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Mellodrama, a documentary by Dianna Dilworth, explores the rising and falling fortunes of the Mellotron - the first musical keyboard to "sample" the sounds of other instruments - from its birth in a California garage in the 1950s, through its dominance on concert stages in the 1970s, through its almost religious cult of followers in the 2000s. From the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" to Black Sabbath to Kanye West, Mellodrama is a 50-year odyssey of musical invention, revolution, betrayal, and rediscovery.

The Mellotron is a keyboard instrument that plays prerecorded strips of magnetic tape. It was invented as the Chamberlin organ in Harry Chamberlin's Southern California backyard in the late 1940s. Harry wanted to sell his "orchestra at your fingertips" to every Aunt Mable in America, and drove his motor home across America doing so. But his trusted salesman Bill Franson took two instruments to England, and found manufacturers to replicate the Chamberlin. Under this dubious pretense, the Mellotron was born.

Soon, through the music of the Beatles, the Zombies, and the Moody Blues, the Mellotron became the "instant magic sound." In the 1970s, the Mellotron defined the sound of progressive rock bands like King Crimson, Roxy Music, and Genesis. Though forgotten during the 1980s, when digital synthesizers hijacked pop music, the Mellotron is today again a highly desired and sought-after device, a connection for artists like Radiohead and Kanye West to the mystical lost world of invention and possibility.

Mellodrama chronicles the fascinating fifty-year history using interviews with Brian Wilson (Beach Boys), Mike Pinder (Moody Blues), Rod Argent (The Zombies), Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick), Ian McDonald (King Crimson), Brian Kehew (Author "Recording the Beatles"), Jon Brion [Producer--Kanye West, Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann], Patrick Moraz (Yes), Jesse Carmichael (Maroon 5), Matthew Sweet (Recording Artist), Michael Penn (Recording Artist), Richard Chamberlin (The Chamberlin Company), David Kean (Mellotron Archives) Markus Retch (Mellotron Archives), Geoff Unwinn (Former Employee, Mellotronics Ltd), Tom Rhea (Berklee School of Music), Pea Hicks (Optiganally Yours), among many others.



Directed by

Dianna Dilworth

Produced by

Dianna Dilworth
Elizabeth Parks Kibbey

Edited by

Trevor Smith

Original Music by

Brian Kehew
Mattias Olsson

Animation by

Paul Dozall

Sound Mix by

Ian Christe

Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth)
Rod Argent (The Zombies)
David Biro (Birotron)
Jon Brion (Producer/Composer)
Jesse Carmichael (Maroon 5)
Richard Chamberlin (The Chamberlin Company)
Damon Fox (Big Elf)
Mitchell Froom (Producer)
Steve Frothingham (Big Elf)
Pea Hicks (Optiganally Yours)
Woody Jackson (Musician)
David Kean (Mellotron Archives)
Brian Kehew (Author Recording the Beatles, Musician)
Ian McDonald (King Crimson)
Patrick Moraz (Refugee, Yes, The Moody Blues)
Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick)
Michael Penn (Recording Artist)
Mike Pinder (The Moody Blues)
Markus Resch (Mellotron Archives)
Tom Rhea (Berklee School of Music)
Matthew Sweet (Recording Artist)
Mattias Olsson (Rothhandle Studio)
Geoff Unwinn (Mellotronics)
Patrick Warren (Musician)
Per Wiberg (Opeth)
Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys)