December 3, 2013 8:38 PM   Subscribe

The Optigan (previously) was a home organ introduced by Mattel in the 70's which enjoyed modest success as a home organ and proved popular with musicians for its easily tweaked sound (which came on pre-recorded optical such as those used for theatrical movies) and as a cheap alternative to the Mellotron.

As originals became lost to time, garage sales, and streetside curbs a small community of fans of the uniquely retro sound emerged online. From bands, well.. band.. using the Optigan as its centerpiece (bonus track: a Shaggs cover) to the production of wholly new Optigan discs and sample packs made from the original master recordings.

Perhaps the most interesting Optigan fan project is a DIY, home made Optigan disc player. No case, no quirky-cool 70's plastic organ console, just one man utterly determined to take the original Optigan discs and make a fully functional Optigan from scratch. This small but devoted community has quietly made sure these unique sounds do not disappear forever
posted by mediocre (9 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for posting this... It pushes all the right buttons in my brain: lost technologies, DIY resurrections, weird electronic music, and the Shaggs...
posted by not_on_display at 9:03 PM on December 3, 2013

Love the Optigan! As noted in the Wikipedia link, Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo used one on the EZ Listening remix of "Beautiful World," which enhanced the overall kookiness tremendously.
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:13 PM on December 3, 2013

Yay! My favorite earworm of theirs - Optiganally Yours - Spanish Flea.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:18 PM on December 3, 2013

LobsterMitten, if you haven't heard the live on KXLU version, it might just become your new favourite ;)
posted by Pinback at 9:45 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mattel.. well you know they created the Mattel Music Box around 1950, which was the world's first mass market windup music box. Prior to that they were wooden Swiss boxes that cost too much, for normal children anyway. Mattel democratized the windup music box. The story becomes interesting because Mattel did not invent the box, they were approached by a Hollywood orchestra director who supposedly helped arrange the orchestra for Bing Cosby's White Christmas, the best selling album of all time. When he wasn't a contract orchestra arranger for Hollywood he liked to tinker, and he had the idea of making a mass market cheap music box. So he made a prototype at home, brought it to Mattel and they developed it further. It went on to become one of their best-selling products of the 1950s (second to Barbie of course). As things went, the orchestra arranger, who arranged the music that played on the box, was not happy with modifications made to his device and ended up in a long and bitter court fight with Mattel. They eventually settled with him receiving some flat yearly sum plus a small royalty. Meanwhile he set out to build the music box of his dreams and started his own company. It was a better music box, but you've probably never heard of it because few wanted anything but a Mattel. And so it was he died in obscurity, a forgotten genius.
posted by stbalbach at 1:32 AM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Pea Hix is my favorite name in rock music, and the man is a saint for all he's done for the Optigan.

Here's a pretty good playlist on yt.

My absolute favorite Wichita Lineman version.

And if you're listening to those Optiganally Yours tracks and thinking to yourself, gosh, that voice! you'd be remiss not to check out Rob Crow's other projects, Pinback at the very least. There's less Optigan in this direction, but plenty of awesome.

And finally in this list of loosely connected Optithoughts, was it me or did Low pretty much completely re-work their sound around the Optigan there for a few years?
posted by carsonb at 5:16 AM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

And finally in this list of loosely connected Optithoughts, was it me or did Low pretty much completely re-work their sound around the Optigan there for a few years?

I don't think so... I know Eric Pollard (actual wolf) was playing with them for awhile using a organ/keyboard setup but no Optigan as far as I'm aware.
Mind you if they did use one if would have come from Christian McShane, main fellow from if thousands, he was trying to ditch his a year or so back and he and Al are good friends
posted by edgeways at 6:10 AM on December 4, 2013

Man, the song at the bottom of the DIY Optigan page is pretty cool, too.

And, uh, that DIY Opitgan is AMAZING. That dude RULES.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 9:00 PM on December 4, 2013

Unrest's bonus track on The Future of What? is Optiganally haunted.
posted by whuppy at 5:51 AM on December 6, 2013

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