The Vako Orchestron – Kraftwerk’s Secret Weapon

Optigan.com shared this video demo of the Vako Orchestron – the rare and bizarre sample playback keyboard that’s part of Kraftwerk’s iconic sound.

Here’s what they have to say about the video:

Here’s a demo of all 8 original discs that were made for the Vako Orchestron.

This keyboard, which is adapted from the Mattel Optigan, was introduced in 1975 by Dave VanKoevering. It was intended to be a competitor to the Mellotron, but it never really took off.

Kraftwerk was a very early adopter of this instrument. I’ve included little examples of some of the well-known parts Kraftwerk used their Orchestron for back in the day.

See the Optigan.com for Orchestron discs and sample CDs.

11 thoughts on “The Vako Orchestron – Kraftwerk’s Secret Weapon

  1. Seems also a bit more flexible compared to the Mellotron tapes.

    I´m still unsure about the difference between a “sampler” and this.

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    1. The difference I see is this is a sample playback device. The sample discs are created with another piece of equipment. Where as a sampler can do the sample recording and playback from a single device.

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    2. >”Seems also a bit more flexible compared to the Mellotron tapes.”

      More flexible in that you can hold notes as long as you want (though there is a glitch at the “splice point”).

      But…Less flexible in that sounds must be continuous. With a Mellotron, OTOH, you can have attacks, you can have a sequence of sounds, you can have a drum “loop” (you have to re-press the key at the loop point) that starts when you press a key; each key has an identical tape, so you can have an eight-second recording of anything you want on each key. The Option/Orchestron has shorter tracks the higher you go, so you can’t do that.

      The technology was inherently noisy—noisier than tape (I mention this because, around the web, people seem to think it was simply noisy electronics). The main reason for the Orchestron was looped playback, lighter, less problematic to tour with (but not outright reliable).

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  2. I wondered what made that great choir sound at the beginning of the song Radioactivity. I found out that it was the Orchestron when I read the book Kraftwerk Publikation earlier this year. It was a great choir sound for 1975.

    If you’re interested in the history of Kraftwerk, pick up a copy of Kraftwerk Publikation. It’s a well done interesting read.

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    1. TimS
      If my bad memory serves me right, New Order sampled the choir on ‘Radioactivity’ and used it as their choir on ‘Blue Monday’.
      What’s old is new, is old is new…..
      cheers

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  3. Gforce has a great expansion pack with this on it for their VSM (or is it the MTron Pro? can’t remember, I have both…)… but it sounds great..

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  4. I found one of these in a basement storeroom of a studio in Butte Montana- and sold it to Vincent Gallo the Actor- he is an avid collector of Orchestrons!

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