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.