Elka Project Series X30
The X30's a typical example of how organ manufacturers are applying today's technology to traditional instruments - but will the new-found features make it as popular among 'serious' musicians? Paul White finds out.
Not a square inch of wood veneer in sight, yet all this high technology represents the organ of the eighties.
Elka have a long-standing reputation for producing electronic organs, but it's all too easy to forget that the recent advances in synthesiser technology have their parallel in modern organ design. The X30 is designed to fulfil the requirements of the mobile professional musician and is equipped with a digital rhythm section of outstanding quality and MIDI, but it's somewhat incongruous that it also incorporates the type of auto accompaniment that usually forms the crutch of the musically inept. It's unlikely this facility will endear the X30 to pro musicians seeking an alternative to the MIDI synth/drum machine/sequencer system: traditional organ players probably won't mind so much. As it happens, the section even extends to the provision of a sample tune, fully orchestrated and locked within the sequencer memory which, though of little practical use to the prospective X30 owner, will undoubtedly be a boon to those organ salesmen who are less than skilled in the art of musicianship.
The X30 is a two-manual portable organ with a 13-note bass pedalboard, both keyboards having 49 notes and extending from C to C. Seven flute drawbars are coupled to the upper manual (they include percussion at 4' and 2'), and the addition of a chorus device makes the generation of convincing string sounds a straightforward matter. As well as flutes and strings, both the upper and lower manuals have preset (polyphonic) and solo (mono) options, there being some 18 preset sounds assignable to the upper and lower manuals.
The lower manual also boasts impressive strings and vocal chorus sections (the chorus sounds as if it's been taken straight off John Foxx's 'Pater Noster'), and sustain and slow attack envelope options are available on both manuals. It's also possible to split the lower manual in order to allow manual bass playing. The instrument features mono and stereo outputs, and the latter give full rein to the electronic rotary speaker simulator, which has wind-up and wind-down times preset to simulate a mechanical Leslie-type speaker.
The X30's 16-pattern rhythm unit offers four variations on each factory-programmed pattern, as well as intros and fill-ins. However, it's possible to program your own from the lower keyboard, and all the voicings are digitally generated, presumably from real samples. In terms of sound quality, these drum sounds are as good as anything available in the 'serious' music marketplace, and I only hope that Elka see the potential of their samples and offer the device as a standalone programmable drum machine in the not-too-distant future.
Once you decide on your favourite registrations, 14 of them may be stored for instant recall, which requires only the touch of a button.
Complete accompaniments comprising your own rhythms, chords and bass lines may also be stored in either the real-time rhythm programmer or the step-time chord programmer. Another useful aid to rapid registration changes is the Orchestrator, which allows you to pre-program flutes, strings and solo voices.
No tribute to modern musical technology would be complete without MIDI, and the X30 may be configured to operate on as many as four MIDI channels - one for the upper manual, two for the split lower manual and a fourth for the bass pedals. In this way, any of the instrument's existing sounds may be reinforced by connecting another MIDI keyboard or expander as a slave to one or more sections of the X30. However, the X30 has only one MIDI Out (as well as MIDI In and Thru) sockets so the use of something like a Roland MM4 MIDI Thru Box might be necessary if the slave keyboards don't possess MIDI Thru sockets. Conversely, the X30 may be played remotely by between one and four external remote MIDI keyboards, though this particular scenario seems less likely.
MIDI mode is entered and disengaged by simultaneously pressing four specified rhythm keys, and the tempo display then indicates the MIDI channel number.
Drum voices apart, nothing particularly exciting here. Most of the sounds are the staple diet of the traditional organist, but they're generally well implemented, and there are some additions that stand out as being exceptional, such as the pan flute and the strings/choir already mentioned.
Although the word organ is not directly mentioned in Elka's publicity, the X30 is most definitely an organ and a rather impressive one at that. Its styling is both modern and functional and, with the lid fitted, the whole outfit is quite portable, though it's no featherweight.
Despite the 'even the family pet can play it' auto-accompaniment section, this really is as professional an instrument as its price tag might indicate, but its appeal will almost certainly be to traditional organ players rather than to pop musicians. The latter will gain satisfaction only from the X30's drum machine and MIDI capability, since in purely sonic terms the instrument is outclassed by most modern (and considerably less costly) polysynths. It's a shame that Elka have assigned so much of the X30's cost to developing the automatic performance features rather than improving the quality of its preset voices, but it's clear that the company are instrumental in keeping the traditional organ on the map, even if they seem somewhat loath to call it by its name.
If you require proof that, despite the odd common feature or two, the organ and synthesiser worlds are still poles apart,then look no further than the X30.
RRP of the X30 is £3000 including VAT.
Further information from Elka-Orla (UK) Ltd, (Contact Details).
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!