YouTube series on revamping a 1960s theatre organ

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Darren Nemeth
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YouTube series on revamping a 1960s theatre organ

Unread post by Darren Nemeth » Tue Feb 05, 2019 4:03 pm

YouTube channel International Artists recently uploaded a bunch of videos. Among them is the start of a new series showing them revamp a 1960s electronic analog theatre organ into digital.

Although this is not a 1920s console it is facinating to watch.

Also among their other recent videos is one showing how they make and voice new pipes for the older organs.

Last edited by silentfilm on Wed Feb 06, 2019 12:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Fixed YouTube embed.
Darren Nemeth
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Re: YouTube series on revamping a 1960s theatre organ

Unread post by MoviecollectorOH » Tue Feb 19, 2019 7:15 pm

Wow, that's interesting to see. Just a small Apple CPU. Amazing how things get smaller over time. :shock:
I have worked with computers and electronics, so I shouldn't be surprised. I find that pretty amazing though.

The first instance of analog organ upgrade to digital, exclusively for live performance, that I know of was for avante-garde keyboardist Michael Iceberg (Iseberg) and his "Iceberg Machine". He had his own show at Disney from the mid-70s through mid 80s. It was unique at that time, in that he could play digitally recorded acoustic instruments (and other sounds), live on keyboards. So his show functioned as an educational demonstration of the future of keyboards, in the middle of Disney's Tomorrowland area.

This was all pre-MIDI (international standard to connect different keyboards and equipment together to play at once). That doesn't count in the case of your organ upgrade video though, as that is all hardwired internally too.

360 Systems was a company outfitting the Anaheim Disney theme park in the early 80s with early digital playback equipment to replace all the different sound effects used around the park, on the rides and exhibits. Up to this point all their sound effects were played back using customized 35mm film machines.

360 Systems Permanent Playback module example - representative example of units used at Disney parks


Up to that point, Iceberg had been on an ongoing progression with the gear he used. Earlier on he had a couple Mellotron organs on stage with the rest of his gear (as did bands like The Moody Blues). Then he upgraded to a pair of Chamberlin organs (the Mellotrons were actually knockoffs of the Chamberlins which continued to further be developed, so at some point the Chamberlins became much more advanced). These devices used 60" tape strips to play prerecorded sounds, one tape strip per key, but being electro-mechanical they suffered from serious reliability issues over the long term.

Things came to pass and Iceberg met the people from 360 Systems. They sold him specialized digital units which could play back the sounds of real instruments. He only needed to wire them to a central keyboard console. He ended up using a Wurlitzer 4300dr organ for the console, just a modest two-manual electronic organ, using the keyboards, stops and other controls to run this, as well as some other things (Oberheim OB-8, Oberheim SEM, Sequential Circuits Pro One, etc) - all pre-MIDI and using non-conventional means of connection.

An interesting side note here is that the unit they came out with was the "360 Systems Keyboard" - the first keyboard with digitally stored sounds from real instruments, this was just around the time he was in his upgrade phase. This keyboard was primarily used in recording studios during the mid 1980s. It was a popular and widely used instrument, used by mainstream recording artists at the time.

Later on the same company produced the "Instant Replay", for which they are best known. Anyone who has been involved in the radio industry in the last 30 years or so would recognize one. Similar idea, play back pre-stored digital sounds on demand. Each key plays back a different digital recording.

In any case I am getting off topic here, but this all shows how things came into place.

Iceberg had a residency at Disneyland in California at the Tomorrowland Pavilion. He must have made his mark there, because there has been an audio-animatronic "entertainer" there ever since he has been gone. :D

Below is a concert he put on, one of the few good recorded examples of him during this time period. The Wurlitzer organ console (shown above) is the lower two keyboards he is playing while facing the audience. The keyboard on top is a Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, a popular analog keyboard with some interesting capabilities. He also had another Prophet-5 keyboard off to the side which he occasionally reached over to play.

Then there is a Linn Drum unit, also connected to his organ console. It was the first line of drum machines to use digital drum sounds, recorded from real drums. This was popular in the 1980s, used on many pop records. You can easily see this in the Youtube still image below, behind him in his mirror. It is the big black thing to the right, sitting up high on top of an equipment rack. He also had a personal relationship with the owner of this company, as he was an early user.

The two rows of metallic knobs directly below the keyboard console is his audio mixer, as he produced his own show.

Finally, the concert. This was aired on the Disney channel in 1983. This is a home VCR recording, exceptional for its time, as it was simulcast on FM radio. The Youtube uploader separately recorded and put together both the VCR video and the FM stereo audio for a better-than-average home recording for that time.

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