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Ondes Martenot, an early electronic musical instrument

I have just heard, as on so many occasions already, the Turangalîla-Symphonie by Olivier Messiaen. Many will not even have hear the name of this composer, one of the greatest masters of 20th century music, although this word (Turangalîla) will sound familiar to the followers of Futurama. Not for nothing did the writers of the animated series choose that name for the one-eyed heroine (Turanga Leela) in honour of this enigmatic symphony.

In short, the most outstanding aspect of this great symphony for those who listen to it for the first time is the perception of a “strange” sound, far from the conventional in terms of a classic symphony. I am not referring to his peculiar use of oriental-influenced timbres and rhythms. No, what most people are surprised about is the sound of the Ondes Martenot, a curious electric musical device that generates sound waves, initially similar to those of the Theremin, with a “phantasmagorical” air, as used in some movies of the 1950s.

The Ondes Martenot is an endearing musical instrument, created by Maurice Martenot in 1928, back in the “prehistory” of electronic music. Little by little it evolved to differentiate itself from the Theremin, with a wide range of registers that make this device a surprising invention, capable of achieving warm and attractive sounds, arising directly from its guts, populated by thermionic valves. I think it hasn’t been fully exploited yet, it’s not very well known, despite having been used in compositions by great masters, such as Messiaen, Boulez, Varèse, Honegger…

The best way to know a musical instrument is to listen to its sound. In the following videos, to finish this little note about the Ondes Martenot, I present you several examples with which you can check how it sounds… 😉