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How To Make An Optigan Disc – Then and Now

Posted by peahix on April 23rd, 2006

When Miner Industries (Opsonar) began to start running into legal troubles of all sorts, there came a point when they decided to try to consolidate their businesses as much as possible, and this plan included moving the disc-making works from the West Coast back to the East Coast. Mike, however, refused to leave California, and Miner responded by simply saying “Well, we’ll ship the equipment out here, pay you to set it up and show us how to use it, and then we’ll go our separate ways.” Mike Ledoux knew that all of this was MUCH easier said than done, because by then he had developed Optigan-disc-making to an art, and realistically he was the only guy suitable for the job. However, at the insistence of the Miner brass, he put together a photo essay on the step-by-step process of creating an Optigan disc and took it to the East Coast to show them exactly what they were in for. This is an html version of that photo essay, complete with the original verbatim comments that Mike made in the margins.

As it turned out, Miner’s problems only got worse, and they shut down completely before any further attempt to ship the equipment was made. They still owned the disc-making equipment, though, and Mike worked out a deal with them where he would personally store the equipment in his garage for a monthly rate until the Miner brass deemed it feasible to reclaim the equipment and liquidate it. Of course, Miner never actually came through on their end of this deal, and to this day Mike still has much of the equipment, for which Miner technically owes him about $20,000 for 25 years of storage fees!

Robert says:

The way we make discs today is very lackluster compared to what’s shown in the photo essay (no blonds in lab coats).

It all starts with a concept for the music that will go on the disc. Pea then starts work on building individual tracks. The source of the audio can be from the original Optigan/Orchestron master tapes (which Pea owns), or other sources including live musicians in a studio (which is what we used for sounds on an Optigan disc we’ll be releasing soon). Pea would be able to provide more details on what he does, but it involves software, a computer, and time.

Once Pea has a set of tracks he thinks will work, he emails them to me. For Optigan discs, he’ll send me 57 wave-files; for Orchestron discs it’s 37 wave-files.

The disc design consists of several layers: the soundtracks, the logo and other label text, the title text, the metronome windows, the strobe slits, the disc outline/center hole, and revision text. I take the wave-files that Pea sends me and process them through a program I wrote to make the file for the soundtrack layer. I then create the artwork for the title layer. The other layers are recycled/created/adjusted as needed. I send these layers/files to a lab that plots them on a high-resolution (8000dpi) photo plotter. The lab also carefully punches the center hole using a special process to ensure optical alignment to the image. I receive the exposed film on a 16”x 20” sheet that I have to cut into a disc.

We always make a test disc first, which is a photographic negative of the final disc. I audition the disc on my Optigan and then Pea auditions it on his Optigan/Orchestron. If it passes muster, then we proceed to make copies. If not then Pea has to redo his files and I’ll make another test disc. We sometimes have to do this two or three times before we are satisfied.

Once we have a disc we feel is up to snuff, we’ll have the files re-plotted to make a negative master. The lab then makes positive contact prints from the master. They’ve recently changed the process to pre-punch the unexposed film with the center hole and use a fixture to align the film hole to the hole in the master (this is done as a darkroom process). The old process required each hole to be optically aligned after exposure, which was much more time consuming.

I get the film back from the lab on rectangular sheets that I have to cut into circles. I visually inspect every disc, and play several from the batch for quality control.

I print the sleeves and the Optigan jackets (which can take up to 45 minutes per jacket!). I also crease, fold, and glue the printed jackets. I stuff the discs in the sleeves, and the sleeves into the jackets. The Optigan jackets also get a plastic liner. I then give the whole bundle to Pea to ship out.

The process has a lot of what is called “touch-labor”. I do all my work in my home office and living room. Since we make/sell few discs, it hasn’t made sense to pay the big bucks for expensive fixtures or professional printing. Instead we’ve opted to go the “hand crafted” route. I hope the love and attention shows through!

13 Responses to “How To Make An Optigan Disc – Then and Now”

  1. Dan Says:

    Cool. So where is the machinery today?

  2. peahix Says:

    It doesn’t exist anymore, or, more likely, is scattered to the four winds, most of it likely on the scrapheap.

  3. Gigacake Says:

    How is it that you guys are able to create new ones?

  4. Eddie Moraz Says:

    Jesus Christ…

  5. pdmillar Says:

    Is that a Scully cutting lathe modified for optical recording? Crazy!!

  6. peahix Says:

    yes, that’s a modified scully lathe!

  7. Marcel Oats Says:

    Hey, I think it’s a pity the text from the margin comments could not have been put into the HTML; am blind, and of course the computer cannot verbalize the images!

  8. peahix Says:

    sorry about that, i’ll get around to putting in the info sometime soon. there’s actually not that much info- it’s mostly just the pictures.

  9. sixty4k Says:

    So, now we have insight into the original process, any chance of an equally insightful explaination of how you’re making new ones?

  10. araybee Says:

    The way we make discs is very lackluster compared to what’s shown in the photo essay (no blonds in lab coats).

    It all starts with a concept for the music that will go on the disc. Pea then starts work on building individual tracks. The source of the audio can be from the original Optigan/Orchestron master tapes (which Pea owns), or other sources including live musicians in a studio (which is what we used for sounds on an Optigan disc we’ll be releasing soon). Pea would be able to provide more details on what he does, but it involves software, a computer, and time.

    Once Pea has a set of tracks he thinks will work, he emails them to me. For Optigan discs, he’ll send me 57 wave-files; for Orchestron discs it’s 37 wave-files.

    The disc design consists of several layers: the soundtracks, the logo and other label text, the title text, the metronome windows, the strobe slits, the disc outline/center hole, and revision text. I take the wave-files that Pea sends me and process them through a program I wrote to make the file for the soundtrack layer. I then create the artwork for the title layer. The other layers are recycled/created/adjusted as needed. I send these layers/files to a lab that plots them on a high-resolution (8000dpi) photo plotter. The lab also carefully punches the center hole using a special process to ensure optical alignment to the image. I receive the exposed film on a 16”x 20” sheet that I have to cut into a disc.

    We always make a test disc first, which is a photographic negative of the final disc. I audition the disc on my Optigan and then Pea auditions it on his Optigan/Orchestron. If it passes muster, then we proceed to make copies. If not then Pea has to redo his files and I’ll make another test disc. We sometimes have to do this two or three times before we are satisfied.

    Once we have a disc we feel is up to snuff, we’ll have the files re-plotted to make a negative master. The lab then makes positive contact prints from the master. They’ve recently changed the process to pre-punch the unexposed film with the center hole and use a fixture to align the film hole to the hole in the master (this is done as a darkroom process). The old process required each hole to be optically aligned after exposure, which was much more time consuming.

    I get the film back from the lab on rectangular sheets that I have to cut into circles. I visually inspect every disc, and play several from the batch for quality control.

    I print the sleeves and the Optigan jackets (which can take up to 45 minutes per jacket!). I also crease, fold, and glue the printed jackets. I stuff the discs in the sleeves, and the sleeves into the jackets. The Optigan jackets also get a plastic liner. I then give the whole bundle to Pea to ship out.

    The process has a lot of what is called “touch-labor”. I do all my work in my home office and living room. Since we make/sell few discs, it hasn’t made sense to pay the big bucks for expensive fixtures or professional printing. Instead we’ve opted to go the “hand crafted” route. I hope the love and attention shows through!

  11. GigaCake Says:

    @Araybee

    How very interesting! Thanks!

    LOL “No blonds in lab-coats.”

  12. Remi Says:

    Ho wow! this is really interesting, i realty love 60′s – 70′s music equipment, if only I could get my hand on an Optigan… not easy to do here in Canada!

    I have to say that this really intrigue me. I stumble upon the Optigan on you-tube while browsing for music, and from one video to another I’ve found a loot about this marvelous optical machine!

    I would really like to see how it operate, how it process the sound and everything…

    bty this site is amazing!

  13. COSMAT Says:

    I have a Mediterranean Optigan over here in Vermont with a fairly large disc collection.

    When I got it, the chord buttons didn’t work. The instrument’s seller told me they would start to work once exercised……but no. Had to open it up and clean out with tweezers the crusty lasagne-noodle remains of what used to be a flexible membrane in order to get the chord buttons to make contact. Then I cleaned the contacts with scraping tools and applied Deoxit D100 (not D5).

    Had to take the legs off and support it all in order to get at the chord contacts, which was an ordeal. There was a secret upside down screw on the bottom left underside of the keyboard which added annoyance and intrigue to everything.

    I’m glad my friend Ryan Power helped me through some of this!!

    I did the audio output mod which is great, but the hum is really quite bad (even with the AC plug correctly rotated). I read that I would have to re-do the grounding scheme….wonder how difficult it would be to do that.

    Found a great company that makes custom instrument covers. I made some measurements and designed a cover with a slot on top for the music stand. They are selling more of these now on Ebay! http://www.ebay.com/usr/amp_covers

    Pea, I have two of your discs and they are amazing. More, please. I know they take a lot of work. The slideshow is amazing.

    When I saw it, I thought that some of that lo-fi Optigan sound may have come from all those necessary transfers between media! Not to mention that the organic quality of light just makes for warm, organic sound. (i.e. optical compressors)

    ANYWAY, the Optigan is amazing. We are so lucky. Thanks for all you do! Hope you feel better!

    COSMAT

    Listen to my music! It has Optigan in it. And Elka Synthex and Concorde 811, etc……

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