3D PipesThe origins of the pipe organ can be traced back to Alexandria, Egypt, circa 300 B.C., where a chap named Ktesibius devised a method for delivering compressed air to pan pipes. The modern pipe organ emerged in medieval Europe and developed through the Renaissance into the familiar versions of today.
Found in churches, concert halls, and theaters, pipe organs can be quite a sight and sound to behold. They have multiple keyboards (manuals), numerous stops (drawbars that set the timbre), bass pedals, and huge arrays of pipes (the length of which determines pitch). 3D Pipes ($399) captures this majestic instrument in a natural acoustic setting. The samples are on CD-ROM in the Kurzweil K2000, E-mu E4, and NemeSys GigaSampler formats.
Organic Sound GardeningThe producers gathered chromatic samples of 30 stops - including the blower - from every manual on the McLane pipe organ at Baylor University, plus the subsequent reverb from each note. During this process, a custom-designed head mic and two B&K 4006s mics were run through a custom mic preamp and Apogee converters and recorded to DAT.
The producers then separated the sustained organ sounds from the reverbs and looped them. They then faded in the reverb and crossfaded it with the manual's key release. Unlike the many Kurzweil CD-ROMs that give you a basic sample and keymap and a number of programs based on that sample, 3D Pipes contains only organ sounds as you would hear them in the organ's hall. Every sound has two layers, each in stereo, with the organ in the first layer and the reverb in the second.
The sounds come in 23 files, ranging from 10 to 21 MB in size. The file names are generic, so you'll need to open a file to see which drawbar setting you're loading. Six setups for "four manuals plus pedals" performances are available in Set-Up mode. The amount of RAM designated for five of these setups exceeds the K2000's maximum of 64 MB by a considerable margin, however, so you'll need two K2000s for this. With one K2000 you can load in a bass-pedal file and two manuals and still get an adequate organ performance.
Put This in Your PipeThe pipe organ is a forerunner of the synthesizer. Even today, synths use "pipe lengths" to define oscillator octave settings; 2 feet, 4 feet, and so on. Some organ settings were designed to emulate real instruments, such as flute, cornet, trumpet, tuba, and English horn.
3D Pipes' Flaute Mirabilis 8' is a fat, flutelike stop with a calliopelike edge. The 8' Bassoon Haute Bois is a favorite of mine, providing the reedy timbre of a bassoon. The 8' Trompette en Chambarde is bright with a spitlike attack, and Tuba Mirabilis sounds deep and rich. The 32' Coupled Sub Bass is thunderous.
Actual 3-D sound requires a surround-sound speaker configuration; nonetheless, when I was listening to this CD-ROM, I felt as if I were in a real acoustic setting.
At first I wondered how the sampled Baylor hall reverbs would blend in when played in another hall. Fortunately, the reverbs are in a separate layer and can be turned off. I replaced the organ keymap with the K2000's preset Trombone keymap, and after a little tweaking I had a juicy, natural-sounding reverb without using the internal effects.
Stop-Making SenseI'm not a fan of preset pipe-organ sounds on synths and samplers, but this CD-ROM gave me a new perspective, and I thoroughly enjoyed its rich palette of pipe timbres.
3D Pipes will work for any venue that can't afford the real thing, but not without a few compromises. The stops are plentiful enough to sate almost any pipe organist, but the immediacy of changing sounds by pulling drawknobs on the fly isn't available. You have to wait for sounds to load from hard disk if you want to change timbres, so some forethought is necessary.
Of the CD-ROMs I've reviewed, 3D Pipes is the first to give me a genuine sense of being in the room with an instrument. Virtual Reality did an excellent job of capturing the sound of this powerful keyboard. If you're a pipe organist or composer who wants the genuine article, I heartily recommend that you give 3D Pipes a listen.