13 January 2008

Because Sheepcat Asked for It

My interest in homemade pipe organs was piqued when I found a link at Canticanova to this site. The fellow here, named Matthias, according to his profile, did something odd: He designed his own organ completely from scratch, with no research. But he also had a link to this fellow, Raphi, who researched and built his own organ, one much more complicated and elaborate. There are also links to others who had done the same feat.

So apparently and organ was something one could make in a garage. Oddly enough, this makes perfect sense to me. Ctesibus had minimal tools at his disposal when he made the first hydraulus. His followers had little more. For centuries craftsmen laboured in simple shops producing incredible works by virtue of their labour and skill. Many home shops today have more tools and more material than the workshops of old. So replicating the work of the craftsmen of old is not outlandish. (well, not that I would compare my work to an old master... maybe a journeyman) All that is lacking is the skill, the knowledge and the will.

Today we mainly use machines in the place of skill. As a galoot, I tend to use fewer machines. Lacking a master I have been forced to learn through experience (which in my case is mainly in the Oscar Wilde sense.) Experience is a harsh master, but a useful one. Still, I have found the the skill involved (so far) is not beyond an average woodworker. If you can saw and plane a board, you are a fair distance on the way.

The knowledge is available mainly through the internet and through books, of which there are quite a few. The main standard work is Audsley's The Art of Organ Building, published in 1905. Raphi found another book, one which I bought, by a fellow named Wicks, called Organ Building for Amateurs, published in 1875. These books are really quite useful in spite of their age. Not much has changed in organ building since 1905 (or 1805, for that matter) so the age is irrelevant. There are also a large number of websites, including the Encyclopedia of Organ Stops, which has descriptions of most of the known stops, (and sound samples of many of them); there is also webrings such as this one and articles like this one detailing a simple method for building flue pipes. So the information is out there to help one build. Unfortunately, building an organ is also an exercise in Art, and not everyone is an artist. There is always that elusive something that one can never find in a book or a website, but must provide from within oneself. But still, knowledge can go a long, long way.

Which leaves will. By "will" I mean the ability to see a project through to its end. And this can be difficult. Any long project I have done has a beginning, a middle and an end. It is exciting to begin a project, to start and be able to see how you are progressing from the nothing you started with not so long ago. It is also exciting to come to the end, to see all your hard work coming together. The deadly part, where will alone can carry you, is the long middle. This is where the worker toils away, yet it is hard to tell the difference between today and yesterday, where all the work seems to just go nowhere. The beginning is past and the end is not yet in sight. This is where the work lives or dies.

I don't know if I'll go through to the end. I am just satisfying myself right now about the knowledge I have acquired. In building the pipes I am asking a question- is it really possible? When I saw the design for the wood flue pipes my reaction was "No way. It can't be that simple, can it?" So I made one, and it worked. I built a second because I wanted to see if I could replicate the experience, and it worked too. I made one for the lower octaves, and a few for the top. So far, they all worked.

But the woodpipes are slow to make, and will be costly in the end. Furthermore, they take up a fair amount of space, and are quite heavy. Wicks claimed to have an alternative: imitative pipes made out of rolled up paper. Now when I read that my reaction was really "No way!" But my curiosity was piqued. It's the kind of ludicrous idea that really appeals to me. But in practical terms, they would be cheaper, lighter and take less space. I would try.

The paper pipes turned out to be trickier and more fiddly. I can build them faster, but a fair number don't work as they should. Still, they can work. Whether or not I can successfully build a rank using this method, I don't know: that's something I'm trying right now.

I don't know if I'll ever build an organ. It is a fascinating idea. It's something that can grab my imagination (and that's something I'll blog about tomorrow). What I have right now is about thirty pipes, parts for about another fifty, and some (minimal) experience. I have a vague idea of what I'd like to do, plus some vague ideas of what I could do if the main vague idea doesn't play out. I'll leave that here for tonight. I'll say a few more things in the coming weeks, but I'll leave you with this last link: It's a very good overview of the basics of the pipe organ.

No comments: