The "Pedal Synthesizer"

The Pedal Synthesizer is a multi keyboard performance synthesizer, conceived as an instrument that would make use of an organist's manual and pedal skills, capable of performing music typical to church music ministry, that would be relatively portable. The synthesizer is obviously "here to stay" in several musical arenas, not the least of which are many of our worshipping communities. The Alesis QS 6.1 has some very usable "organ" sound emulations;  however, this instrument was not intended to be uniquely a portable organ, nor be an organ practice instrument.  The purpose for this instrument was to assemble a  multi-keyboard synthesizer, assembled in an "organ like" configuration, for use as a synthesizer. Synthetic, by definition, means "human made" as opposed to naturally occurring.  By strict application this would leave only animal sounds and the human voice as non synthetic music, since all other musical instruments are human made.  What is often the object of artistic disagreement in music synthesis, is the quality of a synthetic musical imitation of an already synthetic musical sound. Synthesized sound is not automatically an intrinsically "compromised entity" from its outset just because of the nature of its creation.

The strategy to use in playing this instrument is to approach it as either a two manual harpsichord, or consider it akin to a pre nineteenth century English organ, a colonial American organ, or an early French instrument, having two manuals and a minimal pedal compliment. Forget thinking only in terms of specific stops, although some good analogies do exist (see Performance Notes below).  The pedal technique will consist of toes only, without shoes - use canvas gymnastic slippers.  Hymns can be rendered accurately, some "literature" can be performed viably too, and the "war horses" that are orchestral keyboard transcriptions are quite workable.  By this point, surely someone will have muttered to themselves that this endeavor reminds them of the 1960's TV western "Have Gun, Will Travel"?  This is admittedly not everyone's "cup of tea" - but to the "not faint of heart", read on.
 

Manual and Pedal board alignment:  As pictured, the StudioLogic MP-117 pedal board fits between the legs of the QuikLok stand and lines up adequately with the top manual - the bottom manual requires middle "C" be transposed  an octave higher from keyboard center ( hold "Transpose" and press C below middle C (C3), release "Transpose" - the transposition is retained through power off or while unplugged ). One sits aligned with the "E" above "middle C", much as they would be positioned at an organ.  Also the pedal board must be transposed down -12 steps when powered on to place the pitch in the standard "16'" pitch range for pedals ( hold "Transpose" while sequentially pressing Bb, then bottom C#, and D; release "Transpose"; Bb="-", C#="1", and D="2", ergo "-12" ). The pedal board is connected to the bottom synthesizer's midi-in port.  Unless programed otherwise, the pedal board plays the midi channel 1 sounds of the lower synthesizer. The StudioLogic 17 note pedalboard is a minimum usable compass that will fit ideally into the QuikLok stand.  One octave pedalboards were not considered because the capability to use of both feet was a requirement. An AGO pedal board, though musically preferred, would be a nightmare to haul around. Roland has announced a new 27 note pedalbord designed to compliment its Hammond organ emulation keyboard.  Fitting it onto the QuikLok stand would need to be resolved. At this time I have not been able to view a working model nor get a final price quote on the item. Actually there are internet web sites that show how various individuals have done a superb job constructing an organ practice instrument, using synthesizer keyboards with a full size pedal board, fitted with a MIDI interface.  With "necessity as the mother of invention" its surprising how much music one can make on this rig, and how fast one's feet adapt to the abridged peadlboard. Initially the upper and lower synthesizers were aligned with each other. Repositioning the top keyboard one octave to the right not only improved the upper manual's alignment with the pedal board, but also created the "effect" of  having an additional lower octave on the bottom keyboard. This lower octave was found to be most desirable for playing piano sound programs.  Another option might be to replace the QS 6.1 with a QS 7.1 or QS 8.1 which have a longer keyboard compass.  The QS 6.1 has been retained here to remain with an elegant and cost effective solution of a compact 61 note manual compass.

Aligned manuals: Pictured at right was the original keyboard arrangement with manuals aligned.  This required that both synthesizers be transposed up one octave in order to be optimally aligned with the pedal board and effectively took away one octave from the top compass of both manuals. This alignment would be preferable if the manuals are used alone without the MP-117 pedal board - leaving middle "C" at standard C3 keyboard position, or if a full sized A.G.O. midi pedal board were to be centered on the keyboards.

Keyboard action:  The Alesis "weighted synthesizer" (not "weighted piano") action was decidedly the most pleasing - understandably a subjective judgment;  but, the action is as good as various electric action pipe organ keyboards on which I have played. There are no 61 note keyboards currently manufactured with a weighted piano action. The QS 8.1 has the full 88 keys with a weighted piano action.

Available sounds:  The Alesis QS 6.1 comes "out of the box" with a wide variety of very good sound programs (sound patches).  As great as some of this keyboard's "acoustical imitations" are, most of its organ sounds are engineered to sell to the "gospel - jazz/rock - Hammond B-3" market and not imitate various registrations of organ pipes.  With the aid of Alesis' sound editing software, and a personal computer attached through a serial cable, the capability exists to create some of the desired acoustical organ sound programs. Veritably none of the commercial brand name synths tested included actual acoustical pipe organ sound equivalents of pipe organ registrations commonly used in standard literature - irrespective of price.  Several of Alesis' sound programs are immediately usable within the organ context (see Performance Notes below).  As time permits, sound program modifications will be posted on this site for additional "legit" organ registrations. It must be noted too, that if one is open to using the many non organ sound colors available from this synthesizer's pallet of sounds, the Alesis QS 6.1 (also the 7.1 and 8.1) comes "out of the box" with an astounding library of functional and well thought out orchestral, other acoustic, and abstract sounds.

Primary Sound System - Alesis Monitor Two speakers powered by Alesis RA-100 reference amplifiers:  The search for an ideal portable sound system has been something of an ongoing quest.  The finest sound source can produce sound only as good as the sound system to which it is connected. The current "church" sound system for the pedal synthesizer is four Alesis Monitor Two's (3-way; 150 watts program @ 4 ohms) running off of two Alesis RA-100 (100w. x 100 w. @ 4 ohms load) reference amplifiers.  This is an ideal sound system for two Alesis QS 6.1 synthesizers.  This totals out at 400 watts into four channels - or two channels per synthesizer.  The Alesis Monitor Two is a mid-field studio monitor that does an excellent job of producing "flat" studio monitor audio, together with an Alesis RA-100 reference amplifier. The sound system for private practice is a pair of AKG K240 headphones running off of the head phone output of a Midiman 6 channel stereo line mixer.

Alternate Sound System - Roland KC-500's:  Two Roland KC-500 keyboard amplifiers have also been used with the pedal synthesizer in a large room. Each Roland KC-500 has a 150 w. internal amplifier and is designed to work in tandem as a pair of stereo amplifiers and speakers. The Alesis midfield Monitor Two's are not designed to be hauled around, abused, and survive, as are Roland KC-500 keyboard amplifiers.  The Roland KC-500's are of excellent construction, are probably the best easily portable solution available, and a pair can be purchased for about $1K (at below suggested retail).  However, the KC-500's are not intended to produce the same "flat" reproduction as do studio monitors - therefore some of Alesis' sounds will be noticeably less honest with the KC-500's than with the Monitor Two's or the AKG K240 headphones.  Other options considered were commercial sound reinforcement speaker columns, used by live bands, which are designed to produce high levels of "acceptable" quality sound, but are not intended to produce "studio monitor quality" audio.  Also, commercial speaker units used in electronic church organ installations can weigh 200lbs. each - which are out of the scope of portability.

Hardware costs: Synthesizer related costs were around $2,700.  This included the two Alesis QS 6.1's, the Studiologic MP-117, AKG headphones, QuikLok Z-stand and bench, Midiman line mixer, cables, etc.; but excluding the sound system's four mid-field monitor speaker, two reference amplifiers, and cables. All of these items were purchased through a music retail chain, or internet mail order, at below "manufacturer's suggested retail price" - "MSRP". It is a common practice for high volume music retail stores to list all higher priced items at a price below MSRP.Sound system related costs were around $1,600. This included four Alesis Monitor Two speakers, two Alesis RA-100 reference amplifiers, and speaker cables (if items were purchased at MSRP, closer to $2,100 ).  If  two Roland KC-500's had been purchased instead, the sound system cost would have been $1K (again, purchased at below MSRP).
 

Performance Notes:(...list currently under construction).

Technique modifications:  1.)  Velocity sensitive keys require that one watches how hard they press a key, or a pedal. Actually, this was initially a "bug", but after acclimating to it, this became a "feature".  Also 2nd touch capability is the same consideration.  It can be programed to provide the variation of tone color common to acoustic wind instrument performance, or one heck of a surprise if you're not expecting it.  2.)  Acclimating to the increased distance between manuals happens quickly with a little playing. The distance is necessary because of the controls and LCD display screen located on the top of the lower keyboard.  3.)  A Manhasset music stand is placed on the right side of the instrument - slightly fitting under the right end of the upper synthesizer.  Several other arrangements were tried, including the QuikLok music stand that attaches to the keyboard stand itself, and a floor standing Manhasset centered on the back side of the instrument extended above the stack of keyboards.  None of these alternatives proved as stable as the Manhasset placed to the right of the instrument.

Specific Organ Registrations:  Since church music ministry is by definition in a church environment, and since the organ is indigenous to the church, the ability for the synthesizer to produce several convincing organ sounds is most desirable - if the organ is not available, or if you are performing away from the church. In actual use, some of the sounds below are individual sounds, and some sounds are a non-additive synthesized envelope (one dosn't add and subtract individual stops).

General Notes:

1. Code Explanations for the "Sound Reference" below:  P25.P1 = "program" 25 - "preset" 1;   controlers A, B, etc.: 1=top ½=mid slide 0=bottom.

2. The ability to quickly switch between MIX and PROG sounds allows for a quick change of registration on a manual.

3.  The pedal board when powered up must go through the transposition sequence noted above.  Unless otherwise specified, what plays on the pedal board is the same program as is on the bottom synthesizer's channel 1 -  lowered one octave.
 
 

Alesis QS6.1 & QS8.1 Sound Reference
A list of immediately usable -unmodified- sound programs and mixes.





Organ Sounds:

organ plenum  P25.P1   "Toccata&Fg"
                                        adjust controler A: 1=w/o reeds to 0=w/reeds and mix;
                                        nominal level of ½ to 1 is often suitable.

(MIX equiv.      M25.P1  "Basilica")

gedackt           P70.P1   "LyricFlute"

flute                 P77.U     "SprnoRcdr"
                        P70.P2    "SingleFlut"
                        P79.GM  "Ocarina"

quint flute       P79.P1    "FantaFlute"
                        P72.P3    "PetersPipe"
                        P75.GM  "PanFlute"

english horn    P78.P1   "Nautical"

oboe                P75.P2   "OboeBlow" - mp double reed
                                        modulation wheel ½ adds tremulant
                        P75.P1   "SoloBasoon" - mp darker reed - transpose octave up

(MIX equiv.     M75.P3   "Bed&Brkfst" - mp oboe mid C up)

celeste            P55.U     "StarDustMW" controler A: 1=flute celeste; or >½ =string celeste;
                                        modulation wheel must be in 0 position (bottom).

unda maris     P56.P1    "Obersphere"

trumpet           P64.P3    "TrumpetEns" - f-ff orchestral trumpet

                        P56.GM  "Trumpet"  -  f-ff organ reed
 

Combination Strategies:

1.  Full organ - use P25.P1 on both manuals.
Adjust controler A for top manual I to 0;
controler A for bottom manual II/Ped. to ½.
The result is II/Ped. > I.

2.  Use gedackt P70.P1 on bottom manual II (Ped.) against
program/mix alternation of celeste P55.U
and oboe M75.P3 on the upper manual I.

3.  Reverse number 2 above by using the celeste on synth II / Ped. against
the program/mix alternation of gedackt P70.P1
and oboe M75.P3.

4.  Trumpet P64.P3 on synth. I against
full organ P25.P1 or M25.P1
on synth. II /Ped. for trumpet voluntaries.

5.  Otherwise, if mix sounds are not needed,
it can be useful to keep a piano w/string mix
or the "tralane" mix available on each manual.
 

Orchestral Sounds:
Many very good acoustic programs exist, that are not listed below.

string section   P54.P1  "Arco Ensm"

(MIX equiv.      M52P1  "LightArcos" )

strings solo      P74.P2  "WindOrch"  - usable as a foundation continuo also.

harp                  P46.GM "Harp"
 

Pianos and Harpsichords:
Several pianos exist - all are very usable.
Confine use to bottom synth. II that is physically shifted lower
and which has the sustain pedal attached.

piano                P00.GM  "AcGrandPno"

                         P00.P2    "DrkClsscl" - darker

(MIX equiv.      M01.GM "Piano&JStr"

(MIX equiv.      M01.U     "Pno&Strngs"

harpsichord     P12.P1  "TrueHarpsichord"
  note: the sustain pedal is not active on the harpsichords.

(MIX equiv.      M12.P1 "HarpschrdDoblstp")

derivative          M12.GM "Tralane"
  controler A: allows for progression  from harpsichord
  to clavichord to piano; actually a very useful
  vocal accompaniment program.

derivative         M31.GM "Steel XL"  -  an acoustic keyboard guitar
 
  


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