Weeknotes: 27 February 2021

Things the technical team at St Mary’s have been doing or involved with this week.

Power!

Our tech desk has plenty of bits of equipment on it which need power, and we’re about to add even more. Up until now, power was distributed through a tangle of extension blocks which would invariably tie themselves in knots.

This was hard to make sense of, and annoying.

So we fixed it, making use of an off-cut from when we built our desk.

Continue reading “Weeknotes: 27 February 2021”

Cables, cables everywhere…

This week our contractors Audioworks began the work of fitting cameras to the church building, as part of our Cameras Project.

One of the main goals is in this work is for the new equipment and cabling to be as discreet as possible, meaning most of the first morning was taken up with discussions and investigative work to find the best possible locations and routes.

Unfortunately, all the parts haven’t yet arrived to complete the system, but the team were able to finish all of the cabling work and fit two of the three cameras (one covering the font, and one ‘wedding cam’ with a unique angle on ceremonies). The cabling also involved going through the organ loft, so we could get some pictures of angles you’ve probably never seen before.

Continue reading “Cables, cables everywhere…”

Inside the organ

As part of our Cameras Project, we had to run some cables through the organ loft, and this gave us a chance to take some photographs from rarely-seen angles inside the organ case itself. We asked our director of music Giles to talk us through what the pictures show.

Although you can see fifteen of the organ pipes from the church floor, the instrument itself extends right the way back into the tower and contains over a thousand pipes (1,350 to be exact) measuring from a few inches to several feet. It also contains bellows, piping, and hundreds of wires to connect the console to the valves, which control the airflow. The organ even uses part of the floor above, which holds the pump to fill the bellows with air.

This photo is taken from just to one side of the console, with part of its casing removed. The narrow access corridor on the left leads to the tower steps, and has a set of wooden pipes running its length. At the bottom right hand side of the photograph are the back of the organ stop mechanisms. The grey-coloured corrugated tubing in the centre of this photograph carries the air from one of the bellows to one particular set of organ pipes.
These are the electro-magnets that operate the six ‘couplers’. Each of these couplers does a different job – for example, one of the couplers enables any stops selected on one of the manuals (keyboards) to also be played on the pedalboard. Another coupler enables the sounds on every key of one of the manuals (keyboards) to also play an extra note (at the same time) which is one octave higher. There are no computer chips or integrated circuits here – everything is copper wiring, soldered into place by hand.
In the foreground are some of the metal ‘diapason’ organ pipes, which give that familiar ‘church organ’ sound. In the background is a large enclosed wooden box which contains different ranks of organ pipes. By being placed in this enclosed space the volume of the sound produced by these organ pipes can be increased by opening the wooden louvre shutters (which you can see in the photograph) or decreased by closing the shutters.
A photograph showing several ranks of organ pipes. These pipes range in length from two inches up to sixteen feet at their longest. You can also see in the background on the left hand side of the photograph some of the wooden organ pipes which produce the soft flute-like sounds you may hear from time to time.

The organ itself mostly dates from 1931, but some of the pipes were originally made for an earlier organ built in 1869. The electronic parts were added in 1982, replacing an entirely mechanical set of linkages, and most recently in 2010 the entire instrument was repaired and rebuilt.

If you’re interested in helping us take care of the organ, then the best way is to send a donation and drop us a note saying that you’d like it to go towards our organ fund. We use this to cover the costs of annual maintenance and ongoing repairs, and to save towards future upgrades as the organ enters its 90th year of making music.

Weeknotes: 20 February 2021

Weeknotes are a short summary of what the Tech Team here at St Mary’s has been up to in the past seven days. We keep them as a way of sharing what we’ve been up to, as well as summarising our own progress on things.

Oh no!

We kicked off our Sunday Eucharist with a bit of an audio glitch – read about what it was and how we solved it.

Ash Wednesday

We made a brief return to pre-recorded services for Ash Wednesday, for the first time this year.

As part of this, we recorded a number of hymns and sung responses, which helped inform some of our plans for longer-term positioning of microphones in the building. It turns out that organs are really difficult to capture on their own, and this has some implications for how we plan to capture ambient congregational noise alongside the instrument itself once we return to in-person worship.

Cameras Project

As our Cameras Project continues we’ve been planning to move some equipment and wiring around the building. This poses a few tricky problems in a place where anything permanent needs to go through a sometimes complex and lengthy approvals process, and since it isn’t strictly speaking part of the work of installing the cameras we need to make sure whatever we do is temporary.

We build a new desk, and we wrote about how we did it.

The first step in this was creating a bespoke temporary desk which fits over and around our existing furniture, giving us a single place to control all the technology in the building from, both existing and in the future.

We’ve also shuffled around some of the many bits of wiring in the back corner, to make them tidier, simpler and more robust.

Building a new tech desk

As part of our Cameras Project, we’ll be getting some new bits of equipment which we need somewhere to put. As well as the equipment itself, the person who is looking after the technology during a service needs somewhere to sit and stand as well, plus somewhere to keep orders of service and hymn books.

During the first period of streaming services, this began with a temporary arrangement balanced in a pew. The downside was that this took an entire pew out of action and meant that there was always a tech team member who sat wearing headphones at the front of the church. At best, this looked far from the professional image we try to project, and at worst, it would actively distract other worshippers.

We’re great believers in making small improvements when we can, rather than putting them off in the hopes that we will eventually come up with something that solves all our problems at once. The next iteration of our setup moved the operator to the back of the church (underneath the organ loft), extending the video signal so that they no longer had to be physically close to the camera. This also meant they had more room to comfortably operate equipment and could also reach the audio mixer, allowing us finer control over the sounds which made it into a stream. It also meant that the operator was physically separate from the congregation, reducing transmission risk.

At this point, though, the equipment was balanced on the top of a cupboard which wasn’t really designed to handle it. Along with this the operator was forced to stand for the whole service, and they had to keep moving between two different spots to switch between adjusting audio and switching video. There was also no space left for any of the new equipment which would be arriving, and the whole collection of cables and boxes was not only unsightly but also took up a good chunk of a choir stall.

So we decided to fix a whole bunch of problems in one go, and build a purpose-designed ‘tech desk’ which would let us centralise everything we already did, and give us space to put our new video equipment when it turned up.

Continue reading “Building a new tech desk”

Oops: Audio issues during service

In this morning’s service, the sound quality at the beginning of the service wasn’t up to our usual standard. This blog post takes a quick look at what happened, why it happened, why we didn’t catch it sooner, what we did to fix it, and how we’re making sure it doesn’t happen again.

What happened?

Just after the service started, some of our viewers reported that the sound was “choppy” or “bumpy”. Thanks to those who let us know – as you’ll read later without this feedback we wouldn’t have known there was a problem.

This problem only affected the service when we were using our wide-angle camera; when we switched to the lectern camera the problem disappeared.

Continue reading “Oops: Audio issues during service”

Living the Transfiguration

Train from Leeds to Edinburgh. Edinburgh to Glasgow. Glasgow to Oban. Ferry from Oban to Craignuire. Bus from Craignure to Fionnphort. Ferry from Fionnphort to Iona.

It would have taken less time to get from Leeds to Paris than from Leeds to Iona. But when I boarded the ferry for the short crossing to the island. Tears ran down my face. And I had a strange sense of homecoming.

Whilst I run the risk of being an Iona bore – I know this is not the first time I’ve mentioned my pilgrimage there. It is relevant for today because Iona has become for me a place of transfiguration because I don’t think I really got what it was about until then.

For it seems to me that this moment described in our Gospel this morning in which Jesus is revealed with startling clarity is not just a singular event but part of an ongoing revelation given to invite and encourage us to see things differently as we go about our daily lives.

And that’s why I began with Iona because there I learned about this. For there the normal pace of life is suspended; you stop rushing about and take the time. To truly see the person before you. To savour the bird song. To appreciate the light. To see more deeply. To listen.

Continue reading “Living the Transfiguration”

Weeknotes: 13 February 2021

Here’s what the technical team at Whitkirk has been up to in the past week.

Church audio system

We’ve been investigating how the audio system in the church is currently set up, and where we can make improvements. There are some quick wins, some tweaks which require a bit more work, and some long-term changes which we’ll need to add to our future plans.

In the short term, we’ll be making some small adjustments to how we mix the audio together to let us include external sources (like CD players or other music) in our online broadcasts. We’ll also be investigating ways we can reposition our ambient microphones to pick of more of the organ and the building itself, and less of the footsteps.

Cameras Project

We’ve done some planning for how we integrate the Cameras Project into our regular worship, particularly thinking about where we locate the camera operator and necessary equipment. We’ve also been thinking about later phases of the project and making sure whatever we do now is ready for the future.

Orders of service

We further refined some of the styles we use for orders of service, which make things easier to read on a wider range of screens.

On the physical front, we’ve done some more fine-tuning of the way we set up our pages to leave things more visually balanced.

Playbooks

We made a raft of improvements and clarifications to our playbook for streaming services, making sure we include a few things which got missed last week (a few eagle-eyed watchers noticed we were slow off the mark in turning the lights on at the start of the service). The list now includes almost double the number of preflight checks as well, particularly around making sure the audio is set as expected.

Our website

We’ve rearranged a couple of things on our home page after some feedback, making it easier to find our Midweek Musings.

Elsewhere

We offered a quick bit of advice to another church on accepting online donations and card payments.