2 ondes martenot - cl.hrn - perc(1): - vib/tam-t - harp - 2 vln.vla.vlc.db
My impetus for writing smear came partly from a desire to get the ondes martenot heard. I’m passionate about the instrument; it’s hard not to be. It’s so little known, and yet it’s the most expressive electronic instrument ever invented.
It’s often treated as a special effects device, because of the unearthly noises it can make such as ghostly, swooping tones in science fiction films. Ondistes are forever being invited to sound track recordings, with the only instruction being ‘improvise’, but it can also create earthly sounds to rival any orchestral instrument.
Invented by Maurice Martenot in the 1920s, the instrument was initially met with distrust from the early musique concrete composers for being too lyrically expressive. Later, Olivier Messiaen was a champion of the instrument, but there’s a sense today that somehow it’s dated; merely a French curiosity. This is partly because of how it’s most often heard (1950s B-movies and 20th century French composers), and partly because it’s so hard to find one. Also, people assume it’s complicate to play. This isn’t particularly true either: a button, a string and a keyboard are the basis of the player’s control over every aspect of pitch, colour and dynamics, and all this with a subtlety and precision that modern midi technology just can’t emulate.
It’s a pure instrument, invented from the purest motives – to use electricity like a saxophone uses air. And like Adolphe Sax’s instrument, Maurice Martenot’s deserves to be heard and used by performers and composers everywhere.