musicians in the same room after a lifetime of trying to play in time with them.
posted by FishBike at 2:27 PM on March 31, 2020 [1 favorite]


The 1890's MIDI retrofit? Oh god. They need to put felts or some other dampener on the solenoids before they wear holes in the keys!
posted by plinth at 6:36 AM on April 1, 2020 [1 favorite]


The 1890's MIDI retrofit? Oh god. They need to put felts or some other dampener on the solenoids before they wear holes in the keys!

The clicking is the sound of the solenoids hitting the limits inside their own housings. They don't touch the keys - they move wooden levers with foam tape on the ends. Those are the "fingers" playing each key you can see.
posted by automatronic at 1:34 AM on April 3, 2020


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