UPDATE! 27 Feb 2014 - We've finally made a quick video demo of an Auto Orchestra, still just scratching the surface of what it can do (but it's made us sure we need to get one for our studio):
In our continuing quest to explore the outer reaches of analogue esoterica, we were very pleased to get hold of this incredible (and slightly bonkers) MTI Auto Orchestra or "CR78-On-Steroids" as it's known here at Soundgas HQ.
This machine represented the ultimate breakthrough for the terminal narcissist: no longer need they share the limelight with their bandmates. Lead guitarists could solo all night to this space age rhythm section (dig that futuristic logo); no more waiting for the bass-player to show up; helping the drummer unload his kit in the rain; lugging electric pianos up stairs; dealing with in-fighting between first and second violins… Or, as it said in the advert:
Fig 1. Good looking whats?
The drawback? To coax a varied and musical backing track requires the mastery of the two sets of footpedals (with four side-switches on the volume pedal), a bank of buttons and pots on the main unit for drum/string/keys pattern variation and a pair of touch plates for drum rolls and fills. Yes, it's possible - and the adept could create something quite detailed and complex - but for most of us mortals the use of this many limbs whilst simultaneously wrestling with our main instrument is a stumble too far. These are reputed to be favoured by pedal steel players - no strangers to multi-tasking of multiple limbs...
Fig 2. Auto Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
I bought my original MTI years ago without the pedals and eventually pieced together a full set-up. However, I already had enough trouble playing one instrument with just two hands, so the added complication of dancing around a foot-operated 'keyboard' - whilst simultaneously operating a volume and chord-selector pedal (Minor, Dim, 7th & Start/Stop) was too much. Thus my dreams of onemanband nirvana were quietly extinguished to the great relief of those within earshot. My machine languished in the studio as yet another "What the… is that?" piece of under-used gear until we sold it to Arcade Fire earlier this year. I imagine them dancing across the pedals, switching instruments and creating richly-textured symphonies of delights.
To see that... not exactly happening, here is someone else demoing one they were selling. Tricky...
That said, these are great fun for studio inspiration and it's possible to quickly run up some quirky rhythms and basslines, so when this one showed up we got it serviced and here it is on our site, all working as it should. There are plenty of detailed photos there and we've included some scans of the original sales brochure (not for sale, sorry) for a full rundown of all the features. It's basically an analogue drum machine, bass synth, keyboard chord player and string section in one large crazy space-age box that jams along with you as you play or sing. Has to be seen/heard to be believed...