Under development since 1982, with a first system beta site in 1986, Matters, Inc. has pushed the envelope in integrating the relay/switching system and combination action into one powerful control system for the pipe organ with increased functionalities while achieving reductions in component counts, copper wire cabling, and plug connections, resulting in less time and effort for installation. These increased functionalities are visible to both the organ builder during pipe organ construction and to the organist.
With the advent of the microprocessor around 1970, pipe organ control became possible in ways not previously imagined. By the early 1980s, processors and memory were advanced enough to think of applying this technology to the pipe organ, an application which has several difficulties, large amounts of inputs (keys, stops, pistons, couplers, swell pedals) and large amounts of remote outputs (magnets), all needing to operate in real time, when the key is pressed the pipes must sound immediately.
In 1986, we introduced our copper box control system, while limited to pipe organs with no more than 64 stops and 24 couplers; it was a fully featured integrated switching/combination action system. It included a link to a computer through the rs232 data format, thus making the record/playback and memory levels infinite in scope. There were many firsts, LCD display for system status, data link to chambers was a single pair of wires, all circuit boards were 4 layers for noise suppression and minimal physical size, all connectors were bifurcated gold on gold for the best reliability, and all systems used the same hardware with configuration to the specific pipe organ being done by the organ builder at the console using the general pistons for programming inputs. There was a single copper box in the console, a backplane/mother/daughter board arrangement with all of the wiring plugging on the outside of the box/backplane. All of the cards were inside the box. This copper box system surpassed FCC class B testing for noise immunity. At the other end of the single twisted pair communication link were similar copper chamber boxes, each of which could play 320 magnets. These small boxes allowed for closer location to the magnets, thus minimizing the copper wire cabling. This architecture was made possible by having a microprocessor in each copper box distributing the processing loads, a concept known as parallel processing, allowing the system size and cost to increase together, capability is paid for only as needed. Why the use of copper for the enclosures? Any metal will work, but it enabled the ease of soldering the backplane to the box.
In 1990, the twisted pair copper wire data link was replaced with a single fiber optic link, futher adding to isolating the console from the chamber. Amony the many advantages of isolating: eliminating a path for lightning to be attracted to and travel along, one less antenna for RF noise to be picked up, one less path for power source transient voltages to travel along, and one less possible ground loop since the console and chamber are on their own power sources. Two types of fiber were used, plastic for distances up to 100’ and glass for distances to 4km. Termination of the plastic is as easy as stripping copper wire, crimping as with any generic ring terminal, and then polishing with 600 grit sandpaper. The plastic fiber is very rugged, that if jerked on it will decouple at the end connectors before the cable will break, and can be bent to a small radius and still transmit data. Glass, while not as easy to terminate as plastic, is equally rugged, being of such small diameter inside of large sheathing, the glass fiber is flexible and can be bent to a small radius with no light loss.
From 1990 to 2000, the copper box software was enhanced many times, during which time the MIDI specification was embedded, allowing for full communication with other devices and computer programs that utilize this specification.
To keep abreast with the constant microprocessor development and appetite for memory, a major revision was undertaken with beta site testing in 2000. Now able to control 9 key divisions, 320 stops, and 256 pistons, all but the few extremely large instruments could be handled with ease, even dual consoles. All features of the copper box system were either kept or enhanced, not the least of which was a greater us of fiber optics to eliminate the mother/daughter/backplane configuration. All circuit cards talk to each other over a fiber optic line, thus further isolation and the complete elimination of mechanical connectors. Remaining is only one connecter per input pin and one connector per output pin, all other connections are either on chip or soldered. Kept was the bifurcated gold on gold for this single plug connection per input/output pin. The elimination of connectors was top priority as a cost and reliability issue. Output cards now had one microprocessor per 128 pins, allowing for more flexibility in programming and moving the circuit board even closer to the magnet loads, shorter lengths of copper cabling and longer runs of fiber optic cable, a very much ‘green’ solution. Use of non-volatile memory now allowed for record/playback to be retained on chip when the organ power was off, but still used external computer storage in MIDI format for unlimited songs and levels of combination action. Record/playback memory was enhanced to be variable length to utilize all memory space.
AtoD, or analog to digital was added in 2003 to read the expression shoe positions by use of a slide or rotary potentiometer. A single circuit card, added in the data loop of the console inputs, it could read a maximum of 8 shoes. This eliminated the need for individual contact roller switches, sometimes as many as several hundred.
The LCD was upgraded in 2006 to white letters on a black background for maximum legibility.
In 2007 the optical key contact rail was developed, it combined the existing input card with LED/phototransistor switches, all mounted to an aluminum rail, which when mounted to a keyboard would read the key on/off positions, thus eliminating all 61 mechanical contact switches, again decreasing component counts, material, and labor while increasing reliability.
The piston sequencer was enhanced in 2010 with 3 styles: record piston hits, next general, and extra generals. This latter style allowed for all unused piston memory space to be “extra generals” for piston sequence memory, these “extra generals” being available and unique on all memory levels. In a typical installation this would mean as many as 99 extra general pistons. When applied to a concert situation by the organist, one scenario is to think of the whole concert as a sequence of pistons, negating the need to set up for each piece during the performance. A second scenario is to use this sequence for certain pieces that require so many piston changes as to exceed the existing number of general and divisional pistons.
Development continued in 2012 with the CPx upgrade, a fully backward compatible replacement of the CPU or main processing board. This new board uses a single chip to control the complete pipe organ which operates from flash memory for in system firmware updates and upgrades, and incorporates AtoD internally thus eliminating 1 circuit card. A USB port is embedded for use with flash drives memory, and these flash drives now hold all memory for combination action memory levels, record/playback memory, and programming backup and firmware updates. Organists can have their own memory levels without conflicting with others. This movement toward more functionality while at the same time striving for single chip capability and surface mount chip technology translate into more capability for the organists, less hardware size for the organbuilder to install, and of course less cost to be absorbed.
It should be noted that our design philosophy has always been to keep the switching system in the background, that is all features are accessed by the addition of several pistons, keeping the look as normal as possible. Admittedly there has to be a small LCD display, but that is all. We keep all circuit boards as small as possible, designed specifically for this application, to keep size and cost to the bare minimum.