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Ondes Martenot


In 1928 the frenchman Maurice Martenot developed the Ondes Martenot whose circuitry was almost certainly based on that of the Theremin (the Onde uses sine and saw tooth wave sources) but whose playing technique was quite different. Like the theremin the Ondes Martenot is monophonic (playing one note at a time) and variations in pitch are obtained either on a keyboard with a range of 7 octaves or by a ‘ribbon’. This ribbon has a ring into which the right index finger is inserted and notes are produced by sliding the finger ring to various contact points which produces a portamento effect between pitches much like a fretless violin fingerboard.

The earliest models of the instrument had a non-functioning simulacrum of a keyboard below the wire to indicate pitch. This model also had a "black fingerguard" on a wire which could be used instead of the ring. It was held between the right thumb and index finger, which was played standing at a distance from the instrument. When played in this way, the drawer is removed from the instrument and placed on a bench next to the player. Maurice Martenot's pedagogical manual for the ondes Martenot, written in 1931, offers instruction on both methods of playing.


Later versions added a real functioning keyboard; the keys produce vibrato when moved from side to side. This was introduced in the 1930s with the 84-key fourth version of the instrument. Subsequent versions had 72 keys. Combined with a switch that transposes the pitch by one octave, these instruments have a range from C1 to C8

However no sound is heard at all until a button known as the ‘touche’ housed in a drawer is depressed with the left hand. This is connected to a variable potentiometer and therefore acts rather like the air blown through a wind instrument - the harder you press the louder the sound will be on the keyboard. Also in this drawer are a number of electronic filters which change timbre and dynamics. These two ways of playing (on keyboard or finger ribbon) possess great possibilities of expression. Both permit a vibrato that is totally dependent on the gestures of the performer. (the keys allow a slight side to side movement to produce vibrato as on a string instrument fingerboard). The sound is amplified through a 4 speaker system one of which has a small gong positioned in front of it producing a very distinctive 'metallique' reverberation. Another is the "Palme" - an iconically lyre-shaped loudspeaker, using strings to produce sympathetic resonances.





















Various combinations of these speakers can be used at any one time. To quote the composer Vincent D’Indy.. ‘since no automatic factor intervenes, the performance adopts the character of a direct human expression and the player, when he or she is in firm command of the playing technique, gets the feeling that the instrument is part of his nervous system, so true it is to the relation between his musical thought and the resulting sound’.

The drawer of the Seventh model also includes six transposition buttons, which change the pitch by a specific interval. These are called -1/4 (lower by one quarter tone), +1/4 (raise by one quarter tone), +1/2 (raise by one semitone), +1 (raise by one whole tone), +3ce (raise by one major third), and +5te (raise by one perfect fifth. These can be combined to immediately raise the pitch by up to a minor ninth.


Many composers have written for the Ondes Martenot namely Varese, Milhaud, Chaynes, Jolivet, Honegger, Tessier but most importantly Olivier Messiaen whose sister- in- law Jeanne Loriod became the world virtuoso who taught the instrument at the Paris Conservatoire. She also formed a sextet of Ondes Martenots to perform works written solely for them. Britains’ own Cynthia Millar commutes regularly to Hollywood nowadays to perform on film soundtracks featuring the Ondes by the likes of Elmer Bernstein, and composer/performer Tristan Murail continues to explore the wide range of possibilities of the Ondes Martenot. Messiaen features the Ondes in his 3 Liturgies and the mighty Turangalila Symphony where it is featured along side the piano as a solo instrument (as a matter of some interest, the first recorded version of Turangalila Symphony has Maurice Martenot’s daughter Ginette as Ondes soloist). He also uses 3 Ondes Martenots in his opera St. Francis of Assisi and 6 in Fete Des Belles Eaux where in the hands of a master craftsman such as Messiaen the Ondes Martenot is explored to great heights of musical expression.

The production of the instrument by the Martenot family stopped in 1988.

Ondes Musicales by DIERSTEIN

Since 2008, Jean-Loup Dierstein, with the support of Maurice Martenot's son, has been developing a new, Ondes Martenot instrument based on the model used when production stopped in 1988. 
Jean-Loup Dierstein has created an instrument that is as close to the original Martenot instrument but at the same time has made many improvements by way of new technology that has made the instrument much more stable and reliable.

Ondes Martenot virtuoso Thomas Bloch has spent many hours with this new instrument and comments that it reacts and sounds just as his original models.





















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Ginette Martenot (Maurice Martenot's sister was the first virtuoso of the Ondes)


Jeanne Loriod became the first professor of the Ondes at the Paris Conservatoire.

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Ondes Martenot Model 7

Jean-Loup Dierstein and Malcolm Ball with the new Ondes Musicales Dierstein

Visit Jean-Loup's website here.

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Jonny Greenwood of the English rock band Radiohead is credited with bringing the ondes to a larger audience. He first used it on Radiohead's 2000 album Kid A, and it has appeared in many of their songs, including "The National Anthem", "How to Disappear Completely", and "Where I End and You Begin".Radiohead have performed versions of their songs "How to Disappear Completely" and "Weird Fishes / Arpeggi" using several ondes Martenots. On their fifth album, Amnesiac (2001), they used the ondes martenot's palm speaker to add a "halo of hazy reverberance" to Thom Yorke's vocals. Greenwood also composed a piece for two ondes Martenots, Smear.

The ondes Martenot was used by Joe Jackson on his albums Tucker (1988), and Night Music (1994) and by Bryan Ferry on the 1999 album As Time Goes By. Ondist Thomas Bloch toured in Tom Waits and Robert Wilson's show The Black Rider (2004–06) and in Damon Albarn's opera "Monkey: Journey to the West" (2007–2013). Bloch performed ondes Martenot on the 2013 Daft Punk album Random Access Memories

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Composer and Ondist Barry Gray was responsible for many soundtracks to the Supermarionation TV and film productions created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and most featured the Ondes Martenot.

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Malcolm and ondists: Jacques Tchamkerten, Thomas Bloch and Caroline Ehret

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Malcolm and pianist Paul Jackson

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Malcolm and pianist Peter Humphrey


Listen to excerpts from the CD French & British music for Ondes Martenot and Piano by Malcolm Ball and Peter Humphrey

Messiaen - Feuillets Inédits


Listen to excerpts from the CD French & British music for Ondes Martenot and Piano by Malcolm Ball and Peter Humphrey

Richard Rodney Bennett - Serenade 2


Fête des Belles Eaux for six Ondes Martenot Mvt.3 - Les Fusées by Messiaen. Malcolm Ball Ondes Martenot.

More clips on Soundcloud

Some Ondes Friends


Philippe Arrieus, Fabienne Martin, Pascale Rousse-Lacordaire


Malcolm with Cécile Lartigau


Malcolm with Jacques Tchamkerten


Malcolm with Christine Ott


Jeanne Loriod


John Morton



succeeded Jeanne Loriod as professor of Ondes Martenot at the Paris Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique

Post now held by

Nathalie Forget


View video here


Read review by  poet and musician Christian Wethered here:

All Saints Sessions at Poets in Aldeburgh Video

Vecteur Ondes play Fête des belles eaux by Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) in Orgelpark on 22 February 2015.

Fabienne Martin, Pascale Rousse Lacordaire, Philippe Arrieus, Haruka Ogawa, Dominique Kim, Augustin Viard

1. Premières fusées

2. L'eau

3. Les fusées

4. L'eau

5. Les fusées

6. L'eau (à son maximum de hauteur)

7. Superposition de l'eau et des fusées

8. Feux d'artifice final

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