Georges Jenny (c.1900–1976) was a French musician, poet, and electronic instrument builder. His best-known invention was an electronic keyboard instrument called the Ondioline (sometimes referred to as the Jenny Ondioline). It is considered a forerunner of the Synthesizer. The Ondioline is capable of making an array of sounds, and features a keyboard that produces a natural-sounding vibrato with side-to-side finger movements while depressing keys.
Jenny conceived the instrument as a low-cost alternative to the then-well known but expensive Ondes Martenot. The Martenot was used in serious music, but Jenny planned the Ondioline for a broader consumer market, including pop music. He began constructing the Ondioline around 1938, and when he started to commercially manufacture it in 1947, it was valve-based and contained a built-in amplifier. Like the Martenot, it had a lateral vibrato keyboard and a knee-lever to control volume.
For decades Jenny redesigned and manufactured new versions of the instrument at his Paris company, Les Ondes Georges Jenny (later known as La Musique Electronique). Jenny built the instruments by hand, but also packaged and sold the parts as a do-it-yourself assembly kit. He never licensed the instrument for mass production. Jenny gave public demonstrations of the instrument on radio and in newsreels.
The number of Ondiolines that were built and sold is unknown, with estimates ranging from 600 to over 1,000. To reduce manufacturing costs and keep retail prices affordable, Jenny often used poor quality components; as a result, the instruments required regular maintenance or they would become unplayable.
Perrey popularizes the instrumentEdit
The instrument was introduced to a wider audience in the 1950s by electronic music pioneer Jean-Jacques Perrey (who was also an early adopter of the Moog synthesizer). In 1951 (some sources cite 1949 or 1952), Perrey, at the time a medical student, heard Jenny demonstrate the Ondioline on a French radio broadcast. "With the audacity of youth he phoned the radio station and requested Georges Jenny's telephone number, which he was duly given," wrote historian Mark Brend. "Perrey then phoned Jenny himself, saying he liked the sound of the Ondioline but couldn't afford to buy one." Perrey offered to promote the instrument if Jenny would give him one for free. After a visit to the inventor's workshop, Perrey was loaned an Ondioline.
For six months Perrey practiced playing the Ondioline with his right hand while simultaneously playing piano with his left. Jenny was so impressed with Perrey's proficiency, he offered him a job as a salesman and product demonstrator. After earning substantial commissions on sales made during a trip to Sweden (during which he performed on TV), Perrey quit medical school and devoted his career to electronic music. Perrey procured so many orders for Ondiolines during the 1950s that Jenny finally had to open a factory. In the 1960s, Perrey continued to promote the instrument, touring, performing and recording under the playful pseudonym "Mr.Ondioline."
Perrey estimated that "fewer than 700 were sold, mostly in Europe." By some estimates, fewer than two dozen Jenny-made Ondiolines exist today.
Gotye and the OndiolineEdit
Since 2016 the instrument has been championed by Australian pop star Wally (Gotye) De Backer, who acquired a number of vintage Ondiolines and began performing concerts with his Ondioline Orchestra in November of that year. In a 2018 interview with Australia's Broadsheet, De Backer said, “You can dial in an incredibly wide range of sounds on the ondioline, and the unique mechanics for playing it allows you to create sounds very sensitively and with a musical deftness I just feel isn't present on most other electronic instruments from the '40s – or decades since."
- Brend, Mark, Strange Sounds: Offbeat Instruments and Sonic Experiments in Pop, Backbeat Books, 2005
- "Inventor Georges Jenny Demos The Ondioline (1948)," at Synthtopia.com
- "The ‘Ondioline,’ Georges Jenny, France, 1940," at 120 Years of Electronic Music
- "1950s French Monosynth," at Sonicouture.com
- Jenny Demonstrating the Ondioline in a trio setting, German newsreel, 1948, YouTube
- 120 Years of Electronic Music, ibid.
- Brend, Mark, The Sound of Tomorrow: How Electronic Music was Smuggled into the Mainstream, Bloomsbury Academic, 2012
- Jean-Jacques Perrey (as "Mr. Ondioline") plays "Le siffleur et son chien" ("The Whistler and His Dog"), YouTube
- Ondioline.com, established by Dana Countryman
- "Ondioline Orchestra Present a tribute to Jean-Jacques Perrey". Retrieved 30 December 2016.
- Preston, Sammy, "Gotye Makes His Return with an Ondioline. Sorry, a What?", Broadsheet Sydney, 12 January 2018