Massive organ.
July 2, 2007 5:35 PM   Subscribe

The world's largest operating musical instrument? Hear it here. New York Times article here. (Log-in may be necessary)
posted by flapjax at midnite (21 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Just wondering:

a. What makes it the world's largest operating musical instrument? It sez here that in Atlantic city is a pipe organ with 33,114 pipes, which is more than the 28,482 in this Philly organ.

b. Even if it is the world's largest operating musical instrument, does that mean that somewhere is an even larger, but non-operating instrument?
posted by beagle at 5:45 PM on July 2, 2007

Those are good questions beagle, and that's why I added the question mark to my FPP. I'd assumed that there is a good possibility that it's not in fact the world's largest, and that the ol' hive mind here at MeFi might help get to the bottom of this!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:48 PM on July 2, 2007

Funny, when I first read the post, I thought it was going to link to this NYT piece - possibly the largest thing used as a musical instrument?
posted by jtajta at 5:50 PM on July 2, 2007

Ordered by ranks.
posted by chuckdarwin at 5:50 PM on July 2, 2007

It sez here that in Atlantic city is a pipe organ with 33,114 pipes, which is more than the 28,482 in this Philly organ.

Operating is the key word here. The Convention Hall organ in Atlantic City is in very bad shape -- last I heard, less than 100 stops of the nearly 450 were actually operational, and entire ranks of pipes had been stopped off. Furthermore, nobody is willing to put up the money to rebuild the instrument

The Wanamaker Organ is in much better shape, and is currently undergoing restoration to bring it as close to 100% as possible.
posted by eriko at 6:02 PM on July 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid, there was a TV show on called "You Asked For It". It was half an hour and divided into halves, and on each half they'd show something that someone had mailed in and asked for. (I have no idea how they bootstrapped the first season.)

Anyway, one time they showed what I think must be the strangest keyboard instrument of all time, and perhaps the largest. It was in a limestone cave. The owner of the cave had spent a long time moving around in it tapping on the stalagmites and stalactites with a little rubber hammer, carrying a tuning fork, looking for places which would respond with different tones of the scale. Whenever he found one, he mounted an electric actuator there to hit it in that spot.

Eventually he filled the entire scale, and wired all the actuators to a console. They showed him playing it, and we got to listen -- in 1950's low quality mono TV sound, but even so it really sounded amazing. He was running the place as a tourist attraction, and people would pay for a tour of the cave, which ended with him playing music for them.

I have no idea where it was (Kentucky, maybe?) or whether it's still working, but it's certainly the strangest thing like that I've ever heard of. And since the actuators were spread hell-and-gone all through the cave (necessarily, in order to find all the right notes) I suspect it ended up being physically bigger than the pipe organ in the OP.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:03 PM on July 2, 2007

What's the current status of the organ that used to be in "The Organ Grinder" Pizza restaurant here in Portland?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:04 PM on July 2, 2007

What about the The Great Stalacpipe Organ at Luray Caverns, posted here?
On preview: Steven C. Den Beste.
posted by tellurian at 6:17 PM on July 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seconding what jtajta said.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 6:22 PM on July 2, 2007

Every winter there's a Christmas light show at Wanamaker's (if you're from Philly, it's Wanamaker's); it's mentioned in the NYTimes article but you don't really get a sense of it. Basically, it's a totally analog affair, straight from '78 with blinking bulbs that form snowmen that can wave their arms in two different positions, identical snow flakes that fall in unison, and a reindeer with a red nose that turns on and off. It's basically the most fucking ghetto display of out of date technology known to man. It hasn't changed a bit since I watched it sitting in my dad's lap. I guess there's a certain charm to that, right?

So a guy I know who does sound and light shit professionally came down from Brooklyn because Macy's wanted him to do some updates. He had all kinds of cool ideas for reworking the light show and the sound that went with it. Once it got out that Macy's was going to alter the show people went ballistic. He got everything short of death threats. Eventually, he walked away, leaving the entire set up exactly as he found it. He said it was the most surreal job he ever took; he basically did nothing but show up, get yelled at by about 1000 people one at a time over the course of two weeks.

That's Philly in a nutshell, ass backwards and belligerent about it.
posted by The Straightener at 6:28 PM on July 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

Steven, they may claim that thing in Luray Caverns (which I heard as a kid) to be the world's largest musical instrument, but only because it is spread over 3 1/2 acres, compared to these pipe organs which are pretty compact. I doubt highly whether they have more than 28,000 or 33,000 functioning "stalacpipes" in that thing. The area it takes up does not make it "physically bigger" than the organs. If I took my piano and dispersed the strings and hammers over, say 10 acres, or 100, what the hell, and rigged up a way for the keyboard to play all the strings by remote control, that would not make it the world's largest musical instrument. By the way, according to Luray's own site, the guy who created that contraption found only two stalactites that were naturally in tune. The rest were sanded down until they sounded right.
posted by beagle at 6:38 PM on July 2, 2007

See also, the Long String Instrument.
posted by serazin at 7:44 PM on July 2, 2007

I once had an opportunity to play around on a full pipe organ. It's an amazing experience; it's like you're playing the entire building as an instrument.
posted by Robson at 7:47 PM on July 2, 2007

@ eriko

The Convention Center organ is less functional than that, and getting worse, partly due to the overall restoration of the Hall.

The wikipedia article on the Boardwalk Hall organ has some facts about the debate.

@ TheStraightener

Well, he shouldn't have felt too bad. Philly has booed Santa himself in the past.
posted by johnjreiser at 8:29 PM on July 2, 2007

Bullshit. Earth harp.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:15 PM on July 2, 2007

That thing is pretty crazy. A friend of mine is part of the restoration crew, and spends all day climbing inside its labyrinthine bowels, where everything is brass and lacquered wood.

If you'll pardon the self link, here is a flickr set that my roommate took while getting a tour of the inside of the organ. I haven't been myself, unfortunately.

Wanamaker's itself is a pretty extraordinary place, especially given its sad fall over the past century. The stories I hear about whole wings of the store, with elaborate Egyptian and Middle Eastern themes, are really interesting.
posted by deafmute at 12:11 AM on July 3, 2007

Thanks for the pictures, deafmute!

How in the world does one reach the keys on the top keyboard? Playing this thing must rank somewhere near Chinese water torture, as far as physically uncomfortable experiences go.
posted by epimorph at 2:53 AM on July 3, 2007

epimorph: How in the world does one reach the keys on the top keyboard?

I'm pretty sure the lower keyboards are well below the level one would find on a normal 2 manual organ. Note the music rack above the top keyboard. You have to be able to easily reach up and turn pages.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 10:14 AM on July 3, 2007

One of my most magical childhood memories is standing near the eagle in Wanamaker's and watching the Dancing Waters at Christmastime, listening to this organ. This takes me back to circa 1958 - 59. What a different world it was.
posted by MotherTucker at 10:18 AM on July 3, 2007

This probably is the highest-mass object in permanently installed, sole usage as a musical instrument (unlike the bridge jtajta mentions, the strings of the Long String Instument [much as I love the LSI!], etc.).

If you count transient instruments, another interesting area would be composite instruments: there have been pieces that coordinate the efforts of hundreds of honking cars, thousands of people, packs of elephants and other animals...
posted by allterrainbrain at 1:29 PM on July 3, 2007

deafmute: Relevant self links in comments are explicitly welcome. And I hate your friend. (just kidding)

I'm surprised that I'm surprised at seeing telco twisted pair wiring the organ. The Phone Company had the exact same problem -- how do I identify, by sight, thousands of circuits in a closed place. Simple, color code them. Five colors for the tip, five for the ring, encodes twenty five pairs. Colored ribbons, using the same code, bind each group of twenty five.

Once you hit 600, you use *two* binder ribbons. Ma Bell built a national network based on ten colors -- tracking 30,000 relays is simple, by comparison.
posted by eriko at 7:47 PM on July 3, 2007

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