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Thread: Pipe Attack Transients "Chiff"

  1. #1
    Lieutenant, Associate Concertmaster AllanP's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Sherwood, OR, USA

    Pipe Attack Transients "Chiff"

    I was lisiening to a CD of organ music. The pipe work has noticeable starting transients when each note is struck. One piece has a reed added part way through in which the reed starts when the note is played. The effect is make it obvious that the starting transient makes the note sound with a delay after the key is struck. One effect is to cause a gap between the notes when played legato thus giving a little spacing between notes.

    When the reed was added, it was a kind of relief to have the rhythm become clearly defined. My organ teacher achieves a somewhat similar effect of making each note clearly defined by shortening the previous note slightly to give a clear attack to the note coming next which is then right on time. Is the "chiff" effect intentional to give this note spacing to define the note beginning? Is the "chiff" effect just an organ building style? Possibly it is not possible to get a clean attack on low pressure pipe work? European organs in large stone buildings do not seem to have a noticeable attack transient, but possibly it is because the listener is much farther away.

    Mt preference is for a clean attack without noticeable transients. What do others think?

  2. #2
    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Tucson, Arizona
    From what I know about pipe organ construction, which isn't much btw, the lowest part of the pipe (where it makes contact with the wind chest) can be smooth metal or have little ridges or "nicks". An un-nikcked pipe will be "chiffy". The Moller I play every week at church has these noticeable starting transients, which oddly enough, I truly enjoy. For me, it ads character to the sound - and since this church organ is in a completely dead acousting environment, any extra mechanical sounds are always appreciated.
    Kh ~~.

    Amateur musicians practice until they get it right ...
    fessional musicians practice until they can't get it wrong ...

  3. #3
    Midshipman, Forte
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    First a little bit of history:

    In the 1950s and 1960s (which is way before my time BTW, so this IS actually history for me) a wave of organ building reform swept through America and we are for sure still feeling it's effect today. This reform birthed the concept of the neo-baroque organ. If it is possible to find a beginning for such a thing, it may as well be Albert Schweitzer's "The Art of Organ Building and Organ Playing in Germany and France." The Orgelbewegung (German organ reform movement) was founded in the same time frame - around 1906. American students were learning in Europe during the first part of the 20th century, and I think that was one of the major factors driving the reform in America.

    The fundamental principals of this reform movement were: slider wind chests, mechanical key actions, lower wind pressures, and free instrument placement.

    In the midst of such sweeping changes we have a distinct breaking point in the art of pipe voicing. The modern tonal concept of the 50s and 60s no longer called for what the great American craftsmen knew how to do. And by the way, don't fool yourself - from EM Skinner to Murray Harris way back to Hook and Hastings, there were great American craftsmen - artists - doing great work. And sadly, those type of organs are no longer built.

    Anyway, back to chiff. Some organ builders decided that chiff was a good thing. So yes, they were doing it on purpose. Their reasons might be a little sketchy: evidently some research indicated early builders used no nicks in voicing the pipes, and some organ recordings made during this era close-miked the pipes, resulting in an inacurrate representation of the organ's sound. By the way, more recent research has questioned the presumption that early builders did not nick.

    Another question you raise - is it possible to not have chiff on low wind pressure. Absolutely. There are many, many pipe organs that demonstrate very sensative, beautiful voicing on low wind pressure. In your area I would guess you are familure with John Brombaugh? His organs are relatively low pressure, but very elegantly voiced.

    And do I like it? By my comments in the previous paragraph you can probably already guess my opinion. I don't like heavy chiff instruments. Sometimes a little bit on an appropriate stop can be charming. But the chiff shouldn't call attention to itself.

    As an additional thought - the organ reform movement was reaped some wonderful results in America. The organs by Paul Fritts, Martin Pasi, Taylor and Boody, Richards and Fowkes, John Brombaugh and the late Charle Fisk are rightly considered world class.


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