Organ Sounds and Pyramid Envelopes

I’ve always found that there was something to the weight of the sound of the Organ, yet, I rarely found myself engaged with much music that used it. More often than not, the more organ there was, the less engaged I was with the music. But that fascination…

Whenever I’ve tried to use organ-like sounds (additively built-up sine waves with Csound in my case), I never felt really at ease with the sound. In the piece I’ve been working on, I was at a point where I was interested to add more flavors into the dish, so to speak, and so went into my library of instruments and pulled out an additive synthesis organ I thought I would try. I had saved some presets from the last time I had tried using it in a piece but none of them really blended well with what was already there. So after adjusting the strengths of the partials to get a more hollow, square-wave-ish sound I found that it had started to blend in quite well… but something was still a little off.

I have been working with pyramid envelopes for quite some time now, where the sound starts from 0, rises to full value halfway through the note, then back to 0 at the end of the note. I’ve been using this in most of my electronic musical work for quite some time now as I find the sounds then to have a very gentle quality to it and that you can really taste the sound this way. This envelope type also has much more variety to it than a typical ADSR, as the rate of rise and decay in the pyramid envelope is really dependent on the duration of the note.

For the organ instrument I had been using, I had largely always been using a typical envelope for an organ, I guess what would be called an ASR (Attack, Sustain, Release). This envelope has a fixed attack time, then sustains for most of the note, then has a sharp release. This kind of amplitude envelope is very characteristic of real organs and how they work.

So, the natural thing for me to try was to use the organ sound with a pyramid envelope, and that ended up being what really brought it together with the rest of the sounds. Amazing! By applying that to the organ sounds, I really began to feel more understanding of the pyramid envelope and why and how it works very well for me, as well as understanding other aspects of instrument/sound design.

For a sound so pure as in additive synthesis, ADSR or ASR is not enough variety for my ear. Perhaps if the music has notes which change very quickly, or if the sound is mixed within a large variety of other sounds it would work for me, but as I’ve been very much into a much longer duration of note lately, this doesn’t work. On the other hand, if I should want to use that kind of envelope with this type of sound, I think I have a better idea of what the character of the music would have to be for it to work for me.

(Note to self: The pyramid envelope too doesn’t work in shorter durations unless short-enough to create a percussive sound, otherwise, it is too much change in sound.)

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