Measuring the Organ, Part II: The Good, the Bad, and the Fingerprinted

Traditionally, organs have only been documented through mechanical measurements such as size and overall wind pressure. But this static data can’t communicate the dynamic behavior of the wind system and how an organ actually sounds.

sensor used with organSo Carl Johan Bergsten, a research engineer with the Gothenburg Organ Art Center (GOArt) at the University of Göteborg, Sweden, is working on a new method that would create a “fingerprint” of the wind system, making it possible to compare different instruments and the same instrument after alterations in an objective way. He spent the Thanksgiving holiday documenting Cornell’s baroque organ.

Bergsten is working with a graduate student from the Chalmers University of Technology to measure key action as well the wind system. “We perform a lot of measurements, changing one thing at a time like how fast the key is pressed and released, and see how it affects things,” said Bergsten. “The measurements show the kinds of decisions an artist is making.”

Organ designer Munetaka Yokota pointed out that “how an organist releases the chord makes a huge difference in the oscillation, because you’re not closing all the pallets at the same time. The pressure waves amplify or cancel out. So these measurements could be very useful for an organ teacher in teaching how to play an old organ. You can actually see how to play.”

Once Bergsten has documented what sounds the organ makes, the next step is to try to define what should be considered good or bad. “We have to connect to what’s really going on, what varies and if we like it–the psychological acoustics,” explained Bergsten.