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):