forth

Building Your Own Palme Diffuseur (Updated)

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Jonny’s Palme (stringreunited).

Introduction

The Ondes Martenot (or at least Ondes Musicales) is an instrument unique due to its control mechanisms and waveforms. As one might hope, its diffuseurs, or speakers, live up to the uniqueness of the instrument and bring further distinction to the instrument. There are four main types of diffuseur - Principal (standard loudspeaker), Résonance (springs suspended in front of speaker), Metallique (gong used as speaker cone), and Palme (suspended strings allow for sympathetic resonances). This article will discuss how to reproduce the sounds of the Palme, and briefly also the Résonance.

The Palme gets its name from its distinctive shape, which is similar to a palm leaf. The leaf shaped part is actually a resonating space, much like the body of an acoustic guitar, in front of which strings are suspended. It features a total of 24 strings, 12 on each side of the diffuseur. Each set of twelve is generally tuned to a full chromatic scale, ascending by semitone from left to right, though some pieces call for alternate tunings. The back strings may be tuned an octave above the front ones (I’m not quite sure). The Palme speaker was not only used by Jonny in conjunction with his Ondes Martenot, but also on Thom’s vocals on You And Whose Army.

The first thing to ask is how much do you want an authentic Palme?

The Résonance Diffuseur

Martenot essentially “replaced” the Palme with the Résonance diffuseur in the 80’s. It uses springs stretched in front of a speaker to create resonance and reverberation. Dierstein’s new Ondes Musicales uses this Résonance (in its double cabinet with the Principal) instead of the Palme, and since obtaining his new Ondes Jonny has used the Résonance instead of his more delicate, temperamental, and irreplaceable Palme. That could be easier to reproduce than the Palme, since you do not have the added problem of reproducing the resonant cavity, and you do not need to keep any strings in tune (if the strings are out of tune, your resonances would only be strong when you play out of tune). It wouldn’t be quite the same as the Palme, but it could be easier to make while still being quite an interesting Martenot diffuseur.

You could also just go for an authentic or even digital spring reverb, which doesn’t function in quite the same way but produces somewhat similar sounds.

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The Palme Diffuseur

While the most distinctive physical characteristic of the Palme is its shape, what makes it unique sonically are tuned strings that are suspended in front of and behind the soundboard. The strings are originally tuned to the notes of a chromatic scale, but theoretically one could tune them alternately. The strings produce sympathetic resonances with the sounds being produced by a sound-exciter (or resonator) located in the “stand” under the chamber. Its the same principle as the extra strings on instruments like the Sarangi, or even on a piano when one releases the dampers.

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Both sides of an early Palme (cité de la musique paris).

The cavity of the “leaf” also gives the speaker a resonant space, much like the body of an acoustic guitar. The resonant sounds produced by the strings are amplified by the sound chamber, and also caused to resonate for longer. As such, it is very important to the Palme’s overall sound.

If you wanted a really simple, makeshift Palme, you could buy a really cheap sound-exciter (such as this) and connect it directly to the bridge of the instrument. You could also trying sticking a speaker inside of the guitar, but it’d be less accurate to the original. With a twelve-string, you could even try to cover the entire chromatic scale, though I would be careful of the tensions. You should probably tune the strings down in pitch, rather than tuning any to higher  pitches, lest you risk breaking the neck.

For a more authentic Palme, you’d need to build or commission a similar cabinet. The “body’s” shape is vaguely ovular, but with a point on one end, and suspended by a base. The base is also fairly important, as it is where the bridge/tailpiece and sound-exciter are located. If you were to have a cabinet constructed, I would think that a luthier would probably be a better option than a carpenter.

The base of the cabinet suspends the body above the bridge/tailpiece, so that the sound-hole is near the center of the span of the strings. This is a major difference compared to most string instruments, on which the bridge is connected tot he sound-chamber and can influence it directly, but you may or may not deem it necessary for your copy.

There seem to be two bridge types, one with a single square of metal, which is shaped to both hold the strings and to direct them, and one vaguely similar to those seen on a guitar such as a Les Paul (separate “bridge” and stoptail). Jonny’s Palme is of the latter type, but it seems to be a characteristic of later (80’s) Palme’s.

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(forum.anafrog.com).

There are also two different methods of suspending the strings, or “tuners.” Earlier models have the tuners based on the top of the instrument, while later models have them held through the soundboard(s). This change was made earlier than that from one bridge to the other, and so models exist with the earlier bridge, but the later string-suspension-position.

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(Same sources as above).

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A Palme with the earlier bridge-type, but the later tuners (Source).

The strings used for the Palme were metal and similar to a guitar’s or mandolin’s, so one could just use guitar strings for a copy, and therefore possibly even a twelve-string guitar’s bridge and tuners. A 12-string Tune-o-matic style setup could work well, as could something closer to what is found on Arch-top guitars.

The Palme does not actually use a speaker, but rather a sound-exciter - basically the transducer part of a speaker, its voice coil, pole piece, and magnet. The exciter is connected directly to the bridge of the Palme (or to the bridge/tailpiece combo of the earlier models) by a length of metal. This causes the bridge itself to vibrate, in turn causing the strings to do so.

Though not quite the same, modern alternatives are available from Monacor and Sparkfun.

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A side-view diagram of a Palme (radiomuseum.org).

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An image of the a Martenot’s sound-exciter/resonator, from the Metallique diffuseur (radiomuseum.org).

Summary

It seems that the fundamentals of a Palme are these:

If anyone ever does build a copy, I’d be happy to see and hear it. Best luck!

***

Existing Copies

Just as the limited availability of authentic Ondes Martenot has caused many copies to exist, there are already a few copies of the Palme out there.

Claude-Samuel Levine’s Palme is similar to later Palme diffuseurs, but shows some notable differences from other Palmes, specifically in the “bridge.”

The Japanese company Asaden have also created a Palme copy. It is quite different from either of the originals in how the strings are suspended, but the fundamental principles are the same (resonating strings suspended in front of a sound chamber), and apparently it is much easier to tune. It only features strings on the front half of the diffuseur. You can listen to it here.

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(Warugger).

 [Ondes Martenot] [Ondes Musicales] [Jonny Greenwood] [Asaden] [Palme] [Maurice Martenot]
5 days ago
42 notes
Anonymous: Hey, great blog! Just one question, how would I go about making my own Palme loudspeaker? It sounds a good treat and I'm wondering if I could replicate one to use with my guitar. Peace.

Hello! The first thing that I need to ask is how much do you want an authentic Palme?

Martenot essentially “replaced” the Palme with the Résonance Diffuseur in the 80’s. It uses springs stretched in front of a speaker to create resonance and reverberation. Dierstein’s new Ondes Musicales uses this Résonance (in its double cabinet with the Principal) instead of the Palme, and since obtaining his new Ondes Jonny has used the Résonance instead of his more delicate, temperamental, and irreplaceable Palme. That could be easier to reproduce than the Palme, since you do not have the added problem of reproducing the resonant cavity, and you do not need to keep any strings in tune (if the strings are out of tune, your resonances would only be strong when you play out of tune). It wouldn’t be quite the same as the Palme, but it could be easier to make while still being quite an interesting Martenot diffuseur.

image

While the most distinctive physical characteristic of the Palme is its shape, what makes it unique sonically are tuned strings that are suspended in front of the speaker. The strings are originally tuned to the notes of a chromatic scale, but theoretically you could tune them however you liked. The strings produce sympathetic resonances, with the sounds being produced by the speaker. Its the same principle as the extra strings on instruments like the Sarangi, or even on a piano when one releases the dampers.

However, it seems that the cavity of the “leaf” also give the speaker a resonant space, much like the body of an acoustic guitar. The resonant sounds produced by the strings are amplified slightly by the sound chamber, and also caused to resonate for longer.

image

If you wanted a really simple, makeshift Palme, you could stick a speaker inside of an acoustic guitar. With a twelve-string, you could even try to cover the entire chromatic scale, though I would be careful of the tensions. You should probably tune the strings down in pitch, rather than tuning any to higher  pitches, lest you risk breaking the neck.

For a more authentic Palme, you’d need to build or commission a similar cabinet. The shape is vaguely ovular, but with a point on one end. The bottom of the cabinet suspends the “body” above the bridge and stoptail(?), so that the sound-hole is near the center of the span of the strings. This is a major difference compared to most string instruments, but you may or may not deem it necessary for your copy.

The strings used for the Palme were metal and similar to a guitars, so you could just use guitar strings, bridge, and tuners for your copy.

The speaker is a lot harder to pin down, however. Theoretically, I would aim for a fairly transparent one, since that would be best for all applications. However, since you’re playing a guitar, and since guitar speakers are an important part of an electric guitar’s sound (due to how they reduce higher frequencies), you might want to go for a speaker designed for a guitar. You will also need an amplifier to drive the speaker, but if you have a guitar amp you could use its speaker out.

If you (or anyone) ever do build a copy, I’d be happy to see and hear it. Best luck!

 [Ondes Martenot] [Ondes Musicales] [Palme] [Jonny Greenwood]
5 days ago
7 notes
Anonymous: Hey KingofGear I have a few questions for you, I hope you can help! :) The first is, have you heard the stacked stems of Polyfauna 2.0? Well if you have, there's a track people have identified at Unhappening I was wondering if you knew, what kind of piano Thom uses for that song, it sounds like a Rhodes, but I might be wrong. The second question is do you know what kind of synth or how Thom makes the synth at the end of Amok, you can clearly it it the Amok sample. Thanks for the help! :))

Hello! I would go with Rhodes piano, since that is the only electric piano that Thom has used in the past couple of decades. The synth at the end (and start) of AMOK is Thom’s Dave Smith Prophet 08.

 [Thom Yorke] [Atoms For Peace] [Polyfauna] [AMOK]
1 week ago
1 note
Anonymous: What kind of reverb does Thom use on his voice in Bloom?

Live, Thom uses his (big-box) EHX Holy Grail Reverb.

Studio is unknown. It could be the Holy Grail as well, or it could be one of the AMS reverb units, or some other rack reverb.

 [Bloom] [Thom Yorke] [Radiohead]
1 week ago
6 notes
Ondes Martenot Eurorack Lunchbox

(You can read more about Jonny and his various Ondes Martenot here.)

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Jonny and his French Connection with Apprentice Cabinet and Analogue Systems modules at Austin City Limits, 2012.

With Ondes Martent being hard to come by, and with the price of a new Ondes Musicales sitting at 11600€, the Analogue Systems French Connection currently seems to be the best option for a beginner wanting to learn the Ondes Martenot. The French Connection, a partial reproduction invented by Analogue Systems specific for Jonny to use instead of his Ondes Martenot in live performances, sits at £1050 (or a steeper $3,199 in the US), a bargain in comparison. However, the French Connection is only a controller - one still requires external gear to generate sounds, specifically gear which can be controlled via CV.

While there are easier ways to generate sounds, such as the Doepfer Dark Energy, I wanted to figure out how to best reproduce the sound of an Ondes Martenot. I went for a Eurorack setup, which is the format of synth modules that Analogue Systems makes. Analogue Systems’ own modules, which Jonny uses, are excellent, but they are also large and a little expensive (especially outside of the UK), and not all of them are particularly suited to reproducing some of the Martenot’s more complex sounds. I ended looking into other options in my search for the perfect Martenot reproduction.

"Starter Kit"

Later in this article, I will go into extreme depth on how to perfectly reproduce the sound of the Martenot. However, most who are just starting out won’t want such an overwhelming quantity of information, especially when most of the what it discusses is far out of their current price range. As such, I have included a “starter kit,” including the fundamental ingredients for a Martenot Modular

There are three necessary things - a case with power supply, a sound source (oscillator), and something which will let you control the volume (VCA). I have included other goodies in the starter kit, but these are the things without which you will be unable to make any sound at all with the French Connection. I will explain my reasons for choosing these later one, but be sure that these are some of the best (and lowest cost) options available. I have tried all of these (save the Erthenvar OPTO, which I am planning to get) with my own French Connection, and all function excellently.

Necessary

Total Cost: ~$370

Optional

Total Cost (including essentials): ~$717

***

The Case

The first thing I choose was a case in which the modules will the kept, and from which they will be powered. I decided to base the setup around the small Erthenvar Lunchbox, which is available for less than $200. The Lunchbox is portable, and has room for a row of their own “tile” modules in addition to a row of Eurorack Modules.

The Waveforms

Next, I needed to choose an oscillator. The Analogue Systems RS95e is excellent sounding, extremely precise and versatile oscillator. However, it does not offer simultaneous square and pulse outputs, meaning that it would be impossible to reproduce both the Gambe+gambe and Nasillard at the same time. What I went for instead was the Intellijel Dixie II, a module offering a total of six waveforms, though I only intend to use three or four of them. Its good sine wave immediately offers the Onde waveform, and its square (50% duty cycle) is a decent Gambe (40% duty cycle).

Creating the other waveforms requires shaping those produced by the Dixie. The Nasillard has an 8% duty cycle, and this can be produced with the Dixie PWM input. Erthenvar’s DC Out tile outputs a voltage set by its single knob, and with this one can set the Dixie to produce a pulse wave with the exact same duty cycle as the original Ondes.

Next, the Octaviant and gambe waveforms. These are both modifications of waveforms that we are already using, so we must use a multiple to create duplicates of those waveforms. A buffered multiple is preferred, as it will prevent any degradation of the waveforms. I like to use an Intellijel Buff Mult (saves room for extra tile modules), but one could also use two Erthenvar B-Mult's.

Since the gambe is essentially a variably low-pass filtered Gambe, the duplicate of the Gambe must be sent to a filter. I chose to use Intellijel’s µVCF. It’s fairly inexpensive for a filter, and is pretty “transparent” (lacks additional coloring aside from the filtering) with the resonance turned to minimum. It also offers a volume control, which will be important for mixing as we will see later.

The duplicated sine wave will be used to create the Octiviant. The Octiviant is one of the Ondes’ more unusual waveforms. It is a sine wave with a reinforced first harmonic, sounding as though there’s an extra octave above original. There’s a fair number of waveshaping modules available, but most offer only various types of clipping distortion. That will be useful for the Creux, but for the Octiviant we want something a little different. The best module I’ve found for this is Intellijel’s µFold II. It does not perfectly reproduce the Octiviant, but it gives a similar sound and is certainly the closest thing currently available from a eurorack setup.

The last true waveform is the Creux, basically a triangle wave with its peak removed. As the guitarists amongst us will surely guess, the best way to achieve this would be with hard-clipping distortion. Doepfer’s A-136 Distortion/Waveshaper does the trick well enough. I find it just a little overpowering (it seems to care fairly little about its input), but it does not color the waveform in other ways (as a guitar distortion effect generally would).

The final sound source of the Martenot is its Souffle, or pink noise. There aren’t too many modules offering pink noise, and most offer white. The Steady State Fate Quantum Rainbow 2 does offer it, but $150 is a little steep for noise. Instead, I use the Erthenvar V-Noise, which can be tweaked (purely by adjusting its single knob) to produce from white noise to red, and importantly something very close to pink noise. Technically, it isn’t entirely consistent noise across the full spectrum, but for $35, not bad at all.

Mixing and Amplifying

Once all of the waveforms have been created, the next step is to put them all together, and to control whether or not they are heard via the French Connection’s touche.

With seven waveforms, including souffle, theoretically we would need a mixer with seven adjustable channels, which currently doesn’t exist in eurorack format. However, they are ways to cut this down. Either, we can attenuate the louder waveforms, or we can increase the volume of the quieter ones. I went for the former approach, mainly because not all mixer modules offer boost (especially cheaper ones), but all seem to offer attenuation.

Since the Onde waveform is the quietest, it will not need to be attenuated. In addition, since the µVCF offers a volume control, the gambe's volume can be attenuated via the module itself. These two modules can be combined with a simple mixer lacking attenuation, and that's where the Erthenvar Sum comes in. The sum offers three inputs, and the third will be used for the mixer module that we will use for the other modules.

Sadly, there is currently no five channel mixer commercially available (I actually built my own 5-channel tile mixer specifically because of that). A decent option is just Doepfer A-138b. One cannot use all of the waveforms simultaneously. The importance of that fact will depend on you, but I very rarely find myself using all of them at once. If you do consider that important, you could buy a pair of mixers, such as two Manhattan Analog mix modules. It’s pricier (unless you are into DIY), but it may be worth it.

The next step is controlling whether or not all of our beautiful waveforms are heard, and if so their volume. There are a lot of VCA modules on the market, but Erthenvar offers a couple of very cheap tile modules to serve that purpose - the 2180 (logarithmic) and the OPTO (fairly linear). I generally prefer a linear VCA with my French Connection, since it makes the full sweep of the button more usable (more like a real Ondes), but either will work.

Externals

The Ondes Martenot offers three diffuseurs, or speakers. The Principal is a fairly standard speaker cabinet, so you shouldn’t need anything to emulate it. The Résonance, however, features several suspended springs in front of the speaker, which vibrate when sound is sent through the speaker. The best way to emulate this with eurorack seems to be a small spring reverb. The Doepfer A-199 Spring Reverb serves this purpose beautifully, and I use its “mix” knob to set the balance between Principal (perfectly clean) and Résonance (some additional reverberation). The reverb tank can be velcro’d to the top inside of the Lunchbox case, but note that due to the low depth of the Lunchbox, only a cable with right angle jacks, such as the HOSA CRA-201RR, will fit.

I don’t know of any easy way to replicate the Metallique with Eurorack modules, but the company eowave does offer a reproduction of the diffuseur, though it isn’t cheap.

Lastly, the Ondes Martenot does feature two expression pedals, controlling one controlling volume and the other a simple filter circuit. A pair of Erthenvar Express tiles will allow interfacing of expression pedals, and the dual inputs of the Erthenvar VCA’s will allow one to switch between the touche and expression pedal without any additional patching, as would work on an Ondes.

The Modules

Total Cost: ~$1,257 to ~$1,483

Further Ideas

If a French Connection is out of your reach for whatever reason, another option with the setup would be to use Doepfer’s Ribbon Controller as a ruban, and Erthenvar’s FSR as a touche or even use an ADSR instead. It won’t be quite the same, but like the French Connection itself it’s a cheap alternative.

__________

This website is not endorsed by any of the companies mentioned in this article, or by any companies at all for that matter.

 [Ondes Martenot] [Radiohead] [Jonny Greenwood] [Ondes Musicales] [Eurorack] [French Connection] [articles]
2 weeks ago
31 notes
Anonymous: Hi, I'am just wondering how Thom&Johnny&Nigel have achieved that amazing bass sound on "Feeling Pulled Apart"? I know that Thom has an certian (flea-like) playing-technique, but what elses did they use?

As you mentioned, Thom’s playing is an important part of the bass sound.

There isn’t anything particularly “fancy” about the instrument’s tone. It sounds like it was created with a pretty standard bass setup, namely bass, compressor, and amp (or at least preamp). As seems always to be the case, what’s important is how those parts were used.

Prior to the 2012 tour, Thom predominantly used only two bass guitars - his White Fender Mustang Bass and his Fender Coronado Bass. The Coronado seems more likely based on what I’ve heard of the instruments, but both are definitely possibilities, as are other, less used or unknown basses.

Dynamically, the bass is extremely constant throughout the track, allowing it to create a solid foundation for the song. This is because it is fairly well compressed. Likely candidates are a dbx 160A Compressor/Limiter (which Colin used live for about a decade) or a Lisson Grove R124, but Nigel’s Summit or other compressors are also possible.

The bass also has a good share of bass and low-mids, but is noticeably lacking in treble. This is part of why it sits so well in the mix - compare it to the trebly synth sound. It’s impossible to know if the tone was predominantly shaped with the bass’s tone control,* an amp’s EQ, or an external/DAW EQ; it was probably a combination of at least some of those.

The bass doesn’t sound like it was recorded direct, but that may because of the tonal effects of the compressor, so I can’t say for sure. I suspect that at least a preamp was used, if not a full mic’d cab. They may have used something like Colin’s Alembic F-1X Tube Preamp or a Summit TPA-200B Preamp, or they may have used only the preamp section of an amp, such as Jonny’s Ampeg B15 Portaflex Heritage Series Reissue or even a Vox AC30 (as Jonny used live in 2011 and 2012). Of course, it could also have been a mic’d amp and cab, perhaps one kept in the studio or borrowed from Colin, and is probably the combination of a direct sound and a mic’d sound.

In summary, Thom played bass, probably the Coronado, with his distinctive (but Flea-like) style, which was then likely run through an amp or preamp and heavily compressed (possibly in that order). The treble was also reduced heavily, along with other tone shaping, either at the source (the instrument) or with external gear (amp EQ, DAW EQ). I can’t tell you for sure which method was used, but I’d bet that the answer is definitely in this response.

_______

*Generally, it is “”better”” to record a part dry, then apply effects later, as this allows one to tailor the amount of the effect applied to the recording and to blend it with the dry version. However, it can be inspiring to hear the effected version as you play and to adapt to its idiosyncrasies, as Thom mentioned about singing through Jonny’s Palme speaker on You and Whose Army?.

 [Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses] [Thom Yorke] [Nigel Godrich] [Jonny Greenwood]
2 weeks ago
11 notes
Anonymous: What's that string synth type-thing I'm hearing on the song Kid A?

It’s a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, as noted in Thom and Jonny's synth sections.

 [Kid A] [Radiohead]
3 weeks ago
4 notes
ripley312:

Duncan & Jonny - it’s a wonky picture, but I love seeing them together. #musical nerds

A nice photo of Jonny with Duncan, his guitar tech. Duncan has worked with the band since the early 90’s, and he can often he seen on-stage helping Jonny switch guitars and handing him extra bits, like his bow for Pyramid Song.

ripley312:

Duncan & Jonny - it’s a wonky picture, but I love seeing them together. #musical nerds

A nice photo of Jonny with Duncan, his guitar tech. Duncan has worked with the band since the early 90’s, and he can often he seen on-stage helping Jonny switch guitars and handing him extra bits, like his bow for Pyramid Song.

 [Jonny Greenwood] [Duncan Swift]
3 weeks ago
19 notes
Anonymous: graham lees' website says multiple times on his 2006-2008 blog that the mic used on jonny's 85 is an OM5 not an OM3. He is most likely correct vs mixonline

That is certainly more trustworthy than Mixonline, thank you for bringing that to my attention! However, I recently have not been able to access Graham’s myspace blog. Could you please submit or email a link?

3 weeks ago
aleinn-a-doot: hey, ive always been curious, what is the synth/synth settings used in Idiotheque?

Do you mean the main “synth pad” type sound? That is actually a sample of Paul Lansky's piece Mild Und Leise. The piece was composed with the language Music360 on an IBM 360/91 mainframe computer in 1973. The type of synthesis used for it was FM, but the filter is from a specially designed program and so the sound won’t be entirely replicable with a DX7 or other FM synth (source).

The band also sampled Short Piece by Arthur Kreiger, but it is featured much more fleetingly.

Jonny did, however, use a synth directly on the track as well - his Analogue Systems Modular (at the time “only” a RS8000 with Sequencer Cabinet), which he used to create the beat of the track.

 [Idioteque] [Radiohead] [Jonny Greenwood] [Paul Lansky] [Arthur Kreiger]
3 weeks ago
14 notes