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A Mediterranean Optigan at Nixon’s Western White House

Posted by peahix on May 12th, 2017

Before he passed away, Mike LeDoux shared an intriguing Optigan story with me, which I was reminded of this week in light of everything that’s going on with our current president. He pulled out these office memos and had me read them.

Astute students of history will note that at the time these memos were written, Nixon was actually in the process of being impeached, and would resign just a couple of weeks later. You’d think there would be more pressing matters at hand than receiving the gift of an Optigan at the Western White House?

I don’t remember all the details of Mike’s story, because he never put it in writing, but apparently Mike was known by someone associated with Nixon as a skilled audio tape editor, and given the Optigan office’s fairly close proximity to the Western White House, he was recruited to consult on a possible editing job of the famous “smoking gun” tapes that ultimately did Nixon in. Delivering an Optigan to the Western White House was simply the pretext for Mike’s visit. Here’s where my memory of Mike’s story gets a little blurry. I seem to recall that the Optigan was, in fact, delivered, but things were moving so quickly that by that time nothing could be done to prevent the impact of the tapes, and ultimately Mike never touched them. So that’s pretty much all I know and remember. I won’t venture to speculate further on this story, but rest assured that we won’t be sending any Optigans down to Mar-A-Lago (or editing any audio for the White House)! :) optigan002

 

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Optigan / OY Feature Story in Japanese Music Magazine “Map”, Summer 2000

Posted by peahix on May 12th, 2017

Going through some old things, I came across this Japanese music magazine called “Map” that ran a feature story on the Optigan and Optiganally Yours. I had completely forgotten it existed! I can’t read Japanese, so I don’t exactly know what it says, but it appears to be pretty enthusiastic.

Posted in Optiganally Yours, Sightings | No Comments »

Bob Moog References Optigan/Orchestron in 1985 Keyboard Magazine Article

Posted by peahix on May 4th, 2017

The very first time I heard about the Optigan and Orchestron was in this article penned by Bob Moog for the Sept. 1985 issue of Keyboard Magazine (with Jan Hammer on the cover).

bob moog keyboard mag article

Posted in Archives, Orchestron, Sightings | No Comments »

Vako Orchestron VIOLIN Disc Demo – KRAFTWERK – Franz Schubert

Posted by peahix on April 25th, 2017

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I transcribed the Vako Orchestron VIOLIN disc parts from Kraftwerk’s “Franz Schubert” and put together a little demo / cover version. I cheated and used samples instead of learning the parts and playing them live on a real Orchestron, but hey, life’s too short. You can get my Orchestron samples here.

I put this together in Cubase. The synth sequence is played by Retrologue. I didn’t spend too much time dialing in the sound just right, but it’s close enough.

The other thing I didn’t take the time to do is emulate the dynamics of Kraftwerk’s original Orchestron performance. I’m assuming this was Ralf just improvising, most likely with a foot pedal to control volume, because there’s lots of dynamic volume stuff happening that isn’t possible by just playing an Orchestron straight. It would have taken a lot of time to re-create all these dynamics, so I didn’t.

I also decided to omit the “Endless Endless” coda.

The disc image you see is our own remastered version of the original Orchestron Violin disc. These are also periodically available, if you happen to have an Orchestron to play one in.

Posted in New Optigan / Orchestron Discs, Orchestron | No Comments »

1975 Photo Essay – How to Make an Optigan Disc

Posted by peahix on April 14th, 2017

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I had some Optigan odds & ends sitting around and decided to mash them all up into one video. The slide show is from a photo album that Mike LeDoux (the guy in charge of making all the original Optigan discs) put together in 1975 in order to, basically, show his corporate overlords at Miner Industries / Opsonar (this was in the post-Mattel era) why they still needed to keep him, since he was their only employee on the west coast. The idea was to show them how complicated his job was, and that they couldn’t simply “hire some other guy” to do the work at their plant on the east coast. Needless to say, it was a hell of alot more difficult to make an Optigan disc back then as it is now! Though it’s still pretty tricky…

The audio is a variety of things from cassettes found in Mike’s archives:

First off is the only Optigan radio spot that I’m aware of.

Next is a series of demos made during the sessions that Art DePew arranged and conducted for Optigan. These are all big band recordings, and resulted in discs such as Champagne Music, Big Band Beat, Swing It, and Dixieland Strut. During the sessions, they had a bit of fun jamming on the basic arrangements, and that’s what you’re hearing here. Some of these arrangements never got used on any Optigan discs, so we may issue them at some point if there’s sufficient demand.

Lastly is the audio only from a Dec. 21, 1972 broadcast of the Dinah Shore TV show. Her guest was Barry Goldwater, who gets roped into attempting to play an Optigan. I’d love to see the actual clip, but I’ve yet to find it anywhere. If anyone finds it, let me know!

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Optigan / Orchestron Master Tape Vault feat. “Kraftwerk Choir” Tape/Demo

Posted by peahix on April 13th, 2017

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Since there’s been some interest this week, here’s a quick video of the Optigan/Orchestron master tape vault, ie my library closet. Sorry for my incoherent rambling. Highlighted is the tape containing the famous Orchestron Vocal Choir sound that Kraftwerk used during the mid-late 70s on several albums/songs. Here I demonstrate probably the most recognizeable Kraftwerk Orchestron bit, the sustained chord from “Uranium.” New Order later sampled this chord from the Kraftwerk record and used it in “Blue Monday.”

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Optigan Featured on latest Sonic Talk episode

Posted by peahix on March 31st, 2017

There’s some Optigan chit-chat on the latest Sonic Talk episode:

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Many thanks for the kind words from Dave Spiers & company! To answer a couple of the questions brought up:

1. Yes, various folks have used Optigans in live performance (including yours truly), and yes, they’re a pain in the ass to play live, especially if you’re touring. Here’s a fun early example (no relation to the singer Pete Hicks!):

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2. The idea of directly drawing your own optigan discs with a pen is one that comes up, but in reality it basically doesn’t work. Basically all you can hope for is a bunch of noise. Mike Le Doux told me that he experimented with trying to “draw out” the loop joint thumps on the discs, with zero useable results. And that was just an attempt to draw in a very tiny bit of waveform.

Posted in Archives, FAQ, Sightings | No Comments »

Original ca 1972 Optigan Promotional Demo Recordings by Johnny Largo

Posted by peahix on March 23rd, 2017

I finally got around to assembling and uploading some miscellaneous Optigan demo recordings made by Johnny Largo ca 1972. Some of these recordings have previously been heard elsewhere, but many of them are seeing the light of day for the first time here, direct from the original studio master tapes. Unfortunately Johnny didn’t last long enough at the company to make demo recordings of the later disc releases, so what we have here only covers about half of all the original Optigan titles. Eventually I’ll get around to making my own official demo videos of the rest of the discs, but this is a start anyway, and one things for sure- Johnny can definitely play rings around me! (If you need any definitive proof of that, check out his rendition of “Dizzy Fingers” in the LP I’ve posted below!)

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New 2017 Optigan Disc – DARKSOPHONE – Feat. Pall Jenkins

Posted by peahix on February 14th, 2017

Photo Feb 10, 2 50 55 PM

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Click here to pre-order this title!

From indie rock veteran Pall Jenkins (The Black Heart Procession, Three Mile Pilot) come the haunting sounds of DARKSOPHONE, featuring musical saw, Marxophone, skeletal guitar and heavy drums. Since the saw and Marxophone both have limited ranges, we’ve split the keyboard, placing the saw on the lower half and the Marxophone on the upper half. For those unfamiliar with the Marxophone, it’s a zither-like instrument that is played with a series of keys, which bounce metal hammers onto the strings for a repeated dulcimer effect. The musical saw is played with a bow, and each note has an organic vibrato and other articulations. The sparse guitar chords lend themselves to combining chord buttons for extended harmonies. The drums feature patterns in both 6/8 and 4/4. Trying slowing the disc all the way down and/or playing it backwards with the reverb cranked up for some spooky late-night shoe-gazing!

Posted in New Optigan / Orchestron Discs, Shoptigan | 8 Comments »

2017 Limited Time Offer – Buy Optigan/Orchestron Discs From Our Back Catalog!

Posted by peahix on February 14th, 2017

For a very limited one-month time period only, from now until March 14th 2017, we’re offering an opportunity to buy discs from our back-catalog (click this link to go to the web store). Normally we’re not able to keep these titles in stock, because historically the vendor that makes the raw discs has required a minimum order of 25 copies of any given title. Since our cost for these copies is quite high, and it’s an extremely niche market, we can’t afford to buy them in large quantities and remain thousands of dollars in the red while the orders slowly trickle in. BUT, over the course of a year we typically reach a point where there are enough total requests for discs across all the various titles that the vendor is willing to take an order without requiring the usual minimum number of copies for each title. This all has to happen in one fell swoop, so we’re limiting the time frame in which folks can place their orders. Once the deadline passes, we’ll order only as many copies as we have actual orders for. It will then take a month or two to get all those copies fabricated and sent out. Your patience is appreciated! Unfortunately, we cannot offer any sort of bulk discounts or other types of custom orders beyond what is offered in our store. In the past we’ve experimented with different bundle pricing schemes, etc, so the prices set for those bundles will remain in effect. All discs will ship with the printed jackets exactly as pictured on the product page for each item.

Posted in New Optigan / Orchestron Discs, Shoptigan | 4 Comments »

 
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