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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.

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 [Ondes Martenot] [Radiohead] [Jonny Greenwood] [Ondes Musicales] [Eurorack] [French Connection] [articles]
12 hours ago
24 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.

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*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]
1 day 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]
6 days 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]
1 week ago
18 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?

1 week 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]
1 week ago
12 notes
Thom’s old “Knock-Off Strat” is an Ibanez Blazer

Thanks to Sean Walsh for identifying the instrument!

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I suspect that the specific model is a the BL400BS, based on this Ibanez catalog. Thom seems to have peeled the stripe of stickers off of the headstock, unless Ibanez stopped using them on the guitar at some point.

It is one of Thom’s first guitars, and possibly his first electric. The Blazer series ran from 1980 to 1983, so Thom must have purchased the instrument when he was between 12 and 15 years old. Thom used the guitar for On A Friday demos as early as 1986, and with Headless Chickens when he was at university.

Thom also used an Ibanez Blazer during the recording of the Drill EP, and I suspect that it’s the same guitar repainted. I don’t know how much of the guitar made it onto the recordings, however, as Thom seems also to have used his then new black Telecaster during the sessions.

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On A Friday.

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Headless Chickens.

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Radiohead - Drill EP.

 [Thom Yorke] [Radiohead] [on a friday] [Headless Chickens] [articles]
2 weeks ago
48 notes
NEW DIAGRAM of Jonny’s Guitar setup by Adam Cooper from GuitarGeek!
I served as a contributor for the diagram, directly offering advice on Jonny’s setup. It’s a great improvement on the older one; the signal chain is 100%!
I must admit that I disagree about the versions of the EHX Small Stone (Cooper chose a V4, whereas in 1997 Jonny used a V2) and Demeter Tremulator (Jonny uses the older prototype “The Tremulator”), but those are artistic decisions which I totally respect (similar to his decision to draw Jonny’s Tele in its current distinctive condition, rather than less worn and without the Honda Motorcycle sticker as it was in 1997). Plus, everything else is spot on, so I really can’t complain!
Overall, it’s a really great diagram, and it’ll give anyone an excellent understanding of how Jonny organizes his gear and how he uses it!

NEW DIAGRAM of Jonny’s Guitar setup by Adam Cooper from GuitarGeek!

I served as a contributor for the diagram, directly offering advice on Jonny’s setup. It’s a great improvement on the older one; the signal chain is 100%!

I must admit that I disagree about the versions of the EHX Small Stone (Cooper chose a V4, whereas in 1997 Jonny used a V2) and Demeter Tremulator (Jonny uses the older prototype “The Tremulator”), but those are artistic decisions which I totally respect (similar to his decision to draw Jonny’s Tele in its current distinctive condition, rather than less worn and without the Honda Motorcycle sticker as it was in 1997). Plus, everything else is spot on, so I really can’t complain!

Overall, it’s a really great diagram, and it’ll give anyone an excellent understanding of how Jonny organizes his gear and how he uses it!

 [Jonny Greenwood] [Radiohead] [Diagrams]
2 weeks ago
106 notes

whitechocolatefarms said:

Sorry. I truly appreciate the explanation but im not really that music savy. The “sound” i was refering to was the one johny uses to make woman-like sounds. Like a woman singing. How would i go around doing that?

That’s ok!

As I mentioned, most of the waveforms are very simple. Jonny’s settings for There Will Be Blood were essentially just a sine wave into two speakers: one fairly neutral and one with reverberation. The speakers do have unique characterics, but a sine wave into some fancy speakers aren’t what makes the Martenot sound so human-like.

There’s a reason that Jonny goes to the Ondes Martenot, even when he has an enormous and highly sophisticated modular synthesizer worth tens of thousands of dollars. The control mechanisms of the Martenot, particularly the ruban, are what gives the Martenot its wonderful abilities.

Much of why the Martenot can sound like a woman singing is due to its ability to create very human-like glissando and vibrato. The right waveform and diffuseurs are definitely important – Nasillard simply isn’t going to sound much like a human, though it can sound somewhat like a bassoon – but the most important thing is absolute control over pitch which is given by the ruban.

To play something like the credits from Star Trek,* a controller with continuous pitch control is a necessity. Using a MIDI ribbon to control the pitch of a sine wave on a free softsynth, plus some short-decay digital reverb (Ambience is quite nice), would get you closer to that sound than anything with a keyboard. Short of building a ring controller or buying a French Connection or Therevox, it’s the best (only?) option that has a real change of capturing that sound. The friction of the membrane will limit your speed, which might slow down those fast glissando’s and could hamper vibrato a little, but even so a ribbon controller will definitely get you in the region of “person singing wordlessly.”

Technology isn’t the only consideration, though. Playing technique is important. Once you have a ring or ribbon controller, you will need to listen to singers and learn the subtleties of what they do, such that you can use the instrument to recreate those sounds.

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*Just to be clear, that really is a woman singing, not a Martenot or Theremin, but it’s a great example of the type of thing that a Martenot can sound a lot like.

 [Ondes Martenot] [Advice]
3 weeks ago
3 notes
whitechocolatefarms: oh please can u just tell me if i can emulate the sound of an ondes martenot in a synth? iz got 2 knowwwww

What do you mean by the “sound” of an Ondes?

Do you mean the waveforms? If so, all of them are fairly easy to recreate, save perhaps for the octiviant. Onde (sine), Gambe (square), petit gambe (filtered square), Nasillard (pulse), Souffle (noise), and Creux (basically a triangle/sine with slight square wave distortion) are all, more or less, available on your average synthesizer.

The more unique diffuseurs (Palme and Métallique) would be hard to reproduce, but the Principal is a more usual speaker, and you could replace the Résonance with some well-set spring reverb.

But the sound of the isn’t just the waveforms and the diffuseurs. A huge part of it comes from its unique method of control - the ruban (ring), the touche d’intensité (button), and the clavier (a keyboard which can move from side to side to create vibrato). That is why something like the Soniccouture Ondes, which reproduces the “sounds” aspects of the Martenot, sounds pretty lackluster compared to the real thing.

Some clever ADSR can reproduce the the touche to a certain degree. Other options like mapping joystick controllers to master volume can be even better if used well, but those are less common. A volume pedal is certainly an option, and the Ondes actually does have pedal control for volume in passages which require both hands (for the keyboard). Volume pedals will lose you the extremely fast “attack” and “decay” of which the touche is capable, but since the Ondes is better known for what it can do with a slower attack, that ability of the touche might not be important to many for a reproduction.

While standard mod-wheel+LFO vibrato will sound pretty bad for a Martenot reproduction, mapping aftertouch to pitch (subtly) can allow for more natural sounding vibrato. This vibrato will be around only a single pitch at a time, which can work to reproduce the clavier, but it still does not approach the most famous part of the Martenot - the ruban.

The ruban allows one to play any pitch along its range, allowing not only for real, player controlled glissando between notes, but also for microtonal playing. While the latter may be less important to the average musician, the former is probably the most distinctive part of the Martenot’s sound.

Now, almost all synthesizers have a built in means of creating glissando – glide. This feature is capable of some unique and interesting sounds, but it has a character very much its own. Simply put, I’ve yet to hear glide sound anything like an Ondes Martenot, and the Soniccouture Ondes is a testament to that. With the waveforms and the diffuseurs perfectly duplicated, it still fails to sound much like the original instrument. The glissando created with the ruban is controlled entirely by the player. Its “envelope,” so to speak, is user generated, and it’s unique every time. Glide simply sounds robotic by comparison. Not a bad thing in absolute terms – glide definitely has its uses – but not Ondes either.

So while sampling and synthesis are able to perfectly recreate the sounds of the Ondes Martenot, the “sound” of the instrument remains unique - to ribbon controllers at least.

Of course, you could always try a MIDI ribbon controller, such as those by Doepfer or Eowave! It won’t be perfect, and the possibilities will be limited, but it’s sure nonetheless to make any synth sound a lot the a Martenot!

 [Ondes Martenot] [Advice]
3 weeks ago
7 notes