I ran across this description of a pipe organ design tonight. It got me wondering about the design challenges of musical instruments. So I looked up a description of Sasha’s custom Maven controller and they’re both included here. It’s not that audio software is today’s pipe organ, but the two have a lot in common: sound production. I like the concept of “lyrical intensity.” It’s one of those words you encounter that sums up the impossibility of translating musical attributes into words.
Great Organ of the Tonhalle, Zürich
From a technical and aesthetic point of view, designing an organ requires more than just amassing data on what was commonly done elsewhere, and attempting to imitate it; it is also necessary to have a definite musical ideal which both respects the past and is receptive to the artistic value of our day. Of course, musical instruments have always evolved in response to new developments and the demands of performers, as well as the different musical languages of the time. With the organ, even at the best of times, this evolution has been the result of interactions (often non-collaborated!) between organ builders and composers.
The essence of the organ is its composite, versatile character and its unlimited capacity for modulation of form and sound. Thus, a musician wishing to design a new organ has the option of choosing from among all the tone colors available during the last three centuries. At such a time, however, the worst attitude to assume, and certainly the most barren, is simply to copy a style that flourished in the past. And yet unfortunately, this approach (which was unknown at any other time in history), has been gaining ground since the beginning of the twentieth century. The overall design process follows two principles: the realization of a particular musical ideal and a strict adherence to the instrument’s surroundings. First of all, it is necessary to listen to and study the hall’s acoustics, and with their characteristics in mind, to conceive a plan for the volume of sound, the harmonic scale (which determines the tone color), and the instrument’s lyrical intensity, was it were. This concept of lyrical intensity could well serve as the fundamental principle for determining the quality of the organ as a whole.
Excerpted from the liner notes of:
Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition
Played by Jean Guillou
Excerpted from a comment by an individual who watched Sasha work his custom Maven controller (a board he had built to interface with Ableton Live, which is dj’ing software).
“One trick that I noticed he used was the cross fader on the Maven quite a lot, but with a twist, he or a Maven programmer set the cross fader so when it was on program B it would reverse the loop playing in Ableton. This drove the crowd wild, essentially a reverse switch like on the new Technics CD players. During a large build ups Sasha would tweek the knobs on the Maven which were programmed to control the effect sends on Ableton that were linked to some kind of delay filter plug in, all the highs were squished and delayed just smaked the crowd over the head.”
And from Sasha himself:
Explaining the benefits of using one interface for both studio and stage, Sasha says, “It basically means that every time you play a record, you’re going to be editing it on the fly. When you want the bassline to drop, it drops. Realizing I could DJ with this and what I could actually do to records, it was the most mind-blowing thing I’ve ever discovered as a DJ. It’s a new way of looking at playing music to people. It changes everything as far as I’m concerned. I’m totally seeing the way forward.”
Video clips of the thing at work