Listen

News 88.9 KNPR
Classical 89.7 KCNV

member station

Classical
Tiny Desk

Mellotron Variations: Tiny Desk Concert

811346561_956392608.jpg

Robby Grant, Pat Sansone (Wilco), Jonathan Kirkscey and John Medeski (Medeski, Martin & Wood) give an all-Mellotron performance at the Tiny Desk on December, 11, 2019. (Photo by Mhari Shaw/NPR)
Mhari Shaw, NPR

Robby Grant, Pat Sansone (Wilco), Jonathan Kirkscey and John Medeski (Medeski, Martin & Wood) give an all-Mellotron performance at the Tiny Desk on December, 11, 2019. (Photo by Mhari Shaw/NPR)

We've never had an original Mellotron at the Tiny Desk until now. Much like a Hammond organ, it's big, heavy and fragile. When they fired it up, with all its mechanical gears turning tape loops and moving play heads, the 15-year-old geek in me blissed out.

The Mellotron was a magical 1960s invention that predates sampling. It's a keyboard instrument, with each piano key triggering a tape loop — the sound could be a string ensemble, a flamenco guitar, a saxophone and so much more. Think about the flute sounds on The Beatles' song "Strawberry Fields Forever" and you get the idea.

When Mellotron Variations keyboardist Robby Grant and I began discussing an all-Mellotron Tiny Desk, we quickly realized that having four of these beasts wouldn't fit behind my desk. So Robby Grant, Pat Sansone (Wilco) and Jonathan Kirkscey performed on the portable — and still incredible-sounding — 21st-century version of the instrument. At the same time, John Medeski (Medeski, Martin & Wood) tackled the original beast.

The sonic landscape they produce as Mellotron Variations is ingenious and impressive. It's a score with the audience as collective filmmaker, each one of us capable of creating imagery in our heads to this music of mystery and sometimes comedy. In the words of my teenaged self, "it was a trip."

Support comes from

SET LIST

  • "Agent Cha Cha"
  • "Dulcimer Bill"
  • "Pulsar"

MUSICIANS

Robby Grant: Mellotron; John Medeski: Mellotron; Pat Sansone: Mellotron; Jonathan Kirkscey: Mellotron;

CREDITS

Producers: Bob Boilen, Morgan Noelle Smith, Jack Corbett; Creative director: Bob Boilen; Audio engineers: Josh Rogosin, Natasha Branch; Editor: Jack Corbett; Videographers: Kara Frame, Maia Stern, Jack Corbett; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Executive producer: Lauren Onkey; VP, programming: Anya Grundmann; Photo: Mhari Shaw/NPR

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for.  If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.

More Stories

Clockwise from upper left: Jenny Hval, Sudan Archives, Anna Meredith, Mellotron Variations (Robby Grant, Jonathan Kirkscey, John Medeski, Pat Sansone)
Discover Music
All Songs Considered
Angelica Garcia plays a Tiny Desk concert.
Discover Music
Daniel Norgren performs during a Tiny Desk concert, on Sep. 25, 2019. (Catie Dull/NPR)
Discover Music