In the early 70's, Mattel tried to go upmarket with an innovative concept for an easy to play home organ. Rather than generating tones with expensive electronics, a 12 inch optical film disc played 57 tracks, with actual recordings of a rhythm section in various styles as well as a 37-note keyboard. With "one touch" the home organist could get a full rhythm section while picking out the melody with the other hand. The sound quality was charmingly retro, but the machines were built rather cheaply, so when the novelty wore off, thrift stores slowly accumulated intriguing but unplayable consoles. Later, a fan base developed to revive and play these old machines, and some of the original sounds can be heard in modern recordings and television advertising.
The Optigan's "chord organ" layout was aimed at the amateur musician, but the Orchestron was developed to play real instrument tracks as a professional alternative to the Mellotron. They were built to a better standard than the Optigan, used a conventional keyboard, and the disc track assignments were changed to improve chronic problems with Optigan discs. Hence, a second format was born with its own body of material. Ultimately, however, technical problems prevented the Orchestron from becoming a serious and reliable instrument for stage or studio.
Robert Becker (designer at Quilter Labs), developed a unique mastering system for making new discs. For the last ten years Robert has worked with Pea Hicks of optigan.com to create a catalog of new program discs for the Optigan and Orchestron. After years of planning, Robert has created a modern way to play optical discs: The Panoptigon.