Dr Alan Woolley

Main Research Areas: Musical acoustics, organs, organology.

Contact Details

Dr. Alan Woolley, Room 1205, James Clerk Maxwell Building, King’s Buildings, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH9 3FD
t: +44 (0)131 65
e: awoolley@staffmail.ed.ac.uk
web: https://www.acoustics.ed.ac.uk
PhD thesis: PDF file link


Alan Woolley obtained a BSc in Applied Physics from the Lanchester Polytechnic in 1976. He pursued a career in public sector finance for a number of years, holding a number of senior positions and qualifying as a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy. He changed course in 1998 and was awarded an MA in Organ Historiography from the University of Reading in 2000. This convinced him that there were many aspects of the organ that were not properly understood and this led him to undertake a PhD in Musical Instrument Research at the University of Edinburgh. This was entitled “The Physical Characteristics of Mechanical Pipe Organ Actions and how they Affect Musical Performance” supervised by Dr John Kitchen and Professor Murray Campbell and awarded in 2006. The conclusion was that many of the assumptions about whether players could vary transients by the way in which they move the key were incorrect. It can be viewed here.

This led to a further project from 2008 to 2011 funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council looking at other mechanisms that players might use in order to try to play expressively, and what other events might lead the player into thinking that they were influencing the transients. This concluded that rhythmic and timing variations were very important whether deliberately introduced by the player or whether they were unaware that they were making them. It also considers a number of other factors of organ design that might lead to transient variation but are outside the player’s direct control.

Alan Woolley has been an Honorary Fellow in the Acoustics and Audio Group since 2011 and has recently used a high speed camera to study the relative movement of the key and pallet in order to further confirm previous conclusions. He has also been involved in research on bagpipe reeds and trombone resonance.

Research interests

  • Organ design
  • Organ physics
  • Musical acoustics

Current Research

A summary of the organ related research is due to be published in the International Society of Organbuilders Journal in April 2017. Some video and sound files relating to this can accessed here.

A high speed camera was set up to record the simultaneous movement of the key and pallet of the model organ at the University of Edinburgh using mirrors. The key was moved using a screwjack to give a constant speed of movement and then with “slow” and “fast” finger movements. The key movement is on the left and the simultaneous pallet movement is on the right of the frame. The recordings were made at 1,000 frames per second.

The screwjack movements (ISO Journal Figs 13 and 16) are here:

The “slow” finger movements (ISO Journal Figs 14 and 17) are here:

The “fast” finger movements (ISO Journal Figs 15 and 18) are here:

Sound recordings of the pipe speech edited down to the same length are here in the order Screwjack, Fast and Slow:

Sound recordings of the key movements at the Örgryte Church in Göteborg edited to the same length are here: