A Musical Instrument That Gathers All Existing (And Imaginary) Instruments
An instrument you’ve likely heard without knowing who its eccentric creator was.
Possibly one of the most enigmatic instruments of all time, the ondes martenot is almost an animal from another world. With radio wave tubes, it produces the sounds of violins, guitars, bird’s cheeps and what resembles onomatopoeic communication with other realities. It was invented in 1928 by a diligent and refined man named Maurice Martenot, and since then ––although few of us know it–– several musicians, such as Pierre Boulez, have used it. It has also musicalized many famous films like Amélie or Ghostbusters.
Eighty years ago, Martenot presented his new musical creation to the cameras of Pathe News. Sitting at the keyboard, the inventor proved how this new musical instrument could sound like the range of instruments we already now, and additionally produce entirely new sounds. He didn’t even have to touch the keyboard to produce magic: by simply moving the fingers of one hand along a band, and modulating frequencies with the other, Martenot was anticipating oscillating machines and synthesizers.
Part of the instrument’s appeal —in addition to its creator’s elegance— is that it is extremely strange and apparently mystical, ancient and futuristic at once. It’s not strange that its ethereal, almost human pitches became popular in science fiction soundtracks. The last of these was manufactured in 1988, although apparently a new model is being conceived. Since 2001, nonetheless, there have been two instrumental replicas: the Ondea and the French Connection; both created at the request of Jonny Greenwood (There Will Be Blood), who was reluctant to take his ondes martenot on the road with him.
Maurice Martenot transformed his method of teaching music and creating instruments into a life system which involved nature, the inner world, expression and rigor. His search for the pleasure of sonorous richness resulted in the delicious fruit of les ondes martenot, and with it he changed our narrative experience of music.
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