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An ondes Martenot

The ondes Martenot (IPA: [ɔ̃d maʀtəno]; French for "Martenot waves"), also known as the ondium Martenot, Martenot and ondes musicales, is an early electronic musical instrument that Maurice Martenot invented in 1928. The original design was similar in sound to the theremin.[1] The sonic capabilities of the instrument were later expanded by the addition of timbral controls and switchable loudspeakers.

The instrument's eerie wavering notes are produced by varying the frequency of oscillation in vacuum tubes. The production of the instrument stopped in 1988, but several conservatories in France still teach it.[2] Since 2008, Jean-Loup Dierstein, with the support of Maurice Martenot's son, has been building ondes Martenot instruments based on the model used when production stopped in 1988.[3]

In 1997, the Ondéa project began designing an instrument based on the ondes Martenot. Since the Martenot name is still protected, the new instrument is called Ondéa, but has the playing and operational characteristics of the original ondes Martenot. In 2001, a completed prototype was first used in concerts. These instruments have been in regular use since 2005.[4][5]


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[6] 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 The composer's widow, Yvonne Loriod-Messiaen arranged and edited four unpublished Feuillet inedits for ondes Martenot and piano which were published in 2001[7]. The ondes Martenot has also been used occasionally in transcriptions: Leopold Stokowski used the instrument in his ethereal orchestration of Buxtehude's Sarabande and Courante ("Auf Meinen Lieben Gott").

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, Giacinto Scelsi, Marcel Landowski, Pierre Boulez, Tristan Murail, Henri Tomasi and Frank Zappa. André Jolivet wrote a prominent concerto for it in 1947.[8] 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.[9]

Estimates of the number of works written for ondes Martenot vary. Hugh Davies reckoned there to be around a thousand works composed for the instrument.[10] 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.[11]

In cinema and television

Its first use in the cinema was by Shostakovich for one of Russia's first sound films, Odna in 1931. Arthur Honegger used it 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 American composer Dominic Frontiere used it in a few episodes of the 1960s television series The Outer Limits. Film composer Elmer Bernstein incorporated the instrument into many of his works beginning with Heavy Metal, in 1981. Maurice Jarre was also noted for his use of the instrument. It was used to haunting effect by the composer David Fanshawe in the British television series Flambards. One of the few anime composers 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); Jesus of Nazareth (miniseries) (1977); Heavy Metal (1981); Ghostbusters (1984); A Passage to India (1984); The Black Cauldron (1985); 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. 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.[citation needed]

In contemporary 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".[12]

The ondes Martenot was also utilized by Bryan Ferry, in 1999, on the album As Time Goes By, and by Joe Jackson on his 1988 soundtrack album for Tucker: The Man and His Dream and his 1994 album Night Music. Recently, ondist Thomas Bloch has toured in Tom Waits and Robert 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).

Also, Yann Tiersen, well known for writing the music to Amelie, often features the use of the ondes Martenot in his music. His DVD La Traversee, documenting the recording of Les Retrouvailles, shows his use of the instrument.

In 2009, bruit direct disques[13] released a 12" 45rpm vinyl record of original ondes martenot compositions by Accident du travail[14].

Playing technique

Au ruban playing technique
The tiroir of a 1975-model ondes

The ondes Martenot is unique among electronic musical instruments in its methods of control.[15] 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.[16] 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.

Three diffuseurs. From left to right: Métallique, Palme, Principal
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



  1. ^ K.D. Skeldon, L.M. Reid, V. McInally, B. Dougan, C. Fulton: "Physics of the Theremin", Am. J. Phys., 66 (1998) 11:945–55.
  2. ^ Thomas Bloch, insert notes to Naxos Records CD 8.555779 "Music for ondes Martenot", p. 9
  3. ^ "Ondes Martenot" on
  4. ^ Timeline of the Ondéa replica development.
  5. ^ Extensive (21 pages) documentation on the Ondéa (Ondes Martenot replica).
  6. ^ Hill, Peter; Simeone, Nigel (2005). Messiaen. Yale. pp. 74–75. ISBN 978-0300109078. 
  7. ^ Bloch, p. 7.
  8. ^ Hilda Jolivet: Avec André Jolivet (Flammarion, 1978), pp. 188-190
  9. ^ Bloch, p. 8
  10. ^ New York Times 19/08/01: obituary of Jeanne Loriod
  11. ^ Jacques Tchamkerten: catalogue of works for ondes Martenot in Jeanne Loriod: Technique de l'onde electronique type Martenot, vol. 2 (Leduc)
  12. ^ video of "How to Disappear Completely", with 6 Ondes
  13. ^ bruit direct disques, record label website
  14. ^ myspace for accident du travail, julie normal and olivier 2mo
  15. ^ Loriod, 1987
  16. ^ Jean Laurendeau: Maurice Martenot: Luthier de l'Electronique (Dervy Livres, 1996)

External links



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