The -SOFI- Page (cont.)
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.
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