Skip

Ondes Martenot, or, When Maurice Met Leon.
December 25, 2007 11:04 PM   Subscribe

When Maurice Martenot met Lev Sergeivich Termen in the early 1920's and heard his revolutionary new musical instrument the Theremin, he was inspired to create his own electroacoustic instrument , which he christened Ondes Martenot. Next year will mark the 80th anniversary of the first performance of this remarkable hybrid keyboard which, aside from its lovely and ethereal sound, is also aesthetically pleasing visually, with its handsome collection of multiple speakers. See and hear the instrument being played and explained in this video interview and demonstration by Jean Laurendeau, which closes with a lovely rendition of the theme from Star Trek. And, here's the instrument in use, live, alongside who else? Radiohead.

More videos:

Claude-Samuel Lévine in a performance of Messiaen's Feuillets Inedits, from Google video.

And here Levine demonstrates his prowess on the Ondes Martenot as well as the Theremin in this (" He played with RADIOHEAD ! ") YouTube clip. Here's the same clip on Google video. This clip opens with a very good shot of the instrument being played, filmed from the player's perspective.

Here's the English homepage of Japanese Ondes Martenot virtuoso Takashi Harada. Here's Harada serenading the shoppers at a department store.

Here's a page from the Canadian Music Centre's "Electronic Frontiers" series, featuring a composition by Jacques Hétu: Concerto for Ondes Martenot.

Here's an article on Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, in which he talks about his interest in the Ondes Martenot. And here's Greenwood's interview with Ondes Martenot player Jeanne Loriod.

Here's a page from MusicWeb International on Thomas Bloch's album Music for Ondes Martenot, with some info on various Ondes Martenot compositions featured on the recording.

Here's a new version of the instrument, from the UK's Analogue Systems, which they call the "French Connection".

And... for anyone who'd like to hear more from Theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore, here's her MySpace Music page.

And finally, I should note that the Ondes Martenot made a brief appearance in this MeFi post previously.
posted by flapjax at midnite (20 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
aaargh! I forgot to link to the Wikipedia page, which is actually good and informative. Here you go.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:29 PM on December 25, 2007


If you want to play music like this, you don't need to search down one of these very, very hard to find instruments (or a very, very expensive VC device [this thing makes no sound!]) , all you need is a ribbon controller - which was probably inspired by the Ondes Martenot. Adding a volume to control to simulate the rest is trivial. The K2600, comes with a ribbon control and would be perfect for this task.
posted by bigmusic at 11:34 PM on December 25, 2007


That is one amazing Radiohead performance in the above-the-fold paragraph. This is a spectacular, spectacular post.
posted by Mikey-San at 11:38 PM on December 25, 2007


Yes, definitely amazing. I never would have imagined an analogue device like that, and made in the 1920s. Incredible.
posted by delmoi at 11:48 PM on December 25, 2007


Though seeing that picture of Keith Emerson in an aluminum foil jumpsuit waving his dick ribbon controller was about enough to put me off my dinner, thanks for those links, bigmusic. That link with the dreaded Keith was also the first I've ever heard mention of the Tannerin, which I'm a bit surprised has escaped my notice until now.

However, it's not quite so simple, really, to say "If you want to play music like this..." I mean, the Ondes Martenot, as an instrument, has a tremendously beautiful sound, unique to itself. Simply using a ribbon controller is in no way the same as using an Ondes Martenot. Definitely cheaper, though!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:51 PM on December 25, 2007


Alice Malloy's Theremin Bra
posted by Sailormom at 11:56 PM on December 25, 2007


Simply using a ribbon controller is in no way the same as using an Ondes Martenot. Of course it's not the same as playing a 20k instrument, but how many of get to play one of those? But if you want an instrument capable of performing in the same manner as an Ondes Martenot, a ribbon controller, a volume pedal and a sound source (VCO) are really all you need.
posted by bigmusic at 12:33 AM on December 26, 2007


Of course it's not the same as playing a 20k instrument, but how many of get to play one of those?

Not too many! But making an FPP about ribbon controllers with a volume pedal and a VCO just didn't seem all that appealing, so I went with the Martenot! ;-)

Interestingly, you mentioned the K2600 in your earlier comment, which, of course, ain't exactly going for chicken feed, either!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:42 AM on December 26, 2007


And this just in... Barry Gray composed music for the British TV series The Thunderbirds (those fabulous marionettes) and other children's shows, and he used the Ondes Martenot frequently in his soundtracks. He in fact studied the instrument with Maurice Martenot himself!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:48 AM on December 26, 2007


Also, here's the obituary for Jeanne Loriod, who we met in the Jonny Greenwood interview linked above. She was apparently one of the true masters of the instrument.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:52 AM on December 26, 2007


I'm on a mission... more here at oliviermessiaen.org.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:25 AM on December 26, 2007


Okay, now I'm obsessing: speaker closeups gallery. This is Ondes Martenot pr0n at its most graphic!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:32 AM on December 26, 2007


Wonderful post.
posted by Wolof at 4:40 AM on December 26, 2007


Nice post! For comparison, a 2002 post on Termen, the theremin, and his life back in the USSR (which the MySpace page linked here ignores).
posted by languagehat at 5:23 AM on December 26, 2007


...and his life back in the USSR...

The Ukraine girls really knocked him out?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:28 AM on December 26, 2007


flapjax, great post, thanks!! I'll spend some fun time over the next couple of days watching/reading it all--an interesting thing to me about the Ondes Martenot is that it may never go completely extinct, for one because it plays a key role in some of Olivier Messiaen's major pieces (most especially Turangalila-symphonie). It sounds great live in that piece, in front of a giant orchestra, wailing away. I wonder what we'll do in 100 years, because that piece will most likely still be around (I hope)--antique instrument preservation by symphony orchestras? Period instrument specialists, who play analog 20th century electronic instruments instead of those from the Baroque or Renaissance periods?
posted by LooseFilter at 9:11 AM on December 26, 2007


Wow, that Radiohead performance in Paris is something else; that whole concert is great, most of it is on youtube. They must have been thinking of making a DVD or something, because holy shit. The audio & video quality are excellent.

Must have been the most martenots in one place at one time in the last 50 years, too. Such a cool instrument.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 9:22 AM on December 26, 2007


Simply using a ribbon controller is in no way the same as using an Ondes Martenot. My claim is that of all instruments, you're most likely to get an excellent simulation of an Ondes Martenot.

The circuitry in the unit is simple; the interface is extremely specific and linear (unlike a Theremin!) Probably the hardest problem would be to get the sound of the speakers but there's a ton of work on speaker emulation already, you could probably use something "off the shelf".

I'll bet your K2500/2600 (I have the 2500 myself) would do a pretty good job with its synthesis engine alone but I think you could do an indetectably perfect job if you programmed a physical model of the circuit and the speaker on a general-purpose processor.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:26 AM on December 26, 2007


"in the early 1920s" -- fixed that for you.
The decade date is not possessive. Same rule as "its" and "it's" -- which people get often at least as wrong.
posted by asfuller at 12:50 PM on December 26, 2007


Wow, that Radiohead performance in Paris is something else; that whole concert is great, most of it is on youtube. They must have been thinking of making a DVD or something, because holy shit. The audio & video quality are excellent.

It's the legendary (at least in fan circles) peformance filmed for French TV Canal+ in April 2001. I'ts not hard to find the complete thing on DVD, and well worth it.
posted by jokeefe at 2:46 PM on December 26, 2007


« Older Human History in 60 Seconds   |   Clock Evolution Model Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post