Song Of The Day 3/14/2014: Steve Hackett - "Sentimental Institution"

The Happy Electrode: The Optigan was the lower-maintenance, living-room equivalent of the Mellotron. It's one of those crazy inventions that could have only come from one of Roger Sterling's all-night hash sessions. However, it actually came from a subsidiary of the Mattel toy company, the people who brought you Barbie, Big Wheels and frantic Christmas mornings in the 1970's. (My friend Mark Schlipper, who used to own one, called it "The Mattelotron.")

The Optigan's operation is nearly pornographic. Users would obtain one of several thin, celluloid discs with waveforms of musical passages recorded by actual musicians. You would slide one of these discs into a felt-lined opening. Then, according to, "a light is projected through the soundtrack and is picked up on the other side by a photoreceptor. The voltage is varied depending on how much light reaches the receptor, and after being amplified this voltage is converted into audible sound by the speakers." On the left part of the keyboard were a bunch of buttons assigned to certain chords (but not, frustratingly, all chords). Then you'd use the keyboard to execute the melody, so Grandma could sing like she had a big band orchestra behind her, minus the reefer and the trombonist.

Wikipedia, that invaluable repository of hothouse cannabis gardening tips and the evolution of Mario Brothers, led me to today's song by former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett (vocals by Peter Hicks). It not only features the Optigan as its primary instrument, but it dares to take the glorified toy out of the suburbs and onto the concert stage. For a more in-depth accounting of responsibilities for all the Optigan's deeds, see this video featuring Pea Hicks, who as far as I know isn't related to Peter Hicks. And thus ends the week of The Happy Electrode.

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