Check out the Video!!! Now on DVD format!!
To learn all about the Philosophy behind this Orchestrion -Click Here
Where to begin.... the Spirit of Independence (or SOFI) is quite large!!! 10'W X 8'H X 7'D. The facade has three basic sections with a hand-painted stained glass mural* (about a foot to a 1-1/2 tall) that runs the full length of the front. It's a band box (gazebo) with a band playing and the surrounding area/w lots of people. Very life-like. Well lit, with lighting effects including an aurora light behind the xylophone which can be turned on and off at will, and cool black-lite effects throughout and behind the bass drum head.! The process for creating the stained glass/painting was explained to me but frankly, it was over my head. The artist, Brian Lewis (originally from New York, now living in Missouri), his wife and a close friend, were on hand to hear the First 'Private Showing'. The look on his friend's face was unforgettable. He had no conception of what SOFI was or what it was capable of doing. A look that can only be described as 'looking like a little boy'... fascinated! (Ok, I admit I felt-and probably looked-like that when I heard it for the first time.)
The entire system is configured to operate from one of two independent 'O' roll frames that automatically shift back and forth between 2 orchestrion rolls (20-30) songs. But it is also configured to be operated from specially formatted MIDI files, and that's where the magic begins! Every instrument can be turned on or off at any time, giving the MIDI arranger absolute control. There is a 3 level cascading louver engine and 2 vacuum levels plus soft pedal. This gives SOFI 6 louver positions in addition to the normal dynamic effects. A mandolin rail in the piano also adds to its' dynamic capability.
SOFI is impeccably engineered, circle-winded, modularly fabricated, and comes with detailed videotaped setup instructions. The control circuits are relays, and only the MIDI interface and power supplies use any solid state devices. So it's basically lightning-proof. All of the instruments are to tune and service. (You can't say that about most nickelodeons or orchestrions). Convenient LED's (light emitting diodes) monitor the relays operating the O-roll logic circuits, various vacuum levels, operating states and 'active' instruments. So you can 'see' what's is suppose to be happening. It also has a remote control box that can test everything in the instrument, and add in special effects while the music is playing.
The point is, the Spirit of Independence (SOFI) is extremely versatile. She can play as quiet as a mouse or as loud as an orchestra. Notice I did not say 'brass band'. One of the things that is truly remarkable about SOFI is that she is not a blaring instrument that chases you out of the room or makes you want to plug your ears. The tuning and balance, tonal character and expression levels range from sublime to massively powerful without sounding harsh or overly loud, unless programmed that way. Also, each of the four presets allows complete selection of all of the various combinations of pipe ranks. So, SOFI can change personalities.
The quality of the music is better than the finest European orchestrions I've ever heard, and the note and percussive responsiveness is fast-as-lightning. Every instrument blends with every other instrument in a collage of musical color that excites the soul and stimulates the mind. A visual and musical masterpiece that is limited only by the imagination of the musical arranger.
I'll go way out on a limb and say that one day, SOFI will be recognized as the ultimate in orchestrions. She is
Just watching this marvelous machine operate is a treat all by itself. So many innovative devices are contained within SOFI that she looks extremely complicated. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Though each part was created to perform a special function, the system is physically basic in overall design and construction. Taken separately, each device is almost self-explanatory. "Ingenious" says it best! From the viewpoint of this technician, I found SOFI thoughtfully designed and easy to service or maintain. The schematics Craig has created are more complete than ANY I've ever seen for ANY instrument. You can actually sense what the machine can do simply by 'reading' the diagrams. The 'MIDI-or-roll' interface is flawless in design and function.
Since the MIDI format, or 'master.ins'* file, had to be created before SOFI could play a MIDI arrangement, we got to listen to a few 'O' roll tunes before the first MIDI files were played. SOFI played all of the 'O' tunes perfectly!.. However, her true nature and capabilities were yet to be experienced. After diagnostic testing, instrument testing and one final tuning (with help from Charles Wilson -pipe tuner), SOFI sang out a sparkling new arrangement by George Bogatko. (*George also created the 'master.ins' file.) We knew it was going to be good, but not one of us really knew at that point just how good! She rang out in a 'magical fashion' that I can only explain as the best 'Disney' you have ever heard. Little did I realize then that SOFI had so much more to give. After George finished re-arranging his masterful version of 'Jingle Bells'**, and it began to play, I caught myself moving around like a little kid. Although some may 'boo-hoo' me, SOFI not only played George's MIDI files, she also added multiple dimensions of sound and color like I had never before experienced. No recording can do it justice. It is live music that can only be fully appreciated in realtime.
Below is the list of instruments and effects inside of SOFI. Just click on the underlined words below to see the picture of that part. Then use your browsers BACK button to get back to here.
Pipes: wooden open flutes, celesta.
Accompaniment chest (30 notes):
8 ft. Diapasons, 8 ft. Gedeckts***, separately available.
Full-size Upright Piano/w mandolin attachment.
*The art glass, designed and created by Brian Lewis, a young up-and-coming first-rate artist in true art glass (not just stained glass), created for this orchestrion a dazzling panorama of The 1890's "Concert in the Park," taking his ideas largely from the French impressionists. Those concerts used to be an exciting, strongly anticipated event and a universal American pass time on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Thus we have the bandstand, the band in fine detail, and many people and children in every conceivable pose, sitting, standing, and playing while the band performs. Brian is a fully accredited art glass artist partly as a result of this panorama, who is not acknowledged as a master artist (easily). Personally, it is some of the finest work I have ever seen, done with some of the most beautiful shades of antique glass, finely detailed, highlighted, back-painted, and each piece fired in a kiln before assembly. It is truly a picture you never get tired of looking at. ( Back to top )
** 'Jingle Bells' (MIDI version), arranged (heck... rewritten) by George Bogatko. Visit: https://www.player-care.com/midi/jingpno.mid or my stereo version: https://www.player-care.com/midi/george/jingpno1.mid. ( Back to Middle )
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