Proof of Concept 1:
The "Mission" Project
"It's kind of fun doing the impossible."
For reasons we'll never understand...
other digital organ companies seem more focused on developing glitzy new features rather than better sounding instruments. It's no wonder that so many digital organs from 20 years ago sound about as good as (and sometimes better than) today's models. This has led many people to conclude that the divide between digital and pipe organ sound is unbridgeable, a premise we cannot accept.
Our longstanding frustrations with the digital organ industry's priorities and direction eventually compelled us to build our own instrument. We were convinced that if our design goals could be met, a digital organ of acknowleged musical substance and worth could be constructed for the first time.
Over the years, we have studied dozens of pipe organs - old and new, big and small - in the pursuit of this goal. We are pleased to share the results of an intense study we made of a single instrument. In this case, we tested our technology, processes and knowlege by creating a digital replica of an American organ building landmark. We then made a direct, head-to-head comparison of the original instrument with our copy. To our knowlege, this kind of comparison has never been attempted before, perhaps with good reason!
The instrument in question, an 1897 George Hutchings organ at Boston's "Mission Church" (the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help) is a well-known one, located in a glorious natural acoustic. Some of America's most famous and talented builders participated in the creation of this pipe organ, including George Hutchings, Ernest Skinner, and Charles Fisk. See more about its history here.
David N. Johnson - Processional in E-Flat Major
J. S. Bach - Wer nur den leiben Gott lasst walten
This project came about in a somewhat unusual manner. We were initially approached by the church about providing a rental instrument for a performance of Vierne's Messe Solonnelle and other choral works which require two organs for the choral accompaniment. We had the idea of creating a duplicate of the church's Hutchings organ and installing it in the Sanctuary at the other end of the nave, where the chorus would sing from. Everyone agreed this would be a fun and interesting experiment, and plans were put in place to make it happen.
We recorded the pipe organ over the course of several late nights. In less than 2 months, these recordings were converted into thousands of individual note samples by our staff and loaded into our test tone generator setup. An available older used Rodgers console served as the controller for this ad-hoc M&O instrument. Thus, this experiment was performed using an M&O Revelation System. Mission church is a busy place, and we had about a week's time to install the organ's audio system, get everything running properly and get it tonally balanced. During this week, we had to work around numerous daily and weekly masses as well as several concert rehearsals. Suffice it to say, it was a grueling week. The results, however, were stunning, and we knew we had to document this effort in a special way. Glenn Goda, the church's talented organist, kindly agreed to help out by playing a number of short pieces with the same registrations on both organs. His amazing consistency of play made these comparisons possible!
The videos below present a daring comparison of the Hutchings organ with an M&O digital replica of the same organ. They feature the same music played by the same organist on the same stops in the same room on the same evening - brought together in an A/B listening test format for critical listening. It is as direct a comparison of pipe and digital sounds as you will ever hear. We are proud to set forth these videos to demonstrate the capabilities of our system and the talents of our staff.
Tips for listening...
Each video begins with a few seconds of silence during the title screens. We suggest using this time to minimize your browser or close your eyes for your first listening. Comparative listening tests are typically "blind" tests because of the interactivity of our senses. If you like, make a note of each transition you hear and confirm them when you watch the videos later. Surprises will surely await you!
Good headphones (or good speakers) will help you hear the most detail. The "purer" the listening situation, the more you will be able to discern. Have fun! We sure did.
David Cherwien - Aria, from Partita on "For All the Saints"
Louis Couperin - Chaconne in G
Jehan Alain - Litanies (played by D. Marshall & S. Nelson)
We developed our system to be able to express our own musical priorities and preferences. Using this system, we have always strived to create instruments with a new type of musical response and a complex tonal balance of our own design. While each Marshall & Ogletree Opus organ is certainly unique, there is a commonality of tone and response which distinguishes them collectively from the works of other organ builders. In the case of this project, however, we subjugated our own preferences to those of the builders of the Hutchings organ in order to create the best comparison possible. We felt it was important to be able to demonstrate that both we (and our system) are quite capable of doing anything that might be asked of us musically.
We hope that these videos might give you confidence in choosing Marshall & Ogletree as the builder of your new instrument. It would be an honor to build one for you.
It should be noted that while we have never subscribed to the notion of capturing the sounds of a single pipe organ to be able to recreate it somewhere else, we made an exception for this project in order to be able to analyze and verify the capabilities of our system. Invaluable information was gleaned from this experiment, and future M&O organs will benefit from this study.
We want to specially thank Glenn Goda of Mission Church for his tremendous support throughout the project and for his beautiful playing. His intimate knowledge of the Hutchings, his sensitivity in "playing the acoustics," and his care in choosing registration on both organs are evident throughout.
Thanks also to our incomparable and totally obsessed team who brought this entire effort together in a remarkably short order:
Our hats are off to you, gentlemen. You're the best!