The -SOFI- Page
SOFI is the name for the Spirit OF Independence. 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.
Page Design by Craig Brougher