DIY Ondes Martenot Style Controller

This video, via Mark Steiner, demos his DIY Martenot-style controller.

The Ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument designed by Maurice Martenot in the 1920’s, offers a standard keyboard for discrete pitch control and a ring-on-a-string controller for continuous pitch control.

Here’s what Steiner has to say about his creation:

I decided to expose the pulley loop fully. I find it’s pretty interesting/fun to watch the loop and hear the pitch change accordingly. I’ve had a few ideas about maybe attacking LED’s to the pulleys to mix some light up real time. Could be fun.

Usually these kind of instruments (silimart to the Ondes Martenot) use a left hand pressure key for volume/filter brightness. On mine, I am using a Nyle Steiner breath controller, which really makes for smooth dynamics and fast articulation. There are even some parts showing multiple tonguing techniques often used by trumpet and other wind players to tongue fast by saying Tu Ku Tu Ku or Tu Tu Ka.

Special thanks to Nyle Steiner for the great sounding synth oscillators and filters used in this demo. Also thanks to Dana Countryman and Mike Beauchamp for their own expertise and inspiration in relation to instruments like this.


7 thoughts on “DIY Ondes Martenot Style Controller

  1. There is a fantastic new documentary on the Ondes Martenot playing in Montréal now. It’s called “Le chant des Ondes” (“Wavemakers”). Director Caroline Martel spent five years researching, filming and assembling it. It features Martenot’s son, artisans and virtuosos of the instrument. I was a the premiere of the movie in Ex-centris cinema and it was quite fascinating! There was a discussion with the director and Martenot master Jean Laurendeau after the presentation.

  2. This kind of controller is absolutely fascinating to me. It’s not only clever, but seems to have two really cool things going for it– the breath controller which IMHO is a wonderful way to control expression on a synthetic instrument. And the pully system for pitch seems quite intuitive, and it looks like with practice it could work very much like a cello.

    In the video it looked like pulling up vertically on the string might control something as well. Is that true? if not, it seems like it could be implemented.

    1. Ha ha .
      Actually, the first thing I did after watching this was make up a similar controller on the ipad, but it’s not so expressive.
      What really struck me in the video was the way he could pluck the string to get these springy modulations, which expands its possibilities beyond a Theremin or a ribbon controller.

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