MIDIMUSIC Computer Processed Music

  1. Index
  2. Technical
  3. Sound Font

Music to my Ears

By: David Back, May 2015.
Contributions from: Robbie Rhodes and Matthew Caulfield.

The Story of Rich Olsen's Band Organ Sound Font

1.0 Introduction

Rich Olsen Rich Olsen was a natural musician, he could listen to a tune and quickly write an arrangement for any known organ scale. Having been a drummer in various rock bands, his use of percussion in his arrangements was immediately recognizable as being his.

Now, there are 22 Wurlitzer 165 rolls arranged by Rich, all produced in quantity and being enjoyed on band organs public and private all over the country. He also arranged several rolls for Style 150 and Style 125 organs, along with custom, MIDI-only work for individuals and some Mills Violano arrangements.

The mechanical organ community suffered a great loss when he died. Rich was born on February 25, 1953 and succumbed to an abdominal hemorrhage on October 22, 2013. He moved from San Diego, Calif., to Turlock to be closer to John and Gloria Malone and their Play-Rite music roll operation in 2012, after suffering several health problems

Rich made and sold his musical arrangements mainly to Play-Rite Music Rolls in Turlock, Calif. Play-Rite still make and sell music rolls for Wurlitzer organs. After he became famous he also made musical arrangements for Matthew Caulfield, who knew most of the band organ owners, and sold them for him. Rich had a website at http://infamousstudios.tripod.com/ (now defunct) which he used to display some of his arrangements. Currently there are plenty of examples of Rich's arranging and his sound fonts in Wurlitzer 165 rolls 6838 to 6854 on Matthew's website http://wurlitzer-rolls.com which are manufactured by Play-Rite.

2.0 The Sound Font Beginnings

Rich's goal was to create sounds from his Wurlitzer 165 data files so that his arrangements could be heard before committing them to punched paper. The data format and 'audition' system was essentially defined by John Malone at Play-Rite Music Rolls. John Malone has been copying Wurlitzer band organ music rolls since the late 1970s, and playing them on real instruments. Neither John Malone nor Rich Olsen could read notated music. It wasn't necessary.

Malone decided how his Wurlitzer roll copying perforator would be modified for punching new music rolls from a computer file. An Octet 128-channel MIDI controller was installed to accept MIDI wireline data on Channel 1, notes 1 through 75, and the first 75 output signals of the 128 were connected to magnet valves tee'd into the tracker bar hoses of the roll-copying perforator.

Further, the ONLY change needed to punch other roll styles was to move the right side (treble) edge cutter to cut the width needed for Style 165, 150 and 125 rolls. Malone was adament about that; he wanted the music roll image to scroll across the monitor screen and "onto the paper". And he wasn't going to change cables or patch panels when changing roll widths.

John Malone had ordered a replica 165 band organ from Johnny Verbeeck by this time, and Malone planned to equip the organ with magnet valves and a controller card the same as on the perforator. Thus Rich could carry a laptop computer to the organ and plug in the MIDI cable to hear the music, and if approved by Malone they would carry the laptop to the perforator in the shop and punch the 10-tune band organ roll. Malone would then check the quality of the recut music roll by playing it back on the 165 band organ.

This system meant that Rich had to play his music direct from tracker bar images.

In order to preview his music while composing it Rich colaborated with Robbie Rhodes and tried to make a simulator program on the computer which would simulate the real Wurlitzer 165 organ when the MIDI cable was plugged in. Robbie chose to use a separate, dedicated desktop computer to emulate the band organ, while Rich created an emulator that co-existed within his single but powerful desktop computer. Both of them knew the big problem would be emulating the lock-and-cancel stop system and the swell shutters. This simulator used the sound font described below and was used to make audition files which he sent to prospective customers.

Band organ music wasn't put into a "chromatic" format until circa 1994, when Mike Ames and David Wasson designed and built a system to play Mike's 98-key Mortier organ from computer files of music rolls transcribed from all sorts of organ player rolls. Thus a file structure resembling a pipe organ console was devised.

3.0 Original Characteristics

3.1 Samples

The majority of sound samples are Mortier, recorded at the well-restored 98-key Mortier dance organ in Mike Ames' collection in Solana Beach, California. The Mortier samples exhibit low distortion and relatively little interference from nearby reflections (primarily from within the organ case).

3.2 Instruments

Since Rich arranged music using a tracker bar image, the MIDI input to the synthesiser was a tracker bar image beginning at MIDI note 1 for style 150 or 0 for styles 125 and 165. Thus all the MIDI instruments had to be tracker bar images of the various organs which were selected as the music played. Selection was done by inserting midi patch changes according to the stop and shutter settings required.

3.3 The operating environment

Somewhat coincidentally, when they met in late 2004 both Rich and Robbie were using computers running Windows 98, with sound output from installed Creative Sound Blaster Live! audio cards.

Both had tried to use Windows XP but Creative and/or Microsoft wouldn't provide drivers for XP with the features that were in Windows 98. That's why they continued running Windows 98 with the Sound Blaster Live! card. The specific sound card product was Creative CT4620.

Richie used Cakewalk Pro of 2000 or 2001, Robbie used Master Tracks Pro Audio of about the same era. Both MIDI editors have a "piano roll" display which is appropriate for editing music rolls and tweaking the timing of percussion devices.

4.0 Developments

By 2008 Rich considered that the layout of his soundfont was mature, and wouldn't be changed. But it would grow as further sound voices were added and fidelity improved.

Early in 2009 Richie began working with the jOrgan simulation environment and he experimented using FluidSynth soundfont program in lieu of the Sound Blaster card. An advantage of FluidSynth is it runs okay under Windows XP, too. So Richie gradually changed over from running the soundfonts under Win 98 to running them under Win XP using FluidSynth.

After he became famous Rich branched out into contract arranging and developed some Marenghi sound fonts and maybe others.

Before his sudden death Rich achieved only partial success using jOrgan to play Wurlitzer 165 roll images while emulating the Wurlitzer lock-and-cancel control system, still by inserting patch change instructions in the MIDI file at the places where lock- and-cancel instructions occurred.

5.0 My Adaptations

I knew that e-rolls already contained the necessary stop and shutter controls and had already developed MIDI software to convert e-rolls to fully instrumented and activated playable files. Also I had developed a midi player which could play these files on Windows systems, but this player relied upon public domain GUS formatted General Midi instruments.

The result was that the software could play e-rolls but sounded awful because of fundamental defects in the GUS sound font files and the poor quality of the instruments contained therein.

At this point I knew I needed some proper sound samples from a real organ so in late February 2015 I contacted the Mechanical Music Digest website with a request for someone who had a playable w165 to record it playing my w165 test roll. Matthew Caulfield suggested I should contact Robbie Rhodes to see whether Rich Olsen's Band Organ sound font could be made available. At that time I had heard of Rich but knew nothing about him or the existence of his band organ sound font. In fact I did not know that anyone apart from me was experimenting with the direct playing of band organ e-rolls. The font was available and I was delighted to receive a copy.

The sound font I received in early 2015 was the 2008 version in .sf2 format which contained an excellent set of band organ samples but the instruments and presets were all based upon tracker bar images. I instantly decided that I could not work with these instruments and presets because I wanted to directly play MIDI e-rolls without having to insert patch changes to cope with stops.

Thus my first task was to remove the tracker bar image presets and to convert the instruments so that they played correctly when the standard midi note numbers were fed to them (instead of tracker bar hole numbers). While doing this I noted several inexplicable peculiarities in the sound font:

  1. The w165 instruments in the font contained both soft and loud violins which were different in both tonal quality and volume. Specifications and blueprints for Wurlitzer 165 organs indicate a difference between soft and loud violins and it is likely that early organs had both types of violin pipes. However as most customers could not tell the difference Wurlitzer decided to make both ranks identical. Nobody now knows for sure which of the two melody violin stops refers to the loud violins. I have retained the two types of violin.

    For future reference: Melody Violin 1 (tracker hole 9) is the Loud Violin and Melody Violin 2 (tracker hole 69) is the Soft Violin within eplay165. (As per Reblitz & Bowers page 586)

  2. The w150 instruments did not contain any Melody Open Flutes; these pipes are defined by Wurlitzer for all versions of the 150. As his font contained Melody Open Flutes for Stinson Organs I have copied these into my version of his font which I use for eplay150. Also the 150 has an automatic stop on the melody open flutes but since Rich did not have any, he put the stop on the Accompaniment Violins instead. I have changed this back to Melody Open Flutes.

I then had to make major changes to my playing software so that it could use .sf2 fonts instead of GUS fonts. At this point I experimented with several different players to find the one that worked best with .sf2 fonts and had its source software available. Fluidsynth passed all the tests and this is what I used. However it is far from perfect because it does not provide any feedback of song position or allow pausing while playing.

The final results are music to my ears, breathtakingly good sound from first quality organ simulations.

For the purpose of auditioning proposed 165 arrangements, the use of eplay165 using Rich's sound fonts would usually be preferable to recordings from a live band organ because the characteristics of any particular organ are eliminated. Not only that, a good recording of a live band organ most certainly cannot be done without professional equipment and knowledge, particularly with regard to volume compression.

5.0 Extensions

This work and the skills I have accumulated could be readily applied to directly play scanned music rolls for other instruments from reproducing pianos (very easy) to residence organs (less easy but still possible). The only requirement being that sufficient information is known or can be found out about the instrument concerned, such as full tracker bar details and instrumentation data.