The -SOFI- Page
SOFI is the name for the S pirit OF I ndependence. She is a large American Orchestrion with American architecture and tastes, using largely turn of the century technology except for a computer MIDI medium that usually substitutes for the paper roll. But she also has two spool frames which are always loaded with two orchestrion "O" rolls, alternately. Her art glass mural is that of an American tradition-- the 1890's Sunday concert in the park. She was originally conceived to have the tone and wide expression capacity you hear (hopefully) on these recordings as prerequisite. This expression is very impressive and dynamically present when listening in person.
So many large orchestrions tend to be, for all their vastness and expense a novelty, rather than a profound, legitimate musical medium in its own right. SOFI, in my opinion, no longer can be compared to other large orchestrions as another flavor of this curiosity genre. She was designed to play American music with the same capabilities as live musicians and as such, her performances are far more inspirational, complex, subtle, and spontaneous than that which one expects from an automatic musical instrument.
SOFI is an all-American instrument with an American nature. She was voiced away from the European sounds as well as the theater organ genre, preferring a luminous, energetic, and unique personality ideally suited to play American music. Aeolian free reeds, smooth string pipes, and octave flute ranks with a moderate tremolo contribute to this tonal nature. To my mind, it is out of character in American jazz that she be voiced deep and heavy, or that she be given novelty pipe ranks which do not blend together well. Her solid style of voicing makes SOFI extremely versatile. Her forte is Classics and Gershwin, Blues and Broadway, Jazz and Novelty, Ballads and Waltzes, Marches and Scat. Tonal color and contrast is expanded with pipes that unify and embellish each other so well. A tonal kaleidoscope of combinations are prolific, and because at any given moment there might be from one to 50 or more pipes playing, the tonal power, density, and harmonic content must be heard in person to be understood. A recording can only take us so far. SOFI, heard live, immerses the listener into a theater of pure music.
One very necessary element in American music is rhythm that requires both a percussion lead and interplay. SOFI has been given a set of fast, expressive, effortless traps that allow an arranger the full potential of this basic element of all pop and classical orchestras. What has only been approximated for so long in automatic live music has finally been born into this instrument. You will hear some exciting, lifelike percussion, including off-the-beat hot licks, asymmetric rhythms and patterns that no other automatic instrument has to date achieved, musically.
SOFI cannot really be understood until she has been experienced. You be the judge. She is bold and saucy. She has a sweet side and a brash one. She can holler, and she can seduce. I think you will like all of her complex facets, moods, colors, and effects. That's what good music played well really requires. Three words describe SOFI: Fascinating. Addictive. Inspiring! Pardon my obvious bias. You will keep coming back to this one.
SOFI uses 10 ranks of pipes, two of which are considered "Accompaniment ranks." She has Aeolian Reeds, Flute Sax, Diapason, Open Flutes, Viols and Celeste, Octave Sax and Octave Diapason ranks for the solo section. While that's 8 solo ranks, the Viols and re-voiced Celeste play together for a desired coloration. The accompaniment 8' section is composed of re-voiced Gedeckts and metal flutes.
SOFI has a delightful percussion section which includes the sound effect toy counter. These are: Bass Drum, 2 Timpani, Ride cymbal, Crash cymbal, Chinese Gong, Snare tap and Snare reiterator, Wood Block, Triangle, Tambourine, Temple Block, Cow Bell. The manual effects are; Train whistle, Large Bell, Bird Whistle, Nest of Bells, Horse's Hooves.
The solo percussion instruments are a Behning Piano, wooden bar xylophone, and metal bar xylophone. The orchestra bells, as they are called, are specially built to play along with the wooden xylophone by a special pneumatic circuit that turns off their reiterators, but when they take the solo, their reiterators function normally. These metal bars are large and heavy and tend to ring for a long time, so designed into this system is a set of dampers which dampen each bar between strikes. This clarifies the tone considerably and cleans it up. The orchestra bells sit behind the lower set of walnut shutters in the center section, opening each time they play.
The expression equipment consists of a vacuum dynamic ranging from over 30" of vacuum to a mere 12-15," via an Ampico rotary pump. Expression is achieved by "Hickman Curtains" in the expression circuit. The curtains are very fast and precise, and do not rely on spring tension, but are relative to the demand of the instrument they control. So despite the number of notes on or off at any given time, the regulator exactly compensates and the power delivered to a dozen notes or a single note is exactly the same.
There are 4 pipe chests in SOFI, all "circle-winded" to improve the flow of air regardless of the demand in any particular chest. Each chest has an input and an output to stabilize flow. The pipes blow at 8" of wind. This relatively high pressure has the extra advantage of providing much more harmonic content, as the pipe overtones are considerably increased. It also allows a single pipe when desired, to solo in the accompaniment without getting lost in the arrangement. That makes for another nice effect and an advantage to the arranger. SOFI uses a Mohler exhaust tremolo in the pipe circuit, and a Ventus blower.
There are 2 "O" roll spoolframes always loaded with rolls, which SOFI is also able to play. These rolls drive a vacuum to electric interface, and every note then operates a small signal relay in the Note Box. So everything is played from these relays. Also operated from these signals are the Logic Circuits which determine how SOFI's pipe ranks and percussion instrumentation will be multiplexed. Many of these functions do not appear on O rolls, but could actually be cut into them, and they would not adversely affect any other "O" roll instrument these may also play on in the future.
SOFI is primarily a MIDI operated instrument, however. That means, she is played by a computer interfacing with her relays, just like the rolls do, except the computer operates the relays directly and not through the roll interface switch banks. The computer and MIDI converter are not actually a part of SOFI. They are her media, providing a musical input signal, just like a roll would do.
There is a box connected to SOFI called the Remote Box. This is a control box that allows her lights turned on manually, as well as any rank of pipes switched on or off at any time, as well as all the percussion and even sound effects operated from the coffee table. The real advantage is when a standard "O" rolls is being played. With this box, you are able to orchestrate to your heart's content. But the remote box is also able to test every function of this instrument as well. Its 7 connectors allow a servicing of the instrument that is almost automatic, as well as a full tuning, since its tuning switches for every pipe in the machine are normally upside down, hidden on the bottom of the box.
Reliability and ease of access was paramount in this design. Since only machinery that is easy to service is going to get serviced, SOFI was designed to service. She has a full set of schematics and documentation. All her circuits are divided into 4 steel boxes which detach from the back and sides of the piano for ease of inspection. There are no circuit cards and no solid state in these boxes, except for the power supplies. The 3 solo pipe chests can be stripped to tune in less than 10 minutes, including the removal of the xylophone. The accompaniment chest is already open from the back and easily tuned. It is possible for one man to tune the entire instrument. Repairs on the solo pipe valves are easily made without removing any pipes. They can be fixed from the bottoms, which drop away for full access.
The case of SOFI is a "pre-fab," and most of the panels are flat. The widest would be the solo chests, which are 6" deep. She sits on a "shadow foundation board," which forms her outline on the floor and connects together with couplings. This type of foundation relies on shims to be made level. At present, SOFI sits mostly on carpet, and partly on a hard floor, and yet has remained perfectly fitted. Her front is still exactly vertical. Her panels are drawn together with 1/4-20 bolts and threaded inserts, mostly, and the core wood used is Medex, a stable, fine-grained wood product that machines as well as plastic composites. It is neither flake board or the common counter top material, but a very high quality, stable composition board that allows a highly precision construction. The other members are fabricated vertical beams and a long rear horizontal truss beam for light weight and strength, and are mortised together as a single structural member, yet as strong as solid wood of the same cross section. Oak "T" beam rafters are then set into slots in the top horizontal joists to complete the construction. Simple and efficient.
When I arrange a tune for SOFI, I first look through the available arrangements that I already have. How can I beat an Ampico or Duo-Art arrangement? So that's what I go for, because they have so much potential!
Occasionally, I will arrange a song from scratch. The difference between doing it that way and picking a great arrangement already available is usually 2-3 weeks of time. Granted, I might not keep much of the original scoring, because so many changes have to be made, but beginning this way is often faster because of the placement of the notes in the melody line. Also, their arrangements gives me the opportunity to improve on them, often as not. After all, SOFI can provide more complex melody interplay than can a piano alone.
Doing your own arrangements from scratch are sometimes more satisfying and often necessary, and there are many songs that were never recorded on rolls that need more exposure and a fresh approach, so in that case, I would choose a totally new arrangement.
I am a musician but not by trade. Therefore, my time is limited to what I can afford to give these personal arrangements. There are other musician/arrangers who do this as part of their livelihood and these people will truly appreciate SOFI's "friendliness" and capacity to make their arrangements sound spectacular. One reason is because SOFI has few limitations compared to most orchestrions. It's so nice to hear in your mind's ear what you intend to let everyone else hear for the first time. As an arranger, you don't have to make as many concessions regarding the limitation of the mechanics, like the number of pipes playing at any given time, or the rapidity you can expect from your percussion, or the overall drain on the vacuum and pressure resources to the overall arrangement and its requirements. This makes arranging music for SOFI less time-consuming and therefore, cheaper. It also allows for much more complex arrangements and in particular, the percussion track.
The main reason arrangements for SOFI are so reasonable is that she was designed to be easily programmed. Her "O" roll scale is "intuitive." Her presets and multiplexing are done on the same computer program the notes are placed on, just like a player roll. That program is called Cakewalk, available for sale in computer stores. The setup program which conforms Cakewalk for SOFI's own use has already been written by George Bogatko and available from him so the format requirements are quite simple. Connected to SOFI and sitting at the computer terminal is also a handy indicator box that shows which presets and instruments are on and off. As you activate certain switches on the computer screen, the box changes accordingly, and LEDs turn on and off to indicate. There's no question what it was you did. That little box also contains switches to do the same thing manually. This is not the Remote Box mentioned earlier.
Another nice feature for any arranger is that her ranks and presets can be switched instantly, as you will notice, even splitting a musical phrase (when you get the knack of it), and this is a capacity that is not heard in any other orchestrion. It is a capacity however that is allowed by the "O" roll original format when multiplexed. Yet the level of SOFI technology is identical to turn-of-the-century technology except for the medium the music is on, and the advantage of that old technology is the ultimate reward: Reliability and Repair-ability. Her other strong advantage is her amenability to play new arrangements with a minimum of adjustments and special consideration for instrument limitations, so common in other similar instruments. The end result of these musical advantages is that SOFI won't bleed its owner dry trying to afford it new songs or tunings and repairs. As a matter of fact, most people with a musical background would have fun arranging their own tunes, given the chance.
We did not want to offer recordings until we felt that they would do SOFI some semblance of justice. The following 5 CDs are an example of a new, budding technology for home recording buffs called Direct Digital Recording. It is done straight into an audio-digital USB terminal called an audio-USB converter, and into a computer. These recordings have not been doctored, and are as true to life as I could get them. I am pleased with the way they turned out.
Choose any one of the 5 listed below for $16 (USA postage included), in an edge-readable standard-sized Jewel case. Two for $25. All 5 for $50 in sleeves, or $60 in standard jewel cases. Or choose any 12 of the listed songs below and I will burn you an individual, signed CD for $30 in a jewel case.
(The below list of titles is included in your order for your convenience.)
SOFI's DebutFingal's Cave: Mendelsson was a lover of drama and the mystery which music alone can convey. Too bad he wasn't born in the generation of the movies. He'd make a wonderful composer for screen themes.
Anchors Aweigh: Big in melodic interplay with a dixieland finale. This march arrangement is totally unlike any other version you have heard. Listen for "Sailor's Hornpipe" and "Columbia, Gem of the Ocean" played synchronously together. It's perfect.
Blue Moon: A sweet ballad done in SOFI style. Makes one want to get onto a dance floor.
Barney Google: Remember Barney's wife? She's in here. You'll also hear Spark Plug the horse and remember his big race. Hilarious.
Danse Macabre: Sketched from the Duo-Art e-roll from Spencer Chase, this beautiful arrangement is played on SOFI after almost every note has been changed in length and percussion added. SOFI loves the classics. You can tell.
A Fine Romance: "The Way You Look Tonight" begins this Astaire-Rodgers dance medley arrangement by Ampico. It's an awesomely rhythmic dance number that sweeps you off your feet.
I Ain't Got Nobody: A Classic Tune, tastefully arranged in a way that only SOFI can explain all by herself. She is, afterall, One-of-a-Kind, and perhaps she's a bit lonely.
Indian Love Call: "Tom-toms" begin the arrangement which bursts with gorgeous chords. Listen for a second tremolo in the lower accompaniment ranks, and the Hamms Beer theme during the interlude-- which was borrowed from this popular piece to begin with.
Ol Man River: Not "Deep River," but the swing version for dancing. Solo xylophone riffs, lots of dynamic interplay and contrasts. Don't overlook the depth of this piece.
Rose Colored Glasses: I was finishing this arrangement Sept 11th. Ironic that I was seeing red. But despite its timing, and true to its title, you'll find it colorful and happy to listen to.
S'Wonderful: An exciting arrangement that combines all the arranging tricks. Another favorite.
They Can't Take That Away From Me: Rhythm, plus! You 'll like the expressive piano and wide expanses of solo colors and embellishments in this creative arrangement that sweeps across the melody palette like waves.
Anything Goes: A tough tune to arrange and
make interesting instrumentally because of such a short melody line, but SOFI
loves challenges. Listen to all the reminiscence this tune comes out with.
Who's Sorry Now
Who's Sorry Now?: Hopefully, not you. Change-ups
in rhythm and interesting breaks that capture the imagination. You'll want
to hear it again.
That Certain Feeling
That Certain Feeling: One of my favorites.
Exactly what SOFI was made for. Expressive, quick percussion, effortless.
This song really sails. Full of color and change-ups.
SOFI Strikes Up The Band
Chattanooga Choo Choo: This uses the manual
toy counter included in SOFI, with the train whistle and the bell, making
this tune even more fun to hear.
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