The Most Popular Instrument You've Never Heard Of : The Omnichord
Let's face it. In the year 2014, most modern pop music is based on recording in the digital realm. Synthesizers, programmed drums, and a plethora of special effects come blaring out of our computer speakers on the regular. To some folks this is great news (read: me), but to most people this style of arrangement is completely alien. Ask a non-musician what about their favorite instrument and they’re apt to answer with one of the 4 instruments everybody knows: Guitar, Bass, Drums, Piano. But in a pop landscape ruled by synthesized blip blops, and airtight production, it’s time we got an update to our instrument knowledge. So. Let's begin. Most people picture the modern day pop producer as a guy sitting on a computer, hitting three buttons on his computer and spitting out a soaring hit record. I wish that were the case. We would have lots of good pop songs. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Here's what is the case - for the best popular songwriters and producers, their studios usually look something like this
Sometimes there is a lawn chair. On occasion there is a power mullet. But there is always, always a cat.
The point stands. Those key and button laden apparatuses aren’t pianos, they’re synthesizers. And personally, I think they’re all unique snowflakes that everybody should know everything about. But before I write you a dissertation on the grandeur of casiotone, let me show you an instrument you’ve heard 1,000 times without knowing it.
Beautiful, isn't it?
The Omnichord is funny little instrument first released upon the world in 1981 by the Suzuki Musical Instrument Corporation. Essentially, it’s a little tiny synthesizer harp. You slide your hand up and down the touch panel and ‘strum’ the harpstrings. Like most synthesizers, it sounds absolutely nothing like a harp. But - and in our good fortune - it sounds absolutely everything like an Omnichord, and it’s briliiant. Without further ado, here’s a brief video of the Omnichord in action.
Now you're probably sitting there saying, "Stephen I have never heard such a whimsical and beauteous instrument in my life. But I have definitely not heard it any pop song in the last 20 years. That thing sounds like a toy my tiny cousin would play." Unfortunately for you, you are wrong. On two counts.
1.) I tried to get my tiny cousin to play it once and she was more interested in chewing on it than strumming the glorious metal strumbars.
2.) It is all over pop. Exhibit A: Marina & The Diamonds
That intro? Straight Omnichord.(And some acoustic guitar.) Now what about those bleep bloops in the Ke$ha's 'acoustic album' Deconstructed
Okay, you've got the basics. Let's get more advanced. Fast forward to 2:06 in this video.
Hear those little sparkly shimmery noises? Yes it is, in fact, the almighty Omnichord
Alright this one is going to be rather difficult. So much that we're going to have to bust out the instrumental. Skip to 2:15. Left speaker. Underneath all that acoustic guitar. No sparklies this time. Just odd sounding, almost lo-fi chords. Close your eyes and put on headphones. It is subtle but I promise you it is there.
Yes. That is the the chord function of an Omnichord
Final, and most difficult of them all. Skip to 1:35. Hear those chords? Probably not. Listen again. It should sound like the Adam Lambert chords we just played. Again. Headphones and intent concentration will aide on this one.
Right? How cool is that. Omnichord Chords
To me, it's it's stuff like this that really makes modern popular music interesting. And while many of my peers tend to brush off the great tunes that come cranking through radio as trite and trivial, they don't hear these little harpy bloops coming out of their car speakers. There is no way to play the Omnichord by clicking a few buttons on a computer. Grown ass men and women have to cradle this little harp and strum away trying to play the perfect Omnichord take - and they do it for sections you can barely, barely hear. When you're listening to pop records, you're hearing these live Omnichord performances. Sure, pop is vacuum sealed, but the good kind always has treats like these wrapped in. And if you're lucky - it's sugar coated pop with an Omni on top.