The Ondioline is an electronic keyboard instrument, invented in 1941[1] by Georges Jenny, and is a forerunner of today's synthesizers. It is sometimes called the "Jenny Ondioline."

Ondioline (keyboard on speaker), exhibited at National Music Centre, Canada

The Ondioline is capable of creating a wide variety of sounds. Its keyboard has an unusual feature: it is suspended on special springs which makes it possible to introduce a natural vibrato if the player moves the keys from side to side (laterally) with their playing hand. The result is an almost human-like vibrato that lends a wide range of expression to the Ondioline. The keyboard is also pressure-sensitive, and the instrument has a knee volume lever, as well.

Comparison with the Ondes MartenotEdit

The instrument's movable keyboard is modeled after the keyboard of another early electronic instrument from France, the Ondes Martenot, invented in 1928. The Ondioline does not feature a ring (or ribbon) controller to control pitch, as the Ondes does. Instead, the Ondioline has a strip of wire, that when pressed, provides percussion effects, but it cannot produce the Ondes's theremin-like pitch effects.

However, the Ondioline's sound possibilities are much more varied, compared to the Ondes Martenot, which can only produce a few variations of sounds. This is due to the Ondioline's filter bank, which features an array of 15 slider switches for various tones. Selected combinations of these switches can create sounds ranging from near-accurate recreations of symphonic instruments (oboe, French horn, etc.) to totally unique sounds of its own.

Like the Ondes Martenot, the Ondioline's circuitry is purely vacuum tube-based. However, unlike the Ondes, whose oscillator is based on the theremin (two ultra-high frequencies beating against each other, to produce a third audible frequency), the Ondioline uses a multivibrator oscillator circuit to produce its tone. This gives the Ondioline a more versatile tone, richer in harmonics than the Ondes. Another advantage of the much smaller Ondioline is that it is very portable, and because of this, it can be played in tandem with a piano or organ. At US$500 (US$8,561.42 in 2017 dollars) its price was also much less than that of the Ondes.

Use in popular music, 1950s–1960sEdit

 
Perrey playing the ondioline in 2006

In 1951, composer and singer Charles Trenet after hearing about Perrey and the Ondioline,[2] he invite to record the song L'ame des Poetes (The Soul of Poets),[3] and to accompany him on stage.[4] Later the composition was an international success, and Perrey met other composers such as Yves Montand and Jacques Brel.[5]

The first American hit record to feature the Ondioline was "More", by Kai Winding, in 1963. This instrumental version of the theme from the 1962 film Mondo Cane was arranged and conducted by Claus Ogerman, with the Ondioline being played again by Jean-Jacques Perrey, who had moved to America by this time. Perrey first acquired an Ondioline in the mid-1950s [6] while living in Paris, and used it on his Vanguard LPs, recorded in NYC, during the '60s.

1960s rock musician Al Kooper made regular use of the Ondioline in his work with the Blues Project, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and in his early solo career. Notable examples are "I Can't Keep from Crying Sometimes" and "Steve's Song" from the Blues Project album Projections (1966) and "No Time Like the Right Time" (The Blues Project Live at Town Hall, 1967); "Meagan's Gypsy Eyes" from Blood Sweat & Tears' Child Is Father to the Man (1968); and "His Holy Modal Majesty" with Mike Bloomfield on Super Session (1968). Kooper also played it live on the similarly titled "Her Holy Modal Highness" on The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper (1968).

Tommy James and the Shondells' 1967 hits "I Think We're Alone Now" and "Mirage" also featured the sound of an Ondioline in the background, played by keyboard session player Artie Butler.[7]

Motown Records used an Ondioline as part of their studio setup between 1959 and 1962, where it was mainly used in place of expensive string arrangements. The instrument is featured prominently on dozens of early Motown recordings by acts such as the Supremes, the Miracles, the Temptations and the Marvelettes, notably the songs "After All", "I Want a Guy", and "(You're My) Dream Come True", on which it was played by Raynoma Liles Gordy.

The Ondioline was used on many other recordings, including the soundtrack of the 1960 film Spartacus. The first use of the instrument in a film was in 1959, when Jean-Jacques Perrey played it in the French film La Vache et le Prisonnier ("The Cow and the Prisoner"). It is used for rhythmic accompaniment on the 1964 Terry Stafford hit "Suspicion".

Post-1960s useEdit

English-French band Stereolab, known for their use of early analogue synthesizers, recorded a song called "Jenny Ondioline", which was released on the 1993 album Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements, as well as the 1993 EP Jenny Ondioline. However, the song's lyrics have nothing to do with the Ondioline or Georges Jenny, and the band does not use an Ondioline on the track (or elsewhere on the album).

Jean-Jacques Perrey continued to perform live shows with the Ondioline until his death in 2016; he featured the instrument on his Oglio Records albums with musician Dana Countryman, The Happy Electropop Music Machine (2006) and Destination Space (2008).

Soon after Perrey's death in November 2016, Australian musician Gotye, who owned a number of vintage Ondiolines, put together a group he called the Ondioline Orchestra, featuring Gotye, performing under his real name, Wally De Backer, on Ondioline. The first such concert was a tribute to Perrey, in Brooklyn, New York.[8] In a 2018 interview with Australia's Broadsheet, Gotye 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."[9]

See alsoEdit

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. ^ "New Music Box 1999". NewMusicBox. Archived from the original on 2007-09-30.
  2. ^ "L'âme des Poètes, by Charles Trenet et son Quartette Ondioline feat. Jean-Jacques Perrey". Jean-Jacques Perrey. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
  3. ^ Brend, Mark (6 December 2012). The Sound of Tomorrow: How Electronic Music Was Smuggled into the Mainstream. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. ISBN 978-1-62356-529-9.
  4. ^ "Jean Jacques Perrey's Autobiography, Part One". Dana Countryman. Retrieved 23 September 2021.
  5. ^ "The Fairy Tale Life of French Composer Jean-Jacques Perrey". Red Bull Music Academy Daily. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  6. ^ jean-jacquesperrey.com, Perrey autobiography
  7. ^ Hurwitz, Matt (1 March 2008). "Classic Tracks: Tommy James & The Shondells' "I Think We're Alone Now"". Mixoline. Archived from the original on 7 April 2014.
  8. ^ "Ondioline Orchestra Present a tribute to Jean-Jacques Perrey". Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  9. ^ Preston, Sammy, "Gotye Makes His Return with an Ondioline. Sorry, a What?", Broadsheet Sydney, 12 January 2018

External linksEdit