Nostalgia demo 1

Nostalgia demo 2

 

 

 

VAKO ORCHESTRON
VINTAGE CONTRIBUTIONS

 

Very little is known about Vako, the company who manufactured the Orchestron.

The Orchestron originated with the Optigan, a curious product brought out by the toy company, Mattel, in the early '70s. The Optigan was not unlike the Mellotron in principle but used optical disks instead of tapes as the source of sounds. These disks came with sounds such as organ and others and also rhythms (the usual complement of Latin American Beguines, Cha-chas, etc.). It was aimed at the 'home' market as an alternative to electronic organs by providing 'real' instruments.

The big thing about the Optigan was that the rhythms were not the usual cheesy electronic beatbox sounds but were a complete recording of a band playing in different styles. So, for example, using the 'Nashville' disk, the auto-accompaniment buttons would call up an entire Country and Western band playing in various keys that you could play along with.

For whatever reason, the Optigan was not a big success and the technology was sold off or licensed to a company called Vako who appeared to try and elevate the instrument's standing into the professional market.

They must have done a fairly decent job because Patrick Moraz had a three manual custom model created for him (shown right). This monster was used on a number of albums he was involved in including 'Relayer' (with Yes) and 'I', his ambitious solo album.

The same principle of using optical disks was employed. The discs had waveforms on them which were read by a light bar reader inside the machine and then turned into sound much like the old optical soundtracks used on film.

Presumably in the takeover, Vako saw an opportunity to replace the contemporaneous Mellotron with their Orchestron (as you can tell from the name!) and attempted to improve the range of sounds available from home organ type to something more akin to the type of sounds being offered by the Mellotron - orchestral strings, choirs, brass, etc..

Whatever they tried to do, however, they would have been dogged by the appalling sound quality that came off those optical disks - limited frequency range and full of clicks and pops like you might find on a vinyl album of the time!

The Vako Orchestron was a failure and it seems that only 50 or so were actually made. I seem to recall that there was quite a buzz about the Orchestron at the time but as far as I can remember, the only known artist to actually use one (or at least, admit to using one!) was Moraz.

No doubt many prog-rock keyboardists of the time tried one out as a possible replacement for their Mellotrons but it was probably a combination of poor sound quality, reliability issues and high price ($5,000) that put people off investing in an almost unknown instrument from an equally unknown company.

It is said that Florian Schneider of Teutonic synth meisters, Kraftwerk, purchased an Orchestron in the USA during the 'Autobahn' tour and this was subsequently used on 'Radio-Activity' and 'Trans-Europe Express'.

The Orchestron patches in Nostalgia can only give a taste of the original but no attempt has been made to disguise their 'scratchy' nature and they are rather nice sounds in a lo-fi kind of way.

If you want a more complete, higher-quality set of Orchestron samples, you might like to check out the CD-ROM that's for sale over at optigan.com! This provides all the original samples from the Optigan, the Chilton TalentMaker (a related product) and the Orchestron in Akai format.