The Organ of Interstellar and the Temple Church in London

Interstellar is one of my favorite movies of all time and the soundtrack to the movie, which is composed by Hans Zimmer, is simply jaw dropping. The strong organ presence in the soundtrack also really draw me to the music because I first learned to play the organ as a young child before later moving on to play piano and keyboards. So what's the story behind the Interstellar Organ? What organ was used and why did Hans Zimmer and Christopher Nolan (the director) end up choosing the organ as such a central instrument? Like everyone else today I did a bit of searching on the internet. Turns out the decision to use a pipe organ as a central instrument in the score was first brought up by Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer quickly jumped on the idea and the rest was history.

So why was specifically was the 1926 four-manual Harrison & Harrison organ in the Temple Church in London chosen? I couldn't find the answer to why that specific organ was chosen but I suspect it was for the amazing acoustics in the Temple church along with the relative notoriety of the Harrison & Harrison organ in the church. Keyboard Magazine published an interview that was done with Hans Zimmer and Hans had this to say about recording the organ in the Temple church for the movie soundtrack:

"Abbey Road Mobile set up a remote studio in one of the side rooms of the church. It wasn’t just the organ; we had the orchestra in there as well. So we had an enormous amount of microphones placed all throughout that church. But I think the main mics really were a few Neumanns, about 20 feet away. More were about 40 feet away from the main pipes."

"It was great being able to really use the space. Because an organ doesn’t exist outside its acoustic space, so you have to find the right space. The great thing about Temple Church is, it’s in the center of London but it’s completely isolated. There are just the law courts all around it, and it’s basically a pedestrian zone, so there’s no traffic noise."

The reason an organ in general was chosen was because of the scientific significance of the instrument (after all Interstellar was all about the science). A quote from an article in title "Why Interstellar's Organ Needs to Be So Loud" in the Atlantic I think says it all:

"As Zimmer recently told the Film Music Society, the organ was chosen for its significance to science: From the 17th century to the time of the telephone exchange, the pipe organ was known as the most complex man-made device ever invented. Its physical appearance reminded him of space ship afterburners. And the airiness of the sound slipping through pipes replicates the experience of suited astronauts, where every breath is precious (a usual preoccupation with sci-fi movies that is taken very literally in Zimmer’s music, which also features the exhalations of his human choir)."

I could go on and on about the details of how the soundtrack was made, but this short video does a great job of explaining it:

But this article isn't just meant to be about the background behind the Interstellar soundtrack. No, I wanted to share with you what it was like to actually experience being inside the Temple Church in London and hearing first-hand what the acoustics are like in this small but impressive and quite old church. In the past year I have had two business trips to London. When I went to London last year I only had about 3 or 4 hours of free time in London and I didn't make it to see the Temple Church. Turns out this was a good thing, because when I went back to London this summer we ended up spending about half a day at the Temple Church and its surrounding grounds (which are quite extensive and beautiful). Below are several pictures I took of the exterior of the Temple Church, the Temple Church grounds, the organ of Interstellar itself and the surrounding interior of the church:

Now its time for the real content. I want to share with you a short piece of audio I took with the built-in mic on my iPhone. While we were visiting the Temple Church there was a small acapella men's group practicing. Honestly, the visit to the Temple Church would not have been complete without this amazing audio demostration. Granted it would have been even better to have heard the organ being played, but then again maybe not. You expect room filling sound with an organ but the way this small group of human voices filled the volume of the church was simply amazing. I chose to use this short clip as my video for one reason...the singers stop to correct a mistake. Honestly, if they had not have stopped you could have easily assumed I simply subbed over a silent video with CD quality singing. So plug in some headphones, close your eyes and imagine you are standing in the middle of the Temple Church listening to this small group of singers.

Its one thing to watch the Interstellar movie or listen to the soundtrack, but its quite another to witness first hand the acoustics of the Temple Church. After being there in person I no longer have to question why this organ and this church were chosen to be part of the soundtrack for the movie. If you ever go to London, take some time to stop by this beautiful church and see and listen for yourself!

OmniFocus 2 and OmniPlan 3 are Now Free iOS Downloads

The folks over at the OmniGroup, which make several of my favorite Mac and iOS apps announced some exciting changes this past week to a few of their apps. OmniFocus 2 and OmniPlan 3 are now free apps you can download from the iOS App Store. Both apps are fully featured and fully functional upon download and stay that way for 2-weeks. After the 2-week free trial is up all of your data in these apps is read only unless you chose to make an In-App-Purchase for either the "Standard" or "Pro" version of these apps.

I own both of these apps and love them.

OmniFocus 2 is my task management app that keeps track of everything I want to do, need to do or want to do in the future at work and at home. I literally run my life with this application and having it on my iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch is critical for me. But all of the power and complexity of the OmniFocus app comes with some cost. First off, OmniFocus is a relatively expensive iOS app. I don't like calling iOS apps expensive because I believe developers deserve to get paid for their hard work. But that being said, $39.99 for the standard version of OmniFocus 2 and then another $29.99 on top of that to upgrade further to the "Pro" version is a lot of money for an iOS app. But it's totally worth it! (At least it is for me). Now, since the iOS app is free to download you can try out all the features of the app for 2-weeks before deciding if the app is for you. This makes it a lot easier for people who think a powerful task management app like OmniFocus might be a good fit for them, but they don't want to sink a bunch of money into it just to find out. 2-weeks is plenty of time to give the app a good run to see if its right for you.

OmniPlan 3 is a very different app from OmniFocus but it is just as powerful. OmniPlan is very similar to Microsoft Project, which is a super charged project planning, schedule and resource management app. This is the kind of app you use to schedule out a very complex and long duration project. When I was going to school for my Masters degree in Systems Engineering I used OmniPlan for several of my school projects. Most of my classmates were using PCs and they used Microsoft Project. But I was able to export and import my schedule with my teammates using Microsoft Project just fine while using OmniPlan. If you have ever used a complex scheduling app like Microsoft Project you wouldn't think it would be an app that would work well on a touch interface. Generally speaking this would be a correct assessment. But the folks at OmniGroup did a good job of designing the user interface of the iOS version of OmniPlan...so much so that I actually enjoyed using OmniPlan in iOS better than I did on the Mac. OmniPlan 3 is a $74.99 In-App-Purchase to unload the full "Pro" version after your 2-week free trial.

Even if you download one of these apps (or both) and decide to pull the trigger after 2-weeks and make an In-App-Purchase, remember that the OmniGroup has a 30-day guarantee on all of their apps. If you aren't happy with the app after 30-days just let them know and they will give you a full refund. Only a company that is confident in their applications can offer you that kind of guarantee.

How to Turn on Power Reserve on Apple Watch

I just got back from two back-to-back international trips, which meant some really long airline flights. What I didn't realize was that with watchOS 3 Apple changed how you put your Apple Watch into Power Reserve mode. For those that don't know, Power Reserve mode puts your watch into a power saving mode (no bluetooth or background processes are running). It displays the current time in a special "Power Reserve" watch face and it only does this when you press the Digital Crown. This is a nice feature because most of the time you aren't getting notifications on an airplane anyway (unless you purchase wifi for your phone) and if you are on a really long flight it is nice to save on power.

So for my first trip when I got on my flight I tried to access Power Reserve mode like I always had before (which was to long press the side button and then swipe the slider to activate Power Reserve). But this is no longer how you access Power Reserve mode with watchOS 3. I accidentally found how you do this though on my 2nd overseas trip. In watchOS 3 if you want to activate Power Reserve mode you swipe up from the bottom of the screen to bring up Control Center:

Control Center on Apple Watch

Control Center on Apple Watch

...and then press the battery percentage indicator. This takes you to a new screen that displays your battery remaining percentage and at the bottom of that screen there is a slider you can use to put your watch into Power Reserve mode:

Power Reserve on Apple Watch

Power Reserve on Apple Watch

It can be confusing when Apple makes major updates to the operating system like they did with watchOS 3. Features like Power Reserve can sometime get shuffled around into a new section of the user interface. This happened with watchOS 3 because Apple changed how the Digital Crown and the side button on the watch function. So if you were wondering where Power Reserve went, wonder no more.

My Thoughts on the Series 2 Apple Watch

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I've owned the Series 2 Apple Watch for about a month now, so I figured it was about time I shared my thoughts. As you may know if you read my post a month ago, I gave up on my original Series 0 Apple Watch after having it replaced 3 different times by Apple because the back kept falling off.

I opted to get the black stainless steel Series 2 Apple Watch, not because I really wanted the black but rather the black stainless steel was the only version locally in stock at the time. Turns out I actually like the black stainless steel better than the regular stainless steel. It looks really sharp and despite what many tech pundits thought the black stainless steel actually looks great with pretty much all the Apple Watch bands out there.

Battery Life:

This is hands down the biggest improvement I have noticed with the new Series 2 Apple Watch. Right away I noticed when I got up every morning that the battery percentage I woke up with was either exactly the same as when I went to bed or within a percentage or two (yes I sleep with my Apple Watch). I also noticed a big difference during the day. Before if I had a long workout and had been using my watch all day my battery would be fairly low by bedtime. Not anymore. The battery on this new Series 2 Watch is solid and just keeps going.

GPS:

I'm not a big runner, but I do go out running at least once or twice a week. I own the iPhone 7 Plus, so there is no way I am going running with my iPhone. So with the Series 0 watch when I went running without my iPhone the watch would rely on a pedometer function within the watch to track my distance. Now that I have the Series 2 watch (which has GPS built in) I have very accurate distance tracking. Again, I am not running crazy distances or anything but it's a nice feature to have.

Water-Resistance:

Let's face it, this why I bought the watch. I suspect that living in Florida and cycling as much as I do that the water-proofing on the original Apple Watch just couldn't take the conditions I was putting it through. Even though I live in Florida I really don't swim all that often, so using the watch for a swim workout isn't really a feature I needed. But since I do workout so often I take a lot showers and its nice to not have to worry about taking off the watch before hopping in the shower.

Screen Brightness:

This was another big feature of the Series 2 Watch...it had a much brighter screen. Exercising as much as I do out in the Florida sun I can say that having a brighter screen is actually really nice. With my Series 0 watch it was not easy to read my watch face if I was out on a run, but this isn't a problem with the Series 2.

Faster Processor:

Maybe something is wrong with me. The feature I was looking forward to the most was the faster processor. It drove me nuts when I would try to use a 3rd party app and it would take forever to load. But maybe I just don't rely on 3rd party apps enough (in fact I know I don't) because I really haven't noticed much of a difference. Sure it's faster when switching from one app to another, but the processor bump wasn't earth-shattering or anything. Honesty, when Apple made a tweak to the watchOS a while back and allowed the watch processor to run a bit hotter I thought the speed increase was much more noticeable. Don't get me wrong, the new processor is nice but didn't end up being the killer feature of the new watch I thought it was going to be.

Overall I am very happy with all the new features that the Series 2 Watch brought with it (with the biggest feature being that the back of the watch no longer falls off). If you aren't having any issues with your Series 0 Apple Watch I would honestly hold off. It sounds like Apple will be updating the Apple Watch again soon, so you might want to wait until the Series 3 hits the street. But if you do upgrade I think you will be pretty happy with the overall package.

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