Peterborough Cathedral's organ re-pitch aided by 'robot'

Robot testing Peterborough Cathedral organ Image copyright Peterborough Cathedral
Image caption The robot played each note three times

A sound engineer has invented a robot to automatically play the keys of a cathedral organ.

Ben Trenchard created the machine to record each note from Peterborough Cathedral's 5,286-pipe organ as part of preparation for its £410,000 re-pitch.

It was recorded overnight to minimise background noise and will provide a complete sound sample for the organ builders doing the re-pitch.

The instrument is slightly sharper than "standard pitch" introduced in 1939.

Once complete, it will able to accompany visiting orchestras and choirs and the cathedral's choristers will be trained at the same pitch as the music they hear elsewhere.

Image copyright Peterborough Cathedral
Image caption For Ben Trenchard, it was a return to the cathedral where he was once a chorister
Image copyright Peterborough Cathedral
Image caption Each of the 5,286 pipes has to be slightly lengthened to change the instrument's pitch

The re-pitch has been years in the planning, but a previous attempt by the team to use people to make the recordings failed.

Mr Trenchard said: "We spent three nights and we got to two or three in the morning and we just decided we had to go to bed.

"It was suggested we could get a robot to do this, so the challenge was made and I came up with this robot design."

Image copyright Richard Croft/Geograph
Image caption The re-pitch is one of several projects to improve facilities before the cathedral's 900th anniversary in 2018

Cathedral director Stephen Grahl said each note was sampled three times - a short note, a medium-length note and a longer note.

He said: "The primary purpose of the recording is conservation and an audio sample set of the recordings may be issued at a later date."

But noise pollution did result in some retakes.

"In particular, there was one evening where there was a persistent motorcyclist, who kept riding backwards and forwards in the vicinity of the cathedral, and we had to retake those samples," he said.

The 19th Century organ is being re-pitched by County Durham-based Harrison and Harrison and is due for completion in early 2017.

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