YouTube Star Gives Birmingham's Organs a Run For Their Money

Sam Battle shot to fame on YouTube with his channel Look Mum No Computer, in which Sam makes innovative, slightly bizarre, but amazingly impressive instruments, including a flamethrower organ and an organ made out of Furbies! 

In the UK’s second city, Birmingham, there are two iconic organs. In 1834, when the special commission was first revealed, Town Hall’s organ was the largest organ in England – with huge 32 foot pipes; The Symphony Hall Organ was inaugurated in 2001 and has over 6,000 pipes, which stretch over 2½ miles when laid end to end and weighs more than 30 tonnes. When we found out about these awesome inventions, we couldn't wait to find out more! We got in touch with Sam to ask him a few questions about the organs and the stories behind them.

When did you first come into contact with the Organ – was it through the music or the instrument itself?

Organs have been a mystery to me, I never knew how they worked, I even got the chance to fix a local church's organ last year, I checked it out and realised it wasn't something I could just go in and use common sense to fix, they are monstrously involved! Fast-forward to the flamethrower organ which is where I needed to sit down and learn in order to make it…. which I didn't, I just made it up as I went, now it makes sense! Phew.

You’ve been creating brand new organs – both the Furby Organ and Flamethrower Organ – why did you chose to create new versions of this particular instrument?

Organ seems a more apt description of the machines, as organs for each key generate a tone, and the tones length can be indefinite, so unlike a piano or a synth or a keyboard, the description seemed closes to an organ. The flamethrower organ I tried to make from old tin organ pipes, but in testing, one melted and buckled under its own weight, so I had to opt for the copper pipe approach.

How did you end up with so many Furbies and how complicated was it to build?   

I just kept them as a saved search on Ebay, they went for around 10 to 15 quid each so it wasn't a cheap machine! It was rather complicated because for starters each Furby has a complicated circuit I have to make to get it to do what it has to do, times that by 45 you have a LOT of wires, and a lot of solder fumes everywhere. I jammed all the soldering into 1 week and I just was absolutely sick of soldering after! But after all the circuits were done, its like any organ, its the same thing over and over again, so if you know what your looking at its quite simple to get your head around it.

How might you adapt the organ next?

I ran out of time before I could add Vibrato, and some reverberations. So I think that's the next step! Also adjust the Furbies so they are a bit more predictable! OH also, its about 5cm too big to get out my door, so I need to shave off that somewhere.

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What advice would you give to people wanting to experiment with their own musical creations?

The only thing I can say, is as long as its battery powered, just do it! Get something cheap, take it apart and see what's going on in there, if it breaks don't be too disheartened another one will come along and you can keep on trucking.

Will the Furby Organ be heading out on tour anytime soon?

Yep most definitely, once I get it out my room, there will be no stopping it. It will be on a rampage. I like community involvement so people will be able to play it and experience this harmonious machine.

Although we don't have a organs quite like these to show off, our two world-class organs are certainly a spectacle to see (and hear), with regular organ recitals and concerts throughout the year.