The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

The Pump-Organ

i. Here we are again, almost no filtering, no programs, no Nikuko or
Jennifer, nothing but a text, inscribed through keystroke after keystroke.
The exhausting labor, the tending of the writing, bringing point after
point as a gift to your attention.
ii. Such a triviality! To write about a pump-organ, reed-organ, in the
early days of war and total violence - not making a point about the
generosity of peace, in fact making no point at all in relation to the
presumed primordial and natural, prelapsarian, state of the world at all.
iii. The organ was made by Daniel F. Beatty company between 1878-1880;
it's made from quarter-sawn oak, ebony, a celluloid/chalk composition for
the keys, rubberized cloth for the bellows.
iv. Repairs including patching the cloth with rubberized tape and glue,
pulling and cleaning the C and two other reeds, taping the pedal bellows,
and cleaning the instrument in general.
v. The pitch is high-pitch, which was popular only for a few years in the
19th-century, around the period the organ was produced. The keyboard is
divided into three sections with fourteen stops, including treble and bass
couplers. The sections are more or less independent unless coupled. The
full range is probably seven octaves over 61 keys. A higher-range key
sounds for five to ten seconds after pedaling stops. A lower-range key
holds for four to five sections.
vi. Played, the instrument breathes like a huge lung; pedal-speed is
coupled with a slight swelling volume - and, more important, with the
movement of the pedaling body; the result often coincides with the rhythm
of the improvisation.
vii. The player's breathing, the movement of the body, the air pressure
within the instrument, all contribute to an overall singing, unlike the
banging of a piano or rasping of a guitar. The organ must be tended at all
times; pressing a key slightly, for example, will foil the coupling and
create different onset characteristics. Likewise, pedal speed and depth
contribute to the possibility of a volume-envelope reflecting the thought
behind the music - the body of the player, body of the music, coupled with
the instrument of oak, rubber, glue, metal, and proto-plastics.
viii. Unlike a harmonium, the sound-box contains a vacuum; the note is
pulled out of the atmosphere. This pulling-forth brings the note, through
the vibration of the sound-box, into the air. Since it is a suction
instrument, there is a ceiling to the volume, characterized by the four-
teen-some pounds of atmospheric air-pressure.
ix. Harmonies on the instrument are transparent; instead of isolated pipes
or strings, all sounding occurs by virtue of the sound-box. The player can
feel the vibrations of the instrument case, the keyboard, the pedals;
everything moves together, as in a tamboura. The sounding emanates from a
distributed large volume; the room itself seems to speak.
x. I improvise moving from figure to figure, bringing the figures and
widely varying keys into harmony and transformation with one another. The
improvisations last from seventeen to thirty minutes. The left-hand
creates slow bass counterpoint or parallel fourths, fifths, and octave;
the right-hand works through Chinese, Arabic, and Indian scales. The
recording is made on a Sony mini-disk walkman, then uploaded to Soundforge
for multi-tap and/or reverberation treatment. The pieces are placed on
music cds.
xi. But what I enjoy, notice, most of all, is the breathing of the organ,
our mutual labor, and the production of a sound concomitant with inhaling
and absorbing the world around us. Together we are speaking, and for a
moment our widely disparate histories coincide to bring about primordial
eras of worlds, from this one to the next.


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