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Page last updated at 15:23 GMT, Monday, 29 March 2010 16:23 UK
Computerised organ at Salisbury Cathedral
By Mark Jones
BBC Wiltshire

Electronic cathedral organ
Computers and organs do mix at Salisbury Cathedral

If you've been to Salisbury Cathedral recently you may have noticed something different about the sound of its organ.

You may have realised that one moment it sounds like the usual Father Willis English organ and then it sounds like a French or German instrument.

Well your ears are correct because while the Father Willis has been out of action, for maintenance work, it's been replaced by a smaller electronic organ.

And this machine has a computer to make it sound like this.

The home-made instrument can be programmed to sound similar to a number of organs from different countries.

A versatile instrument

Over the past few weeks anyone visiting this world famous building has been treated to the sounds from Metz Cathedral, France; St Georgenkirche, Germany and Our Lady of Mt Carmel, Chicago, USA.

Salisbury Cathedral organist Daniel Cook built the four keyboards in to a wooden surround along with the usual wooden pedals. But the stops are shown on two computer screens, either side of the manuals - like virtual buttons.

Daniel said: "Staff and visitors have been really impressed how close this one sounds to the original Father Willis organ.

Electronic cathedral organ
Technology may enhance services in future

"But because of the versatility of this instrument international guests have enjoyed trying to identify their own organ from their own country."

Daniel built the electronic machine using four inexpensive keyboards from a high street store, some wood and a friend of his built the computer.

"Each keyboard costs about £75 each. I just took off the plastic casings and built them in to the wooden surround along with extra buttons or pistons.

"Software from a digital audio company helps us to store the different organ sounds on to the computer. Luckily the Father Willis organ sampled sounds was released by the firm just days before this organ was installed in the cathedral."

Money saving instrument

Daniel is also conscious that he's saved the cathedral money because he told me that a bespoke organ, like the one he has built, would have cost about ten times more if made by a specialist company.

Daniel said: "Although this machine would never replace the Father Willis organ it could be used to help and musically enhance services in future. We could add this facility to the traditional instrument and I can also plug in my headphones and practice without bothering anyone else."

Those who are real connoisseurs of organ music will be glad to hear, although the electronic organ is good and sounds remarkably authentic, the Father Willis is now back in action at Salisbury Cathedral.

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