Mellodrama: The Mellotron Movie
Mellodrama, a documentary by Dianna Dilworth, explores the rising and falling fortunes of the Mellotron - the first musical keyboard to "sample" the sounds of other instruments - from its birth in a California garage in the 1950s, through its dominance on concert stages in the 1970s, through its almost religious cult of followers in the 2000s. From the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" to Black Sabbath to Kanye West, Mellodrama is a 50-year odyssey of musical invention, revolution, betrayal, and rediscovery.
The Mellotron is a keyboard instrument that plays prerecorded strips of magnetic tape. It was invented as the Chamberlin organ in Harry Chamberlin's Southern California backyard in the late 1940s. Harry wanted to sell his "orchestra at your fingertips" to every Aunt Mable in America, and drove his motor home across America doing so. But his trusted salesman Bill Franson took two instruments to England, and found manufacturers to replicate the Chamberlin. Under this dubious pretense, the Mellotron was born.
Soon, through the music of the Beatles, the Zombies, and the Moody Blues, the Mellotron became the "instant magic sound." In the 1970s, the Mellotron defined the sound of progressive rock bands like King Crimson, Roxy Music, and Genesis. Though forgotten during the 1980s, when digital synthesizers hijacked pop music, the Mellotron is today again a highly desired and sought-after device, a connection for artists like Radiohead and Kanye West to the mystical lost world of invention and possibility.
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