Criminally Underused Instruments - Ondes Martenot -
On the theme of vintage electronic instruments (after the last feature on the Badgermin), we take a look at the Ondes Martenot, sort of a mental cross between a piano, theremin and mixing deck that whilst has had little place in modern music has featured heavily in film scores and classical compositions. Invented in 1928 by Maurice Martenot, it produces distinctive eerie wavering notes played either by hitting keys on the six octave keyboard or by sliding a metal ring worn on the right index finger. In short, it is probably one of the most counter-intuitive yet inventive electronic instruments ever designed and although production officially stopped in 1988, various efforts by the Ondea project as well as Martenot’s son have kept it’s legacy alive, if only in a niche community.
Nevertheless it’s presence can be heard in many great soundtracks, from Lawrence of Arabia to Ghostbusters and upwards of three hundred pieces of chamber music, including fourteen concertos have been written for it. However the question still remains, why should it be heard more in modern music ? The answer is simple, sound and vintage authenticity. In pop/electronic music, real turntabilism is on the decline and the rise in digital drum machines and synths means that actual, organic valve-produced sound is rarer than ever, and arguably there is an important difference in quality. Plus modern artists such as Flying Lotus (or even alter-ego Captain Murphy) or Modeselektor are begging for the addition of some semi-psychotic theremin-esque oscillations.
Perhaps the greatest advocate in recent years has been Radiohead guitarist and composer Johnny Greenwood, who has used the instrument extensively in pretty much every Radiohead album since Kid A, in live performances chaining together six ondes together for How To Disappear Completely and Arpeggi. By and far the greatest argument for the ondes is simply hearing that magnificent and otherworldly orchestra adding that touch of futuristic brilliance to such heartfelt and melodic guitar-pop and with the rise of EDM as a movement, it will be the artists who embrace instruments such as the ondes and their effects that will create something truly arresting and timeless. Tweet