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The Documentation Process



- The Documentation Process


The Documentation Process: The factors to be considered in restoration documentation are firstly, the value of the organ (which is determined by its size, age, condition, quality, and rarity); secondly, the risk of loss or damage in transit or in the builder's factory, (which is influenced by distance, security of premises, reliability and skill of staff, climatic control and even political stability); thirdly, the complexity, action-type, and the builders familiarity with the style of the organ; fourthly, the heritage value and special requirements of the owner or other controlling authorities; and finally, anything of special interest to the Company.

If the documentation process is taken seriously the cost becomes quite significant, and after a recent restoration tender in which the Company for the first time described in detail the documentation it considered appropriate, and costed it at approximately 2% of the tender price, the client asked for this to be deleted as a cost saving measure. Generally speaking, the level of documentation has increased with time, and has been done most thoroughly for its offshore work where the risk of loss or damage is greater and the necessity of facsimile replacement in the event of such more certain.

A very important although usually brief documentation takes place at the time of initial inspection. On this will depend the accuracy of the report and costing on which the tender specification will be based, which in turn will influence who gets the contract and how much skilled effort will be expended on later documentation. In the South Island Organ Co's. case this takes the form of one or two usually free inspections of from two hours to a week's duration depending on the size and complexity of the organ.

The essential elements of this inspection will include 20 - 30 photographs showing the main features of the case, console, interior winding, action and pipework. If the organ is playable a sound recording of 10 - 20 minutes duration (maybe video) of the main features of the stops and tonal design together with brief written notes on the main points arising.

The elements are, firstly, a record of the specification, pitch, and wind-pressures, to which are added details of any changes made that can be deduced from internal evidence, historic records, personal recollection of the organist or other knowledgeable persons; secondly, a written or recorded (such as a micro-cassette) description of the organ's construction and layout, action type, general condition, special features and problems; thirdly, a report on any damage due to heat, water, structural weakness or decay of the building or the organ itself, earthquake, vermin attack (for example, moths, borer, white ants, cockroaches, rats, mice, birds, opossums, you name it); fourthly, a description of worn or damaged parts and what action will be necessary to restore them; fifthly, a test of the adequacy of the blower, wind storage, pressure regulation, and wind supply characteristics; and finally, an assessment of any proposed alterations or additions.

The Company then uses this material as the basis of it's free report and quotation for the work desired by the owner or recommended by the builder. (Other builders or consultants quite justifiably make a charge for their inspection reports and quotations, and should not be penalised for so doing, as when done thoroughly they are time consuming, costly, and as valuable to the client as to the restorer.)

The most important restoration documentation is that done at the time of dismantling, as there is much vital information that at best can only be guessed at if not recorded at this time. The procedures normally carried out by the South Island Organ Co. at this stage of a restoration are as follows:

Photographs: Up to 100 colour photographs showing the external design of the case and console and integration with the building will be taken. The internal windchest, pipework, action, swell-linkage, console and winding layout is all photographed, as is the blowing system. The pipe-conveyance, pneumatic tubing, tracker, or electric cable layout. The order and means of assembly. The cleared site, packaging detail and container numbers if relevant. Close-ups of intricate parts such as case carving, stop-knobs, key-cheeks, and pipe diapering. Areas of special damage or other interest, such as parts to be altered or added, or not put back must be photographed particularly carefully. These photographs are the resource most constantly referred to by the staff during the factory restoration and reinstallation.

Testing and Reports: Tests are carried out to determine the pitch, wind-pressures (including that of the blower under no demand and the demand of full organ), pressure-regulation stability, character of wind, behaviour of concussions if there are such, wind leakage and ambient noise levels; the condition of windchests, analysis of runnings, murmurs, ciphers; key-attack, repetition, weight, feel and depth of touch; tuning stability, condition and regulation of pipes, temperament, position of tuners (that is an important one), pipe-speech (whether it is quick, slow, forced or weak, stable or unstable), the balance of tone from treble to bass of each stop and of each, division, the balance from the foundation to the crown of the chorus; then we look at environmental problems (heat, cold, damp, dry, mould, rot, ultra-violet light, rust, corrosion, vermin damage, structural damage, wear and tear); condition of keys, pedals, stops, decoration, cabinet work, doors, paint, stain and polish, linkages, felt, leather, rubber, glue, steel - it goes on and on; condition of action parts, coupling and stop combination systems; position and condition of lights, plugs, heaters, ladders, passageways, framework; then we look at the organ's artistic integrity, suitability for purpose; and finally, the room acoustic is looked at, and the siting of the instrument and it's tonal egress.

Video: The Company has found video a powerful tool in the documentation process and now uses a camera with hi-fi stereo sound to record the sound of all stops throughout the compass, and show the spatial relationships of the organ, the working of the action and winding system, the condition of damaged parts, the general state and particular alterations found or proposed at the time of dismantling, and in fact all visual aspects of the organ down to the minutest detail. This usually takes 1 - 2 hours of tape at this stage of the work.

Sketch Drawings: These are done initially as an insurance against loss or damage to the organ in transit, and include dimensioned plans and elevations of the layout. These will be quite rough at this stage, just freehand drawings, but they will contain all the essential information so that if the organ for some reason disappeared over a bank on the truck, or sank to the bottom of the ocean or wherever, we would be able to have enough information to make another one. These drawings include plans and elevations of the layout, details of the casework design, console, reservoirs, soundboards, windchests, building frame, swell-boxes, tremulants, stop-actions, coupling systems, action runs etc.

Rubbings: By that I mean: like brass rubbings except that we make rubbings of all the pipe planting on the soundboards, and this can be done very quickly and easily just using plain white lining paper and a black crayon or soft pencil. We make a pattern rubbing of all the holes in the top boards of the windchests and soundboards. Again these are done initially as a security against loss in transit, so they are rolled up and transported to the factory quite separately from the organ so that there is no chance of it all disappearing together. Of course all this material eventually forms a valuable archive but that is not essentially its initial purpose.

Length and Cross Rods: These are usually done on brown paper tapes for security and convenience because they can be rolled up and easily transported separately from the organ. Traditionally three rods (length, width and height) are used by the men on the shop floor instead of drawings, to show all the sizes and relationships of parts in the organ layout in actual size. They are also used to show the spacing of pulldowns, key-scales, pipe scales etc. or anything where a lot of measured data has to be recorded.

Charts: Charts of pipe scales are made as a precaution against loss in transit and are eventually archived. Usually only the C, or C & G pipes are measured for all stops throughout the compass. The details noted for flue pipes are: the material the pipe is made of, body diameter(s) and length, foot-length, cut-up, width of mouth, angle of languid, voicing aids (such as roller bridges), and foot-hole diameter. In the case of reeds: the shallot type, actual length and diameter(s), length and width of the shallot opening, the thickness of the tongue and the tongue loading detail. For mechanical action organs, charts of the key tensions of all keys are made with a special spring gauge. This most valuable test is first made with the wind on to measure the top resistance of all the keys in grams and then the holding pressure of the pallet springs once the pluck is broken is also measured. If we look at the chart made for the Fincham organ at Brighton, Melbourne, which we are currently restoring, it shows that at bottom C the pressure required to break the pluck is in excess of 260 grams per key whereas by the time you get to top g, it is only 130 grams, so there is an enormous difference. This is an organ of about 8 stops per manual with no assistance at all - just a straight-out tracker action. We also see that once you have broken the pluck the pressure required to hold the key down is reasonably consistent - only about 60 grams, whether you are at the bottom or top of the keyboard. Then you get odd discrepancies such as treble g, requiring a pressure of 260 grams in an area where the average is about 150 grams. A dot records the fact that on this and some other notes an additional pallet spring was fitted externally at the rollerboard. So we know there is something in the action that needs to be specially looked at. Thus these charts can give valuable insights into problems with the action or soundboards which of course can not be done later except as a comparison. When we put the organ back we can compare this chart with how it was, and this helps to sensibly settle arguments that tend to arise between ourselves and organists as to whether the action is lighter or heavier than it was before. Any builders here will know how protracted and difficult those discussions can be.

Work Diaries: For off-shore restorations, Company staff on site are required to keep individual daily diaries of their main activities, and to particularly note discoveries of historic or assembly interest.

Existing Documentation: Valuable information is often gleaned at this time by comparing information from fault books which are usually kept at the console, archives kept by the owners or other authorities, and personal knowledge of organists, clergy, and other interested persons. This can be compared with the internal evidence of the organ as the dismantling proceeds. Sometimes of course the internal evidence shows things which do not appear in any of these other records. I think back to the dismantling of St Mary Star of the Sea in West Melbourne where we discovered that the organ had in fact been previously dismantled, a fact that nobody was aware of, and that the action was originally quite different inside the organ from the way we found it. At some stage the organ had not only been dismantled and put back (dogs paw-prints were all over the back of the swell box), but the tube runs had all been lengthened with a narrower gauge of tubing to reach the underactions which had been moved from their original position on the floor to the underneath of the soundboards about 7 feet up. The trackers that originally connected the underactions to the soundboards had completely disappeared except for bits we gradually found in the rubble lying around along with remnants of pulldowns and their brass bushing discs. In fact redundant bits from the bottom boards of the soundboards and top boards of the underactions had been converted for use as supports for the new tube runs, etc. So rubbish is a potentially valuable resource when you are dismantling an organ. It always pays to look under the floorboards as well, because usually the rubbish is just swept down into the nearest hole in the floor, (of which there are usually a few to get the wind through).

Framework and Environs: The organ framework, floors, walls, ceilings, and under floor cavities of organ chambers can also reveal valuable clues to past alterations and should be searched and documented. Sanding, painting, and redecoration of the organ and environs should only be carried out if necessary, and after all relevant historic information has been documented or protected. This is something that a lot of restorers find very hard to learn, particularly if they are focussed on doing high quality work. You have this focus on tidiness, and tidiness can really be a great enemy of proper restoration documentation. There is tidiness and tidiness, but the sort that wants to paint the organ-chamber and repaint the organ and repolish everything destroys an awful lot of evidence as to how things were.

Comparative Research: Before dismantling an organ for restoration it is important that the restorer has a detailed knowledge of other organs by the same builder, and preferably of other organs of the same style, period, and technology. The Company always endeavours to have someone on hand with this knowledge to look out for valuable clues to alterations that may have taken place that would otherwise not be noticed. It is important to note in this regard that many organs are significantly altered without any record of the fact surviving, (which I just touched on before). Also, the artistic purpose of an organ can easily be missed or lost through ignorance, or lack of sympathy or curiosity. I believe that if an organ is approached with an attitude of determined enquiry as to its artistic integrity, the restorer will seldom be disappointed at the result, and others may well be surprised. I have found that the artistic success of an organ is a subtle thing, something that often the original builder was not able to achieve or others maintain afterwards, although his vision may still be discerned if you are looking for it. In other words what I am saying is that their builders invest most organs with an artistic vision. Not all builders manage to fully realise their vision, some through their own fault, some through the fault of others. I think that it is very easy to write off an instrument as rubbish because of the way it presents itself, or because of our particular taste or different usage. Some of my greatest rewards and surprises have come from looking past that, and trying to learn from an instrument what its artistic purpose was, or what the builders vision was that he might not have been able to realise because of perhaps a certain lack of skill in a particular area or because of - much more often - running out of money through trying too hard, or just from not being able to get his organ in a suitable site. The reasons are legion and you know most of them as well as I do.

Database: The Company has developed a computer database into which is fed all the daily timesheet information from each workman. The database allows the hours spent on each restoration to be analysed per individual item. As well, every organ maintained by the Company has a data sheet of essential information including a record of its maintenance history.

It is interesting for me to see how it is being done in Germany and England, because since 1987 thanks to my son Ian, we have worked out our own system, and it is very interesting to see the comparison. Computers are obviously a very powerful tool in the field of documentation and the Company has ongoing plans for developing their further use by the incorporation of Computer Assisted Design and Image Scanning.

The next stage of the documentation process takes place in the factory whilst the restoration work is progressing. Firstly, video and written summaries of the work in progress are always used to support the accounts for progress payments and keep the client in touch with the work. The Company's clients (particularly offshore ones) have found this to be more cost effective and informative than visits to the factory. For some restorations the daily work diaries are continued throughout the whole contract. For most others, detailed descriptions of the work are written up at the completion of each item, and detailed scale drawings and photographs are done of significant items of interest to the Company or client. (Some drawings of parts of the Brighton organ are included here). These all add to a valuable archive of information, one copy of which is held by the Company for use as a comparative resource in subsequent restorations; another is given to the client, and in the case of Australian work a copy is given to OHTA.

As the work progresses in the factory, samples of all replaced materials and any discarded parts are retained, carefully labelled, and packed for later return and storage within the completed instrument (or other safe place if this is not practicable).

The final stage of the Company's documentation process takes place during the reinstallation of the organ. Here video, photos, and daily work diaries are the main tools. This is the time when changes to the regulation of the action, wind, and pipework are most likely to be made, so it is vital that they are properly recorded, though it can often be the most difficult time to do so because of the pressure of fast approaching completion dates, opening recitals and suchlike.

What then is the value of the documentation process, which over the 27-year life of the Company has evolved from simple specifications and notes to sophisticated and detailed procedures? Firstly, it greatly reduces the risk of loss or damage or mistakes while the restoration is in progress; secondly, it keeps the clients and workmen in touch with the detail and progress of the work; thirdly it heightens their awareness of the significance of the work; and finally, it provides valuable archival information for the future of the particular organ and the whole industry.

This is the Age of Information.

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