I have to admit to loving these kinds of recreations of novel and unusual instruments from the past. The more retro the better. iOptigan is a recreation of the Optigan, short for Optical Organ, which was apparently a chord organ from the early 1970’s. The Optigan (Optical Organ) is remembered today for its unique system of sound reproduction using optical discs. These LP-sized film discs were optically encoded with 57 concentric tracks, which contained loops of musical combos playing chord patterns in different styles.

Each disc contained a specific style of music (Bossa Nova, Big Band etc) which the user could control by pressing the chord buttons. Changing the discs was as simple as putting a new record on your turntable. Think of it as the 1971 version of GarageBand.

I had never heard of the Optigan to be honest, but it sounds awesome in a very retro and not entirely useful way. Apparently, despite the Optigan’s novel technology, it’s scratchy sound left a lot to be desired. According to the iOptigan’s developer, they’ve aimed to “truthfully recreates that lo-fi sound”. Also, 25 of the original 40 Optigan discs are included with the app itself, if you’re a real fan then you can get the remaining 15 discs, which can be purchased individually or all together in the Complete Pak.

Let’s take a look at the iOptigan’s features (which seem to have gone far in advance of what I’m guessing the original instrument could do):

  • Disc loading rigth-side-up or upside-down
  • Spring Reverb (virtual)
  • Optical Metronome
  • Audio Demo for each Disc
  • MIDI in/out
  • MIDI chord detection
  • MIDI File Import
  • Sequencer with Record and Playback
  • Sharing for songs as Audio and MIDI File
  • iTunes File Sharing
  • Inter-App Audio
  • Smart background audio
  • Help overlay
  • Headphone optimised stereo (optional)
  • Radio Mode for Chord Buttons or Keyboard
  • Comfortable speed control in semitones or BPM

iOptigan can be found on the app store priced at $4.99 (IAPs are on top of that):