Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics in Stuttgart, Germany, spent the past three years working with Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) to develop IT tools for the design of top-quality wooden and metal organ pipes. In December 2011 the team, set up in the context of the EU-funded research project "Innosound", unveiled a first prototype that reduced by 15% total organ production costs. The study was backed by €625,000 in EU funds.
The team experimented with changing the materials used in organ components to find an optimum arrangement. The idea was to develop a software programme that could help organ builders achieve their particular sound ideals. The sound quality is essential. It is the signature of the organ builder and one on which they earn their reputation. The team also investigated different factors related to the character of the sound, such as room dimensions, accompanying acoustics or dimensioning and voicing of the pipes.
“We have been able to develop software to help organ builders construct the pipes according to the sound character that they would like to get at the end,” says Dr Judit Angster leader of the Innosound research group. “Organ builders generally work by hand, and learn how to build the organ pipes from their fathers and grandfathers so it’s a very traditional art,” clarifies Angster.
The developed software programme can determine the ideal depth and width of wooden organ pipes for specific sound characters, believe the researchers. They are confident the new tool will help organ builders optimise the size of the wind chest of the large pedal pipes, saving time and money. Organs are expensive. A small, used pipe organ costs a few thousand Euros but a custom built church organ starts at €100,000 and increases relative to size.
Organs produce sound by air moving through their pipes. They are essentially a very large box of whistles. Each pipe sits on top of a hollow wind chest that is filled with compressed air which comes from an electric pump. The longer the pipe the lower the sound it makes and the shorter the pipe the higher the sound. To play an organ the musician must open and close the air that flows to the pipes from the wind chest. This produces the distinctive organ sound. With so many different parts working in unison, minimising cost without cutting corners required an in-depth knowledge of the building physics.
Far from standardising the organ sound the aim of the three year project, completed in December 2011, was to provide indisputable scientific knowledge that experienced organ builders can use to achieve their tonal ideals.
The organ has played a central role in Western society since Roman times. Along with the clock, the organ was considered one of the most complex man-made creations before the Industrial Revolution. Building organs is a traditional craft that originated in Europe and spread globally, with each country adopting unique technical and cultural traditions.
Representatives from the project consortium assert not to have any competitor in the €740 million European organ market.
Project acronym: INNOSOUND
Participants: Germany (Coordinator), Netherlands, France, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Hungary