ET-5 Development

My “ET-5” folder has files in it dating back from January 2018. It’s hard to believe that the ET-5 has been in development for that long, especially considering that the instrument appears on first-glance largely the same as the ET-4 it is replacing.

The first sketches were all over the place. Extra knobs and features everywhere, some had keyboards, some had additional intensity keys and oscillators. These sketches lacked focus and were quickly abandoned. In the summer of 2018, Melissa and I were in New York attending the Hackers on Planet Earth conference and I had the opportunity to visit with several Therevox customers in the area. During the course of the next twelve months, we also visited customers in Montreal, Chicago and Los Angeles. Some of these visits became part of the Talking Synths video series, and some meetings just involved discussing composing, production, and gear – lots and lots of gear. Around this time myself and several friends co-founded “Signal Exchange”, the local synthesizer collective focused on social discussion and group noise-making.

On the 7 hour flight back from Los Angeles, I nearly filled up my entire notebook with ideas and illustrations. I had shown sketches and ideas to my customers and received inspirational feedback from some awesome people. By the end of the flight, I had most of the nitty gritty details figured out – like how a voltage controlled FX loop mixer should work to preserve the trails of a delay pedal. After that trip, the design was very clear: Instead of re-inventing the wheel, the ET-5 was going to take the ET-4 reconsider every aspect and improve on it. No change for change’s sake, no hype, just informed and tested improvements.


Above: The first ET-5 prototype test-bed with dynolabels, bare-steel panel and hardware store wood.

Being able to see how our customers use their Therevox and how it integrates with their music-making environment informed the design of the ET-5. Also the local synthesizer collective meetings have been a great resource for hands-on experience with new and vintage synthesizers. These meetings refined my taste in filters and contributed to the design of the new 3-pole filter, and was definitely responsible for the inclusion of a 5-PIN DIN MIDI output being added to the ET-5.

In the last few years I have also started delving deeper into the Ondes Martenot, an instrument that the Therevox owes much of it’s expressiveness. When the ET-4 was designed in 2010, documentation of the Ondes Martenot was sparse at best. Since that time, I have translated academic literature, books and papers to better understand the Martenot and do it justice while moving the sonic possibilities towards something new. This research informed the redesign of the intensity keys and ring. The feeling of the new intensity keys provides a progressive tactile resistance that increases proportionally with output amplitude in a curve similar to the original Ondes Martenot. The ring has also been redesigned to significantly reduce friction, making the movement easier and faster and more accurate. This required designing several new custom parts, but it was definitely worth it.


Above: An early ET-5 prototype circuit board after many changes.

In 2010, the ET-4 was laid out and designed on graph paper with a pencil and eraser (with eraser shield!) and then transferred to 2-dimensional CAD. At Knobcon 2018, I met with Roger Linn and during a discussion about design he strongly recommended that I move to a full-fledged 3-dimensional CAD package moving forward. This made designing the ET-5 a lot more immediate: being able to visualize new parts and layouts immediately. This also let me use available space more efficiently and allowed for more than half-octave of extra fingerboard room on the ET-5. If there is any drawback to computer aided design, it becomes apparent if you are a perfectionist. I spent months moving knobs and switches around by the millimeter until Melissa and I agreed that the instrument had a visual balance and rhythm.

Now that the first ET-5 is finished, we will be finishing up several more that are going to the first people on the waiting list for further testing and feedback. After that, any changes will be made and we will start on the first full-scale production run. Like the ET-4, the ET-5 Series will consist of several models so we can make models available at more affordable prices with different features. Those that sign up for the Waiting List will be able to choose what model they want before the build starts. We will also revisiting the design of the Tweed Road Case and eventually the EXP-1 Expression Pedal to make improvements and posting more progress pictures to our instagram.

Therevox and The Handmaid’s Tale

I listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts in my shop while building the 6th batch of Therevox ET-4’s, from architecture and design, to hacking and linguistics. One of the most interesting podcasts I heard was a complete radio adaptation of “The Handmaid’s Tale” done by Secrets, Crimes & Audiotape and I was fascinated for hours while planing, hand-sanding and finishing all of the wooden enclosures. I didn’t know it at time, but one of the instruments I was working on was for composer Adam Taylor, who was getting ready to score the follow-up season to Hulu’s Emmy Award winning adaptation of the same story.

When Melissa and I were in Los Angeles last year to film Talking Synths, we met up with Adam in Long Beach, where he took us to one of his favourite cafes and then toured his nearby studio. He showed us his ET-4.1 set-up with Space Echo and his newest acquisition, a Roland Jupiter 6 that he found in France – a synthesizer he had dreamed of owning for years. After checking out out all of the interesting art on the walls we spotted a waterphone, a very cool instrument I’ve never seen before. Adam took the waterphone into his main studio and hung it from a ceiling hook, grabbed a nearby violin bow and rubbed it with rosin. As soon as he started eerily bowing the waterphone’s metal rods, Melissa and I both immediately recognized the sound from Adam’s work in “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

Were trying hard to not act like the huge fans of the show that we were. Somewhere in the outskirts of Hollywood a few days earlier we had spotted ads for the upcoming third season of “A Handmaid’s Tale”, something Adam later told us he was working 12 hour days on. One of the bus shelter advertisement boxes was left unlocked and tempted me to reach in and tactfully acquire the print with plans of having Adam autograph it. Thankfully, I had underestimated the size and weight of the poster and it did not accompany us to Long Beach.

Hearing a Therevox being played in movies, television and music has been an amazing reward that is second only to getting to meet our customers face-to-face. If you’d like to learn more about Adam Taylor, check out his interviews with Deadline and Composer Magazine and if you’re into podcasts, he is interviewed on an episode of Mayday: The Handmaid’s Tale Podcast.

iPhone audio input using hacked D.I. Box

If I designed the iphone, I would have included a line-in jack. If you’re a musician that is live streaming video right now and you’re lucky enough to own an iphone that has a headphone jack, here’s a pretty cheap ($20) and easy DIY project that I came up with to turn a DI box and a microphone cord into a device that will let you take stereo line-level audio and feed it directly into your iphone so your live video streams can sound as good as possible.

I built this device last year for Signal Exchange, our Windsor-Detroit synthesizer collective and have used it with my iPhone SE to live stream and capture video of performances. I would have named it something better than “STLN2IPOO” if I knew I would be sharing it publicly, but I’ve been asked a lot about this project and I know a lot of people are wanting to live stream right now – hopefully this will come in handy for some people.

Here is the full size instruction sheet

parts

instructions

Open the PDC21, cut the traces shown and test to make sure they are cut with a multimeter if you can. Wire up the resistors and potentiometers, drill a hole in the chassis for the potentiometer. Reassemble and attach knob. For the cable, you can either attach the adafruit 3.5mm TRRS plug onto a regular microphone cable by cutting off the female end and wiring as shown, or you can cut the female end off of a TRRS extension cable and add the XLR Male connector.

how it works

This hack rewires the “input” and “output” 1/4″ jacks of the DI for our stereo inputs, the line-level signal gets summed into a mono signal through the two resistors before going into the potentiometer. The potentiometer acts as an attenuator, so you can turn down a loud signal to avoid clipping. The signal then goes into the DI’s transformer that converts it to microphone level and impedance. The 3k resistor lets the iphone know a microphone is plugged in and our special cable gets the microphone signal and ground to the right pins on the 3.5mm TRRS jack.

using it

Take line-level audio out from a mixer or musical instrument into your STLN2IPOO into one (mono) or two (stereo) 1/4″ inputs and run the mic cord into your iphone. Run the “voice memo” program and start recording to get a visual representation of the signal levels, if it is clipping turn the volume knob down. The DI box’s ground lift switch still functions if you find that you have a ground loop somehow between your gear and phone. That’s it! Now stream some video with good audio!

Ondes Martenot presentation at TSF 2019

Toronto Sound Festival has been one of my favourite events after being asked to display the Therevox ET-4 there in 2018. Held once again in the Polish Combatants Hall, a very beautiful building in downtown Toronto, TSF 2019 did not disappoint with a great concert on Saturday night that involved tape loops stretching across the stage.

I gave a talk in the main hall called “Ondes Martenot and the Pursuit of Musical Expression” where I was able to share some of the insights and research that I have been doing into the life and creative genius of Maurice Martenot, the inventor of the Ondes Martenot.

Almost 100 years ago, Maurice was one of the first people in the world to combine knowledge of electronics and a love of music. After discovering that two radio frequency vacuum tube oscillators could be combined to make a controllable sound, Maurice spent the rest of his life working on the interface between the musician and this new form of sound creation. With feedback from musicians and composers, Maurice Martenot constantly tweaked and revised his electronic instruments to be expressive to physical nuances to continuously control pitch, amplitude and timbre. His vision of an electronic instrument eschewed any attempts at automation that we find common in electronic instruments today. His further inventions of the Metallique and Palme resonator were devices that used physical means to modify the sound of his instrument by adding further complexity and unpredictability that balance the rigid laws of electronics.

Maurice Martenot died in 1980, the same year that I was born. I was first introduced to the Ondes Martenot twenty years ago and I have been pursuing a parallel path ever since. My intention is not to remake what M. Martenot has done, but to preserve the spirit of his inventions as they apply to new sounds and possibilities. I think about him more than I think about any other ghost in my life and when you touch the ring and the intensity keys of the Therevox, you are directly connecting to Maurice Martenot’s vision of how an electronic sound should be controlled and his life-long pursuit of musical expression.

I was joined by Toronto musician and Therevox ET-4.2 owner Joshua Van Tassel who was able to talk about his connection with the instrument and interface. He also brought his Ondea, a modern Ondes Martenot reproduction currently being made in Calgary. Also joining me for the presentation was Patrick McMaster who was down from Montreal to attend and perform at TSF. Patrick is obsessed with the Ondes Martenot and was one of the very first in the world to own a Therevox ET-4. He put together the following video that showcases some recordings of the Ondes Martenot that we weren’t unable to play during TSF because of time constraints.

Thanks to everyone that came out to see us talk about our passion for the Ondes. We received some very positive responses from the talk and hope to expand on it and present it again in the future.

Talking Synths Video Series

Over the last year, we have interviewed Therevox players in their homes and studios. These recording engineers, producers and musicians shared stories about their favourite gear, rare synthesizer finds and talked about how they use some of this gear to sculpt the sounds that they create.

These mini-documentaries jave been edited from over 10 hours of footage and I’m happy to share them here. The time spent with these talented people was awesome, humbling and inspiring.

Joe McGinty gave us a tour of his vintage keyboard collection at Carousel Studio in Brooklyn, New York. Showed us his original MiniMoog, demoed his Oberheim Matrix 12 that he used with The Psychedelic Furs and showed how he controls a Moog Model 15 Modular Synth with his Therevox ET-4.

At Greylock Records, we were met by Ben Talmi and musician Cale Hawkins who improvised an amazing ambient piece on Therevox and Sequential Prophet 6.

Nate Lueck‘s home studio was packed with awesome gear and we loved the sound of his Roli Seaboard and the dark electronic jam he did on his Elektron Analog Rytm MKII using his Therevox ET-4.3 to control a Moog Sub 37 via Midi over USB.

Just across the border in Detroit, Chris Koltay at High Bias Recordings performed a 45 minute ambient piece on Eurorack modules and Therevox ET-4.3 with Earthquaker Devices pedals in the effects loop.

After treating us to some amazing food, Leonardo De Bernardini sat down and discussed his relationship to physical instruments and played us a clip from a film he is currently scoring that uses his Therevox and some of his favourite effects pedals.

At Easter Island Studios, Anton Sanko talked about finding his Sequential Pro-One for $50 in the Village Voice. He demonstrated how he layers his Therevox with stringed instruments after being inspired by the Ondes Martenot in Jonny Greenwood’s soundtrack for “There Will Be Blood”.

Film composer Justin Melland showed us how he combines his Buchla and Oberheim to create evolving drones. He also demonstrated how he uses an overdrive pedal on his Therevox and a very interesting string synthesizer made by Crumar.

All of these videos are available as a playlist on our youtube channel

If you want to show us how you use your Therevox, contact us below!