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August, 2001: "RIME 2" to be produced by the folks on the Mellotronists list
(although that project seems to be in doubt...)


This was originally sent out on the Moody Blues Mailing List, c.1993, and the text retains its original errors.  :-)

Hello All!

Here's the review I promised of the Mellotron sampler CD...

Disclaimer: LONG!!! ;-)
bulletTitle: "Rime of the Ancient Sampler - The Mellotron Album" Voiceprint VP141CD
bulletTime: 77:42 / 18 tracks (one track w/ vocals, one spoken), Various artists
bulletU.S. availability: Ranjit (I believe it's a UK CD)

Musically, I guess the main point of this album is to prove how far one can mix "old" technology with the newer, flashier stuff. Think oil and water. Most of the album is in the "electronic/New Age" vein, from the synths to the drums; the Mellotron used to provide background mostly.

Yet the famed instrument *is* there on every track, doing the minimal chore on Pinder's contribution (only violins) all the way to the full job of Spanish guitars, flutes, brass, vibes, mandolins, choirs, saxes, electric guitars, oboes, trumpets, harps, backward pianos, regular pianos, and, of course, strings on the other tracks. Unfortunately the addition of modern-day sounds from digital synths make the Mellotron's contribution sound quite outdated. Its home is certainly in the analogue-laden world of the sixties and seventies.

The CD booklet includes a few pictures, a listing of what Mellotron sounds were used on each track, and a history of the Mellotron. The history is a very good summary of the Mellotron's development by Bradmatic, a UK company, based on an American invention. The first prototype went out in 1963 (the Mark 1), and the more stable Mark 2 came out in '64. It had 54 (!!) sounds in all, and was such a hot item that the BBC bought five. Princess Margaret had one, as did Peter Sellers and each of the Beatles.

The story goes on to mention that Mellotronics, the company which was created to produce the instrument, started a subsidiary in Dallas, Texas, which eventually went bankrupt. Through legal snafus, the Mellotron name was tied up, and the Mellotronics Company had to change the product name from Mellotron to Novatron.

With the advent of new digital synthesizers, Mellotrons began to fall into disfavour, and in 1986 Mellotronics' parent company decided to call it quits. The only remaining Mellotrons are in the hands of private owners, but there are companies which rebuild them and still provide tapes and parts (US and UK phone numbers are given in the CD booklet).

Pinder's track, "Waters Beneath the Bridge," is a pleasant, simple piece dominated by piano (probably synthesized). The "hook" reminds me of a song from Octave (don't remember which one). The Mellotron violin sound he uses is very shrill and almost unpleasant to listen to. This could be a problem with the recording, the mix, or the harmonics created by the Mellotron sound with the ride cymbals also on the track (probably digital). Yes, you can tell it's Pinder--it's definitely his style.

Moraz's track, "Owner's Guide," is considerably more dramatic. It starts off with a circus music type waltz, then blasts into a jazzy, upbeat piece. Again, the Mellotron is used here for mostly background fill, but he's able to whip up some pretty neat effects using it.

The other tracks are more adventures in modern electronic recordings with the Mellotron being used in varying degrees. There are two rather exceptional tracks, though:

The "1964 Demo disk" track (the original product demo disk) makes the Mellotron out to be one of those "have it in your living room" type organs (you know---the behemoths with all the lights and switches). The machine did a lot more than I'd originally believed. Aside from the 54 sounds it had 20 (!!) drum tracks, very much like those behemoths or even today's department store keyboards. Of course, this track is complete with a British announcer talking about the product, noting that he cannot tell us about all the features in such a short amount of time. After a brief rhythm section is played, he asserts, "All with one finger!" and "What a thrill!" (gaak!)

The centerpiece of the sampler has to be "Mighty Tron" performed by David Etheridge. He begins with the intro to "Strawberry Fields Forever" (yes, gang, *that's* a Mellotron), and blends into "Nights in White Satin" for a bit. Then this compilation of his goes off into a very upbeat piece---nothing I recognize. It does sound a little like John Williams' "Star Wars Theme", though. Further on the intro to Genesis' "Foxtrot" album is played, and the grande finale is a thoroughly Mellotron-orchestrated "Strawberry Fields" intro (with choruses, strings, brass, whatever). I think it's the best track on the disc and certainly the most dramatic.

I got to thinking what's really missing here. Yes, I would have liked longer tracks, but then it wouldn't be a "sampler." OK. But I think they left out some pretty important folks, such as:
bulletTony Banks (Genesis). Anyone who has listened to "Nursery Cryme" to "Wind and Wuthering" will know what I mean.
bulletEdgar Froese (Tangerine Dream). Most older TAdream and Froese's solo projects included the Mellotron.
bulletRick Wakeman (Yes, others). [Did he do the keys for King Crimson as well or am I thinking of Greg Lake?]

The Mellotron made a very important contribution to music, creating everything from the melodrama that was Tangerine Dream to the depth that was the Moody Blues. As pointed out by Etheridge, the Mellotron also blazed the way to today's digital sampling technology.

"Rime" captures some of the capability of this instrument and gets some apt artists to put it through its paces. The aging analogue technology of the Mellotron is showing, though, and it's obviously time for it to move on where modern day music is concerned.

I'll continue to listen to TAdream, the Moodys, and old Yes, though, to get enough dosage of my favourite instrument in its natural habitat.

And, yeah, I still wouldn't mind owning one of the beasts. :-)

Maybe someday.

...ken leonard...ken@ileaf.com