was an ill-fated tape replay keyboard
conceived by Dave Biro
of Yalesville, Connecticut, USA, and funded by Rick Wakeman
of the progressive-rock group Yes
in the late 1970s.
The Birotron was a keyboard instrument that used 8-track cartridge
tapes to play sounds whenever a key was pressed on the keyboard. It is similar in concept to the Chamberlin
, and was a forerunner of digital sampling. Keyboards like the Mellotron and Birotron were mainly used for strings, choirs, brass, and flutes; sounds not easily reproduced on the synthesizers of that era. The major innovation of the Birotron was that it stored its sounds using 8-track tape loops
, which allowed it to play the sounds indefinitely, a great improvement from the 8-second limit of the Mellotron. If I knew how to make it say "citation needed" here, I would.
Dave Biro invented this instrument and showed it to Rick Wakeman, who was so impressed by the idea that he offerred to fund its manufacture. It was developed by Birotronics, Ltd which was one of Wakeman's Complex 7 businesses. The Packhorse road case company was under this umbrella as well. Birotronics apparently made a very limited number of these instruments (David Biro says only 17 were made, including the original and 4 prototypes, while Rick Wakeman claims 35.)This discrepancy is partially explained by the fact that parts existed to make at least 20 machines. 4 of those were owned by Rick Wakeman, who noted in an interview in 1999 that 2 were stolen and 2 were damaged beyond repair. Only 5 or 6 Birotrons are accounted for today.
Two major factors led to the Birotron's demise. The most direct cause was a lack of necessary and consistent funding. The Birotron also suffered from poor timing, being introduced very shortly before the arrival of the digital sampling technology (such as the Fairlight CMI) which would render it obsolete.
This instrument was used on the Yes albums Tormato
and Wakeman's solo album Criminal Record
. It also appears on 3 albums by the band Earthstar
: French Skyline
, Atomkraft? Nein, Danke!
, Humans Only
; on the track "Lift" by Dave Kean on the Mellotron tribute: The Rime of the Ancient Sampler
; and the song "Nickel Plated Man" by Eleni Mandell
on the album Wishbone
The Birotrons' looped sounds are close to the sounds of the Orchestron
and keyboard section of the Optigan