thread: Software Sonic Couture Ondes Martenot
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Old 3rd April 2013
Lives for gear
matyas's Avatar

I know this is an old thread, but I thought I'd post that I finally bought this. So here's a (very preliminary) mini-review for the curious:

First, I should say that I actually have some experience with a real ondes Martenot. Although I do not own a real ondes myself, I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to study with a renowned player of the instrument. One thing should be born in mind: although the ondes Martenot is an electronic instrument, it has a very unique playing technique, performance practice, and even pedagogical tradition. Some conservatories in France (and formerly a few in Canada) actually offer degrees in ondes Martenot performance, and the tradition of ondes Martenot playing is actually closely related to classical string playing. Therefore, emulating an ondes Martenot is not as easy as emulating, say, an analog synthesizer. (Not the emulating an analog synth is trivial. If it were, I would have no need for my Moog.) Think of this virtual instrument as more along the lines of an orchestral instrument library.

Having gotten that out of the way, I can say that the virtual instrument sounds great. It is capable of sounding reasonably close to the real thing. How close? About as close as a good sample of a violin sounds to a real violin. In other words, close enough to give the flavor of the instrument, and close enough to be musically useful. However, it can produce a lot of sounds that do not really correspond to the real ondes Martenot, and these capabilities be the most interesting and sonically useful part of the instrument. The varied tonalities this virtual instrument can produce will be a welcome departure from the usual virtual analog synth sounds, and they can be used for many of the same functions.

The most challenging aspect of emulating the ondes, of course, is the interface, as I alluded to above. The real ondes Martenot is arguably the most expressive electronic instrument ever invented. (I will not summarize the components of the ondes Martenot here; that information is available elsewhere.) The button goes from inaudible to deafening, and from staccattissimo to molto legato. Swells and fades of all kinds are extremely idiomatic. The ribbon, is, of course, the most widely-discussed aspect of the instrument, but the swiveling keyboard, which allows for pitch bends and vibrato on the keys, is at least as integral to the playing technique of the ondes Martenot. SonicCouture have a number of recommendations for strategies to emulate the playing technique of the ondes Martenot. Unfortunately for me, most of them require something more expressive than the Oxygen8 I used to try the instrument. I did not experiment with mapping the controller knobs of the Oxygen8 to the parameters of the VI, but that is certainly a possibility. I also plan on trying out a keyboard with aftertouch.

In closing, this is a beautiful-sounding and extremely musical virtual reproduction of a fascinating instrument. I have often thought that the ondes Martenot should be thought of as an electric, rather than an electronic instrument, occupying the same conceptual space as the electric guitar, Rhodes piano, and Hammond organ. Like these (more familiar) instruments, the ondes Martenot uses electricity to produce sound, but there is a direct, physical connection between the player and the instrument. No virtual instrument will be able to replicate that connection, but that does not prevent SonicCouture's Ondes from being a useful and expressive tool for creating music in the digital domain.