The Mellotron is a 1960s sample-playing keyboard where each key triggers a short tape recording of a real instrument. Today Sunday is the premier of Dianna Dilworth's Mellodrama: The Mellotron Documentary at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Montana. (Watch the trailer above.) Over at Rhizome, BB pal John Alderman interviews Dilworth about her film and the revolutionary music machine. From Rhizome:
John Alderman: People often find uses for devices that are outside the inventor's original intentions, and it seems like that's what happened with these instruments.
Dianna Dilworth: Absolutely. Harry Chamberlin, the man who invented it was really into playing the Hammond organ but he wanted one that would play orchestral sounds, and so he started doing experiments and working with the Lawrence Welk Orchestra to record sounds. His vision for it was very much for it to be in every living room across America for sing-a-longs and socializing. Yet it was adapted by non-conventional musicians and it took off in psychedelic and progressive rock, and that he really didn't intend. In fact, people would try to buy the instrument from him and he'd tell them, "no, no, you're supposed to use it like this."
What are the most recognizable songs that feature these instruments?
The most famous song is "Strawberry Fields" by the Beatles; the flute sound at the beginning is a Mellotron. On the other Beatles' song, "Bungalow Bill" there's a Spanish guitar sound at the beginning, and it's actually just a rhythm track on the Mellotron. The Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin" has it throughout the song. It was largely associated with progressive rock, but it was used by other people like Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, and the Zombies.