The Sonus Paradisi project’s purpose is to record, document, and archive the sounds of important and historically significant pipe organs from Europe, North America, and elsewhere.
The project has these goals:
- To archive and conserve the sounds of the organs
- To offer playable models of the organ via specialized computer software and MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) technology
- To increase awareness and popularize these organs in order to help preserve and maintain them for future generations
- To assist in research on organ sound, restoration, recording techniques, and similar topics.
The project began in 2003, with the release of a model of a small Czech organ built in 1766. Since that time, dozens of organs in many national schools have been sampled and made into models. The oldest organs sampled date from the early 16th century, and the project has also recorded several organs built by contemporary builders as recently as 2007.
In 2017, the project expanded from a European focus by including instruments from North America. In particular, examples of the American orchestral, American classic, and American eclectic organ schools have now been produced. Over time, the project’s collection will continue to expand to represent more schools and periods of organ building.
To learn much more about the technical details of these models, please see the Basic Info page on this site.
Of course, these models are not at all the same as the actual organs! Despite the advances in recording technology and computer modeling software such as Hauptwerk, there are still significant differences between the models and the actual organs. No one can think that a recording, even a multi-channel recording, can somehow become the original organ. This is true for any recording; a CD or DVD is just another sound model of the actual organ. But this does not diminish the benefits and usefulness of those recordings.
The same can be said of any model, whether it is a digital copy of an ancient manuscript, a photograph of a famous painting, etc. Since the advent of digital technology decades ago, digitization of various artifacts has benefitted countless people. The organ models created as part of the Sonus Paradisi project are yet another way in which digital models can increase the awareness, popularity, and respect for the underlying artifacts - in this case, beautiful organs from around the world.
It has been said that a model’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness, namely, that it simplifies reality. The organ models created by the Sonus Paradisi project also simplify reality. For example, the wind modeling within the organ models only approximates the actual organ’s behavior, and even when multiple attacks, loops, and releases are recorded for a given pipe, this is again a simplification and approximation of the actual pipe’s real behavior. But these and other simplifications, when used appropriately and done well, can create realistic and beautiful models with enough fidelity to the original artifact to be useful for many people and purposes. This is what leads to the goals of the Sonus Paradisi project, as they are stated above.
Through these models, people from all over the world can experience the sounds of beautiful organs that are far away, without the time and money associated with travel. For example, Students can hear how Bach sounds on a model of an organ from his lifetime, perform French baroque organ music on the models of several instruments from that period, contrast the tonal scheme and voicing of stops between a French romantic and German romantic organ, and any number of other explorations, all from the comfort of their own home or school.