Ondes Martenot

The ondes Martenot (IPA: [õd maʀtəno]; French for "Martenot waves"; also known as the ondium Martenot, Martenot and ondes musicales) is an early electronic musical instrument, invented in 1928 by Maurice Martenot and originally very similar in sound to the Theremin. The sonic capabilities of the instrument were subsequently expanded by the addition of timbral controls and switchable loudspeakers. The instrument's eerie wavering notes are oscillating frequencies produced by thermionic valves.

The production of the instrument stopped in 1988 but a few conservatories in France still teach it (e.g. Paris, Strasbourg, Boulogne-Billancourt, Evry, Cergy-Pontoise). Since 1997, the "Ondéa" project strives to create a reimagining of the ondes Martenot. Since the Martenot name is still under copyright protection, the new instrument is called "Ondéa", but has the playing and operational characteristics of the original ondes Martenot. In 2001, a completed prototype was used in concerts, and since 2005, these instruments have been in regular use.

In classical music

The ondes Martenot has been used by many composers, most notably Olivier Messiaen. He first used it in the Fête des Belles Eaux for six ondes, written for the 1937 International World's Fair in Paris and then used it in several of his works, including the Turangalîla-Symphonie and Trois Petites Liturgies de la Présence Divine. His opera Saint-François d'Assise requires three of the instruments. The composer's widow, Yvonne Loriod-Messiaen arranged and edited four unpublished Feuillet inedits for ondes Martenot and piano which were published in 2001.

Other composers included Charles Koechlin, Edgard Varèse (as a replacement for two Theremin instruments in his work Ecuatorial), Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Maurice Jarre, Antoine Tisné, Sylvano Bussotti, Marcel Landowski, Pierre Boulez, Tristan Murail, Henri Tomasi and Frank Zappa. André Jolivet wrote a concerto for it in 1947. Bohuslav Martinů authorized the adaptation of his Fantasie to the use of the ondes Martenot when it proved difficult to perform on the Theremin, for which it was originally written.

Estimates of the number of works written for ondes Martenot vary. Hugh Davies reckoned there to be around 1000 works composed for the instrument. Jeanne Loriod's figures are the more widely quoted: she estimated that there were 300 pieces of chamber music, including 14 concertos. Jacques Tchamkerten's provisional catalogue of works for ondes, included in the current reprinting of Loriod's Technique, lists far fewer works than either of these figures.

In cinema and television

Its first use in the cinema was by Honegger for Berthold Bartosch's film The Idea (1930, score added 1934). It was extensively used by composer Brian Easdale in the ballet music for The Red Shoes. It was frequently used in horror and science fiction movies and television, notably in the 1950s. British composer Barry Gray frequently used it in his scores for Gerry Anderson's television series, and film composer Elmer Bernstein incorporated the instrument into many of his works beginning with Heavy Metal, in 1981. It was used to haunting effect by the composer David Fanshawe in the British television series Flambards. The only anime composer who has used the instrument is Takashi Harada in the soundtracks of A Tree of Palme (2002) and, later, in Binchō-tan.

Other film scores using the ondes Martenot include Lawrence of Arabia (1962); Billion Dollar Brain (1967); Doppelgänger (1969); Ghostbusters (1984); A Passage to India (1984); Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988); Rising Sun (1993); Amélie, by Yann Tiersen (2001); both Bodysong (2003) and "There Will Be Blood" (2007) by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead; La marche de l'empereur, by Emilie Simon, played by Thomas Bloch (first original version of The Emperor's Journey, or The March of the Penguins, 2005). The score of A Tree of Palme also notably features the ondes Martenot.

It is not however responsible for the female voice effects in the original Star Trek theme, despite many rumors to the contrary.

In modern music

One of the first integrations of the ondes Martenot into popular music was achieved in the Quebec musical scene. The two most popular Québécois musical groups of the time, Beau Dommage and Harmonium, made extensive use of this instrument (introduced there by Marie Bernard) in each of their 1975 albums, respectively Où est passée la noce? and Si on avait besoin d'une cinquième saison. Harmonium later toured with Supertramp and received several reviews of their work by English-speaking musical critics of progressive rock, who noted their use of the ondes Martenot.

Jonny Greenwood is often credited with bringing the ondes to a larger audience through Radiohead's Kid A (2000), Amnesiac (2001), Hail to the Thief (2003) and In Rainbows (2007) albums. Greenwood uses the ondes Martenot often in his solo efforts, and has written a piece for the instrument, entitled Smear. In live concerts, Radiohead have used six ondes for "How to Disappear Completely".

The ondes Martenot was also utilized by Bryan Ferry, in 1999, on the album As Time Goes By, and by Joe Jackson on his 1994 album Night Music. Recently, ondist Thomas Bloch has toured in Tom Waits and Bob Wilson's show "The Black Rider" with Marianne Faithfull (20042006) and in Gorillaz leader Damon Albarn's show "Monkey: Journey to the West" (2007 onward).

Playing technique

The ondes Martenot is unique among electronic musical instruments in its methods of control. Maurice Martenot was a cellist, and it was his vision to bring the degree of musical expressivity associated with the cello to his new instrument. The ondes, in its later forms, can be controlled either by depressing keys on the six-octave keyboard (au clavier), or by sliding a metal ring worn on the right-hand index finger in front of the keyboard (au ruban). The position of the ring corresponds in pitch to the horizontal location along the keyboard. The latter playing method allows for unbroken, sweeping glissandi to be produced in much the same manner as a Theremin. The keyboard itself has a lateral range of movement of several millimeters, permitting vibrati of nearly a semitone below or above the pitch of the depressed key to be produced.

By depressing keys or moving the ring, no sound is initially produced. A control operated by the left hand and situated in a small drawer of controls (tiroir) on the left side of the instrument controls the musical dynamics, from silence to fortissimo. This control (touche d’intensité) is glass and lozenge-shaped, and can be depressed several centimetres. The depth to which this key is depressed determines the dynamic level: the deeper, the louder. The manner in which it is pressed determines the attack of the note: quick taps produce staccato articulations, whilst more controlled and deliberate depressions are used to play legato.

The small drawer of controls also contains flip-switches to control the instrument's timbre. These function in much the same way as a pipe organ's stops can be added or removed. Like organ stops, each switch has its own sound color which can be added to the chorus of other timbres. The 1975-model instrument features the following timbres:

Onde (O) A simple sine wave timbre. Similar in sound to the flute or ocarina.
Creux (C) A peak-limited triangle wave. Similar in sound to a clarinet in high registers.
Gambe (G) A timbre somewhat resembling a square wave. Intended to be similar in sound to string instruments, as the French title would suggest.
Petit gambe (g) A similar but less harmonically-rich timbre than Gambe. The player can control the number of harmonics present in the signal by using a slider situated in the control drawer.
Nasillard (N) A timbre resembling a pulse wave. Similar in sound to a bassoon in low registers.
Octaviant (8) A timbre with a reinforced first harmonic whose intensity in the signal can be controlled by using a slider. This setting is analogous to the 4 foot stop in organ terminology.
Souffle (S) A timbre often described as white noise, but in fact pink noise of indefinite pitch.

In addition to the timbral controls, the control drawer also contains flip switches which determine to which loudspeakers (diffuseurs) the instrument's output are routed. These are labeled D1 to D4.

A traditional, large loudspeaker.
A loudspeaker which uses springs to produce a mechanical reverb effect.
A small gong is used as the loudspeaker diaphragm to produce a 'halo' effect rich in harmonics.
An iconically lyre-shaped loudspeaker, using strings to produce sympathetic resonances.

See also

The Electro-Theremin is a similar instrument, famous for being used in the song "Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys.

Prominent ondes Martenot performers include Ginette Martenot, Jeanne Loriod, Thomas Bloch, Pierre Boulez, Alessandro Cortini, Cynthia Millar, Christine Ott, Jacques Tchamkerten, Jonny Greenwood, Jean Laurendeau, Mary Chun, Bruno Perrault and Zac Baird.

Jeanne Loriod's three-volume Technique de l'onde electronique, type Martenot (Leduc, 1987) is considered to be the standard reference work on the ondes Martenot. It has a preface written by Olivier Messiaen.



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