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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Mailbag: “A Virtual Organ”

February 18, 2010

Dear Michael,

Could you please expand on what is meant by a "virtual" organ?




I think, in linguistic fairness, one could describe a 'virtual organ' as an organ that has many of the attributes of the 'real thing' (if one thinks, by the sound, that the 'real thing' is a pipe organ) without the one key element, wind-blown pipes. This virtual organ, a very sophisticated device, has a console that looksand functions like any other electric-action organ console (indeed, it was built by a distinguished maker of pipe organs), but through digital recording technology it draws its voice from a considerable catalog of sounds made by authentic organ pipes, which are then reproduced by electronic means and played back through a high quality audio system.
This particular instrument even recreates the sound of wind in the organ chamber, the noise of swell shades opening and closing, and the 'start up' of a 'blower' (though, since there is no actual wind, there is no blower, either). Intricate and thoughtful as are the processes brought together to create the virtual organ, and not disregarding some of the conveniences of location and mobility, and some possible economic savings, it is what it is, a 'virtual organ', and careful listening still will reveal it as such, though, in truth it is obviously capable of musical effect, so perhaps it all boils down to semantics and preferences as there is no question that in the right hands, the 'virtual organ' can have an authentic impact on an audience.
But it is not a pipe organ, regardless of what it might have you think. Is this a bad thing? I'm not the one to judge.




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