Friday, June 8, 2018

Film: Composer Builds Scoring Stage Just for Classic Wurlitzer Pipe Organ

Variety reports [June 6] how composer Nathan Barr is giving new life to a decades old Wurlitzer pipe organ and how  it's 21st-century debut for movie audiences comes this September in The House With a Clock in its Walls:
Five years ago, [Barr] discovered an old Wurlitzer pipe organ in floor-to-ceiling crates in a warehouse in Reno, Nev. The organ had occupied the scoring stage at 20th Century-Fox; you can hear its grand and powerful sounds in such classic scores as Bernard Herrmann’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” Jerry Goldsmith’s “Patton” and John Williams’ “Witches of Eastwick.”

Installed at Fox in 1928, the organ was designed to accompany silent films but remained in use until 1997, when the studio sold it. When Barr bought the instrument, it had been acquired by Ken Crome, an organ expert. Crome and his father had maintained the instrument for decades, dating back to the 1950s. “He had worked on it as a kid and, as many people did, hated when the studio dismantled and sold it,” says Barr.

Barr found a building in Tarzana he could turn into a recording studio, rebuilt specifically to house the Wurlitzer: The 8,000-square-foot Bandrika Studios has a 1,500-square-foot recording stage that can accommodate 50 to 60 musicians.

The restoration process has taken four years and likely cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars (Barr declines to say). Yet, he adds, Fox maintained the organ so well that “you rarely see pipework that looks so extraordinary. This has got to be one of the most well-kept, beautiful Wurlitzers left in the world.”

Because it was manufactured near the end of the silent-movie era, the organ was designed to provide the performer with a wide range of sounds — from simulating orchestral instruments (strings, woodwinds, brass) to percussion (drums, marimba, chimes) and even sound effects (sirens, fire bells, horses’ hooves, birdcalls).

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