The Optigan Project Update II

April 6th, 2007

Another update to pass along regarding the Optigan Project: I have contacted TIS here in Portland about scanning my discs at a higher resolution and they quoted me a price of $15.00 a scan, which is kind of pricey. The guy behind the counter did bring up the issue of copyright, which I hadn’t really thought about since the discs haven’t been in production for over 30 years, but it did make me wonder about the legality of making copies. The original tapes are now in the possession of Pea Hicks of Optiganally Yours, so I emailed him about reproduction. Here is Pea’s response.

“I’ll have a look at your blog in detail later, but be aware that I and others have tried for 10+ years to devise a scheme to reliably produce workably accurate copies of Optigan discs, to no avail. Even the guy who was in charge of making the originals basically said you could not mass produce them using, essentially, photo-copying technology (digital or otherwise). The primary culprit is the center hole registration. The original disc images were copied in a *photo* lab, registered to a pre-existing center hole, which guaranteed the alignment of the disc image within an acceptable tolerance. Punching out the center hole after the fact sounds simple enough, but even a hair off, and you’ve got a disc that does not play like an original does. Sure, you can get better quality control by punching the center holes out one-by-one, by hand, but that’s going to be tedious, and will also produce a certain percentage of duds because of the low tolerances.”

“Scanning and printing as you’re suggesting is essentially bound to failure, and the scanning and printing process is not accurate enough to produce a perfectly round replica of the original. The resolution issue is also a serious problem - I have the math somewhere, but we calculated at one point that the resolution needed to accurately reproduce some of the frequency content is more or less beyond the scope of even high-end office scanning/printing machines. I have scans of all the discs at 1200 dpi, and they’re not sufficient to produce good copies.”

“I’ve also had other try to tackle the ‘make a new Optigan disc image’ project over the years. One guy got really far along, to the point of developing the software to create the waveform images, but even he abandoned the project as too costly to basically do for free. Ultimately that’s the problem - in order to do ANY of this right, it’s going to cost money, and there’s just not a big enough market for Optigan disc copies. It may seem like there is, judging by what they go for on eBay sometimes, but once its known that there’s essentially unlimited copies out there, that price will drop dramatically. There just aren’t that many people who have Optigans. We calculated that even unperfect mass-produced copies (yes, we had a whole repro process set up and ready to go) would mean a per-unit cost of about $11.00…doesn’t leave much margin for profit at all, if any.”

“Anyway, I have much more info than the summary above - again, I’ve had lots of folks try to tackle this project over the years…of course, if you’re happy making and selling one-offs that don’t sound/play perfectly, and folks want to buy them, that’s fine. The disc images themselves are public domain.”

Pea’s message certainly took the wind out of my sails. I’m trying to look at the bright side, which is the fact I’ve finally determined there would be no legal obstacle to making copies of the discs, but Pea’s experience is sobering. I guess I should stay positive, since I’ve successful copied one disc already, but I’ll have to give some serious thought to the project before committing resources to have the discs scanned at a higher resolution. I did make some headway in the whole exporting sound files as vectors though. It might be possible to do this in Adobe After Effects, but I’m not terribly knowledgeable when it comes to that program, so it might be some time before I actually get around to trying it.

Entry Filed under: Electronic Music

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Tim Grinstead  |  April 6th, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    I think the project has value as an art experiment, and you should abandon the idea of creating perfect copies for sale. I think the open ended possibilities of creating playable discs that somehow interpret or otherwise apply filters to original works could add value and increase the originality of the effort. Mix it with music of your own to make some wildoptigan freshness!

  • 2. Eric  |  April 9th, 2007 at 8:51 am

    I completely agree with Tim. The part that is exciting to me about your idea lies in altering these sources (and new sources that you are able to work into the format) in experimental ways and the unforseen results. What does a solarized optigan disk sound like? I have no idea, but there’s only one way to find out.

  • 3. Ned  |  April 10th, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    I did some Photoshop trickery with the image file yesterday and printed it out last night. Not much to report. The disc sounded interesting, but not useable in any kind of musical context. Sounded kind of like the ocean.

  • 4. Ned  |  April 11th, 2007 at 9:26 am

    This looks cool…

    Chopped Optigan

  • 5. Eric  |  April 12th, 2007 at 10:08 am

    Some thoughts (I take ‘em when I can get ‘em):

    * I’d guess that whatever kind of Photoshop manipulation is used, it must be very gentle. Anything that would be pleasing (or even noticeable) visually is probably too radical to avoid turning the information on the disc into sonic mush.

    * I’m thinking that the solo instrument patches are going to fare better than the accompaniment sounds. Although I bet you’d come across a few usable anomalies there, too.

    * Some possible candidates for filter testing: blur (but especially the motion blur of both varieties), detect lines, and filters approximating brush techniques.

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