Points of Kontakt – Italian Concert Organ from Hephaestus Sounds
We look at a library created with sounds sampled from a cathedral organ, in this case one that speaks with a lovely Italian accent, that is suitable for all manner of organ sound recreations.
by David Baer, March 2016
In this installment of Points of Kontakt, we will once again take a break from our usual fare in interesting electronica and take a look at an excellent pipe organ library. What can I say? I just really dig pipe organs. The instrument here is the Italian Concert Organ, a superb-sounding library created by Francesco Massa of Hephaestus Sounds. It requires the full version of Kontakt and is moderately priced at £70 GBP.
I have reviewed two other pipe organ libraries in the pages of SoundBytes, but I’m inclined to call this one my favorite so far. Part of the reason is that it simply sounds so wonderful. I don’t know whether to attribute that to the skill of the library creator/sampling-master or to the organ itself. But some of the credit must certainly go to the absolutely lovely reverb convolution impulse that is part of the offering. This instrument realistically sounds like it is cathedral-resident, with gorgeous, languorous decays (but, of course, the reverb can be disabled if that’s your desire).
The organ, pictured above, was built in 1972 and is of modest size as these things go. It has 2430 pipes comprising 37 ranks, controlled by three manual keyboards and a pedalboard. The library allows for the realistic inclusion of blower noise, but that may be omitted for a clearer sound. There are several “effect” options to further enhance the realism. These we’ll get to these shortly.
This library takes a different approach than most pipe organ sample playback collections in that the array of stops on offer only allow for one of them to be selected at any one time. If one wants to combine multiple ranks, a Kontakt multi instrument would be required. However, in addition to a reasonable number of individual ranks, there is a generous selection of multi-rank combinations from which to choose.
There are four modes supported, including one in which the sustain pedal (MIDI CC 64) can be used to proceed through a sequence of voice settings without removing hands from the keyboard. Another mode is a Kontakt multi instrument in which the blower noise is only activated by the topmost included instrument – exactly what is called for in this situation. The four modes are clearly explained in the documentation.
In all, there are thirty-two sound choices: ten solo pipe ranks, twenty combination selections and two tutti selections (one of the grand division and the other of the whole shootin’ match). The UI offers sixteen stops along with a Variation stop-control that enables sixteen other stops, thus the thirty-two total number. We’ll get back to what these selections are a little later.
There are some interesting things going on in this library with respect to how it was programmed. Internally, the developer takes advantage of the fact that realistic organ sound has no need for velocity, so the internal organization of sample files within Kontakt looks a bit unusual. Some of the trickery can be understood, but since the scripting is locked, we can only speculate about a few things.
One of these is the Color feature, said in the documentation to simulate the opening/closing of the expression case. But it works for all the stops, which would not be the case on a real organ (not all pipes being within the expression case in the first place). What is actually going on is a rather clever trick. A pedal Color control has three positions. In the middle position, nothing changes. When up, the sample selected for playback is three semitones higher than the intended pitch and the playback is slowed to compensate. A similar thing happens with the control in the down position. The result is a subtle change in timbre that just somehow works nicely. The downside is that position of the Color pedal may not be changed while notes are playing without getting an unwanted pitch bend.
The Source control is said to move the organ closer to or further away from the listener. It’s done with a Kontakt stereo control insert effect and an EQ. That might sound a bit cheesy, but it actually delivers on its intent in pleasant fashion. Another control, Beat, is supposed to enhance the natural beating of organ pipes that are not in perfect tune. When you’ve got over 2000 pipes, there’s naturally going to be variations of a few cents throughout in their tuning. The Beat control invokes a subtle chorus effect internally, resulting in an agreeable slight thickening of the sound.
The other control pedals are for reverb. I’ve already stated how well-suited this solution is for the pipe organ sounding as natural as can be expected. Superbly done!
Now, let’s get to the sounds. I wrote about the types of pipes found in pipe organs here:
If you would like a tutorial introducing you to how pipe organs do their thing, read the section titled Pipe Organ 101. Since the instrument we’re looking at here is Italian, the pipe names will be different but the same basic principles are intact: we have flute and reed pipes of various types (closed or open ends, widths, composition, etc.).
Before we get into the sounds in this library, let me suggest the interested reader check out the video that presents this instrument, which can be found here:
About one quarter of the twelve minute running time is devoted to demoing the individual stops – this section starts at about 3:20. Not all voices are demoed, but you can clearly get an idea of the variety and quality of sound available from those that are.
In the image below, we see a listing of the stops available in each division.
Next, we see the list of voices, this being taken straight from the library’s manual. The column on the left lists the voices when the Var stop is in, and the column on the right the voices when it’s out. So, what does this all mean?
The ten “solo” rank selections are easy to figure out. They map directly to one of the stops in the first list. From there it gets a bit murkier.
The two Tutti voices are no mystery. The Tutti, Grand’organo gets you all the pipes in the division associated with the middle keyboard. The Tutti, Unione is the whole enchilada – all guns ablazin’.
A few other voices are just what it says on the tin – e.g., Contrab. 16’ & Ottava 8’, Ped.
Then there’s the rest. I asked my friend and consummate organist, John Walko of San Francisco, to help me out, and the following observations are mostly John’s expert commentary and italicized when that is so. But he did preface this with the admonition that Italian organ specifications are really tricky, and most American organists have few opportunities to learn about them or experience them in person.
So, here are some ideas about remainder of the voices on board:
Ripieno (applies to any of the six voices with that include that name): In general (that is, in non-organ-specific terms) this refers to the bulk of instrumental parts of a musical ensemble who do not play as soloists. But in this context, this probably simply refers to the Mixtures of the organ – it is a rather different thing that the orchestral term “Ripieno”. Any registration with mixtures is not ideal for accompanying, as it would tend to be rather loud and piercing
Organo Pleno: This means full principal chorus. This means that you can take principals of various pitch levels (8′, 4′, 2′, 2 2/3′, mixtures etc.) and use them all together to create a festive and joyful sound.
Voce Umana: The Italians are the only ones who make a “celeste” (mistuned undulant) with a Principal-scaled stop. By “principal-scaled”, we mean a normally-scaled diapason or principal (as opposed to wide “flute-scaled” or narrow ‘string-scaled stops). So, this is an 8’ (normal pitch) Principal that is mistuned and plays in the treble only.
Grand Jeu: Full reed stops – the biggest sound the organ is capable of making, according to one source (but obviously not louder than full tutti). Note that this is a French term. In a French organ you would draw all of the chorus reeds – the loud Trompettes, Clairons, and Bombardes (in French), plus perhaps the 4′ Principals and Cornets (tierce mixtures, which reinforce the relatively weak trebles of the baroque reeds). Because of the lack of wind in the old organs, French organists would not draw any flutes (or strings, if present) in this registration. The result is very powerful, but clean and clear because the other stops don’t thicken the tone.
Plein Jeu: This means “full chorus”, sometimes all open metal pipes at octaves and fifths. Note that this is also a French term. For this registration I would couple all manuals and draw all of the Principal-toned stops and non-tierce mixtures, plus perhaps an 8′ Flute or two to thicken the texture a bit; if it is a big organ you might add a 16′ Bourdon in the manuals as well – and in the very biggest cathedral instruments you might even find a manual 32′ stop (very rare). It is a very grand effect. In baroque French organ music this registration often accompanies the cantus firmus melody in the Pedal, which plays loud reeds at 8′ and 4′ pitch – a stunning sound, one of my favorites!
Richiamo Neoclassico: This is a bit curious – richiamo means “to recall” and “neoclassic” refers to a style of organ building in the latter half of the 20th century. We are saddled with a lot of these “Neo-baroque” organs in the San Francisco Bay Area – organs that sound like shrill cuckoo clocks! I think this would be a thinner-sounding version of a baroque organ. Or, if the whole organ has a more romantic sound, this could just mean a sound that is more classical … suited to earlier music.
Ance & Fondi: I think that is supposed to be “ancie”. I noticed that “’ance” was used several times, but I think that might be incorrect. This is simply ”reeds and foundations” (foundations being flue stops of 8′ and 4′ pitch, or 16′, 8′, 4′ in a more grand piece).
Ance Leggere: I think this means lighter reeds, such as Clarinets, Oboes, etc. versus the louder Trumpets, Trombones, etc.
So there you have it. Of course, irrespective of what the terms mean or how the library’s voices map to the actual organ stops, what matters in the end is the sound. If it sounds good, it is good – and trust me, Italian Concert Organ from Hephaestus Sounds is chock-full of goodness! This one is enthusiastically recommended.
Buy it here: