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Optigan Sitar Disc – your input is needed!

Posted by peahix on June 9th, 2010

Hi all

So, the original Optigan owner’s manual names many instruments on its cover that are allegedly playable on the Optigan. Included in this list is SITAR, though no Optigan disc ever actually featured sitar, and indeed there are no recordings of sitar on the Optigan master tapes. Well, we intend to make good on that promise made by Mattel so long ago.

The only question is, how to go about putting sitar sounds on an Optigan disc? It’s a bit of a tricky question, for a number of reasons. First, Indian classical music most definitely does NOT follow the same sort of musical “rules” as Western music. Specifically, there’s no concept of chord progressions, only melody over drone, with rhythmic counterpoint. This obviously doesn’t fit readily with the Optigan’s paradigm of chord buttons accompanying a lead keyboard sound. Also, the distinctive timbre of the sitar has alot to do with the complexity of its upper harmonics, and since the Optigan tops out at about 5kHz, most of those harmonics will be absent on an Optigan disc.

So, we’ve come up with a basic list of stylistic possibilities for the sitar disc, which we’ve described below. If you could take a moment and respond with a comment to vote for your favorite idea (ie, vote for the type of disc you’d actually BUY a copy of), and/or suggest other possibilities, we’d appreciate it!

1. Raga Rock: cheesy 60s pseudo-psychedelia with sitar riffs thrown in. The keyboard sound would likely be an organ of some sort, since straight sitar notes wouldn’t really work on the keyboard. (If we were to attempt to put sitar notes on the keyboard, we’d likely have to rhythmically articulate them somewhat like the tremolo guitar sound on our Surf Rock disc.) Here’s an example of this style:
YouTube Preview Image

2. Lounge Sitar: a more downbeat “exotica” type treatment along the lines of Les Baxter or Martin Denny. Something like the Optigan’s “Polynesian Village” disc, only with sitar and a more “eastern” vibe. Again, the sitar would likely be incorporated into the chord buttons, with some other sustained sound on the keyboard.

3. Raga Composer: this option would get us closest to Indian classical music, and is Pea’s personal choice. Basically, each key on the keyboard would have a different sitar riff, the chord buttons would all have different tabla loops, and the SFX tabs would have tamboura drones and other effects. The idea is that by playing different sequences of notes on the keyboard, you can generate an infinitely variable combination of sitar riffs that make up a sitar solo. Likewise with the tabla loops. Basically we’d record a solo sitar and tabla player, improvising to a click track, then we’d edit out the best loops (57 sitar loops, 15 tabla loops, 5 tamboura/etc loops).

4. Raga Composer + Harmonium: A variation on #3, except half the keyboard would feature sitar riffs, and the other half would have chromatic harmonium notes.

5. (Oops, there is no number 5!)

6. Hindi-pop / Bollywood: This would probably work similarly to option #1. Here’s a brief example of this wide-ranging style:
YouTube Preview Image

OK! That about covers it for now. Be sure to leave a comment with your thoughts on this project!!

17 Responses to “Optigan Sitar Disc – your input is needed!”

  1. walkathon Says:

    Instantly thought “harmonium” in the right hand, so #4 is my clear fave.

  2. Rob G. Says:

    Leaning to 4 or 3. Where’s 5?

  3. peahix Says:

    oops, sorry, there is no number 5. there WAS one, but i removed it and forgot to adjust the numbers.

  4. jaguarsg Says:

    3 or 4.

  5. Tony Says:

    Hey Pea,

    I had an idea… why not make an app for iTouch for iOptigan program where you can select the rhythm section buttons and 5 effect buttons and change records or reverse the disc. you dont have to have a pitch control to make the app simple.

    Pocket portable optigan… not a bad idea right?

    I know you and your friend might be able to pull that off… Hell you made an optigan disc!!!

  6. peahix Says:

    yeah, we’ve bandied about the idea of an optigan ipad app, definitely something i’d like to do, we’ll see if it gains any traction, though robert wouldn’t be the guy to do it.

  7. LHD_70 Says:

    Raga composer + harmonium please. Getting the string drones somewhere and somehow up in the proverbial mix would be incredible.

    IMHO, if you’re going with a Sitar disc, there is another very important ingreedient that needs to be in the Special Effects section, and that’s at least two options for tabla solos- one upbeat & one that’s more folky and not upbeat.

  8. khellon Says:

    As an optigan owner and musician, #3 would be the most practical for my uses. But if you ever put out a series on disc or in software, I would buy #1 and #2 definitely! Particularly something downtempo and trip-hop loungish.

  9. Dain Says:

    i’ll put in a vote for the #4 composer+harmonium too. i’d love for the chord keys to be the non-rythmic drones so if you wanted to go “off beat” you could. and having different tabla beats to choose from would be bliss! you’re coming up with some great ideas Pea!

  10. araybee Says:

    Yeah Pea, where do you get those great ideas? ;)

  11. peahix Says:

    why, from YOU, of course! :)

  12. peahix Says:

    hi everyone, i recorded sitar and tabla loops yesterday, and got some really good stuff. at this time, my plan is:

    SFX tabs: tamboura drones and other one-off effects
    chord buttons: 15 different solo tabla loops
    keyboard keys: 37 different sitar riffs in raga todi

    this will be a DRONE based disc, NOT a western chord based disc.

    i know some of you voted for the harmonium option (ie chromatic harmonium notes on part of the keyboard, sitar riffs on the other part of the keyboard), but i’m steering away from this option for a number of reasons:

    1) there are already lots of optigan discs with organ sounds on the keys, and a harmonium won’t sound significantly unique from them.

    2) in order for a harmonium sound to be of much use, it’d have to take up at least half the keyboard (1.5 octaves), leaving much less room for the sitar sounds, which are more unique, interesting, and the main theme of the disc.

    3) even if we use half the keyboard for harmonium, it’s physically awkward if not impossible to play tabla, harmonium and sitar all with two hands. at best, you’d be playing tabla with your left hand and trading off sitar riffs and (hand-played) harmonium riffs with your right.

    4) in the indian tradition, harmonium is pretty much just used for vocal accompaniment, not sitar accompaniment.

    if any of y’all have any thoughts or suggestions along these lines, i’m open to hearing them.

  13. Ralph Karsten Says:

    I still think harmonium is a good idea. You only need maybe 6 notes from the harmonium. Either way its awesome to think this is out there!

  14. Yannick, the GeneralEclectic Says:

    As a fascinated reader of your blog and the story you have experienced in your journey into the Optigan, I can only say so little, but that I find the idea of a Sitar disc to be extremely cool.

    Given the fact that the original Optigan discs doubled some chords for lack of disk space (if I recall correctly) – a fact that made the instrument sound moody at times (which today is a reverred quality by its users in pop music), I’d like to suggest picking out ragas that go together with the lack of those particular chords and the resulting moods to pick the sitar patterns and especially the tamboura patterns on the new disc.

    All the Optigan then will need are classical Indian musicians interested in it.

  15. Nick McGill Says:

    c’mon someone just tell me, can I buy one of these discs from somewhere, or all they all gone?? I love the sound, personally peas choice #3 Raga composer would be my pick.

  16. peahix Says:

    hi nick, currently we’re sold out of this title, but if demand is sufficient, we may do another run of these in the future.

  17. Morris Says:

    Option for iPad please…

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