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Part 2

To hear a midi file, just click on any organ graphic. To stop the music before it has finished, refresh the page. NB Firefox may refuse to play some tracks or cut them short. Try a different browser!

The pipe organ is a marvel of technology and beauty, that goes back to ancient times. I would like to be able to recount its history, but have not yet found the time required to do this interesting research. Its modern equivalent is the synthesizer. By clicking on these images, you will hear compositions by J S Bach being played "live" on your own computer (if you have a sound card with midi enabled) on a tiny but fully-featured synthesizer.

Click on the graphic to play Bach

More Bach - just click

As with the various kinds of bagpipe, but unlike brass and wind instruments, two functions are separated in designing this extraordinary kind of musical instrument. The first is to provide the wind to make the pipes resonate: this requires physical effort but less skill. The second is to play the instrument - more skill but less physical effort.  I guess that in Bach's day, someone was at the back of the organ operating the bellows. Today that's all done electrically.

Both organ and synthesizer are designed to place at the player's disposal a range of voices - "stops" in organ parlance, "patches" in synthesizer parlance.

The demand for cheap music to entertain the common people in the street and elsewhere led to the invention of the barrel organ and later the steam-operated fairground organ. The "organ-grinder" merely turned a handle, like an itinerant knife-grinder, to generate the wind which activated the reeds or pipes, and to activate the automated musical score. I don't know if this consisted of punched holes, as on the Jacquard loom which inspired Herman Hollerith to invent punched cards for the 1890 US Census; or consisted of pins on a metal drum, like the musical box. But midi files do the same thing with a string of digital instructions to a synthesizer.

Click to hear the sound


These midi files were sequenced by various people to simulate the sound of various traditional instruments. To bring out the counterpoint more clearly, and make them sound fresher to the modern ear, I have used a software called Midikeyz, supplied by Hammer Software to alter tempi, change "instruments" etc. I don't entirely know how it works - the passacaglia (panel opposite) goes on to choose its own instruments after a while!

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Click on their logo to view their site. They offer midikeyz as shareware - try before you buy.

Special thanks to Lubbert Schenk of Softart Design, for use of the images derived from his brilliant paintings of organs, or, in Dutch, Digitale tekeningen van bestaande pijporgels, en eigen ontwerp. To see these paintings in all their glory, click this logo:

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Grateful thanks also to B R Travis and his site: "A Johann Sebastian Bach Midi Page", from which all the pieces on this page have been downloaded and then "tweaked".
For more midi files, orchestrated in various ways, click this portrait.


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More like this:

Cacophonia Part 1

Cacophonia Part 3

Cacophonia Part 4

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The Wayward Isles | Site Index | John Cowper Powys | Home | Memoirs | Letters & Journals | Miscellaneous Pieces