Métallique Speaker – Experiment 1

When Maurice Martenot invented the ondes Martenot, he understood that the amplifier and speakers were an opportunity to give the performer more precise control of tone. In a typical setup, the ondes is connected to three speakers that can be mixed from the tiroir (drawer of controls). The first is a traditional loudspeaker called the Principal. The second and third are more unique creations of Martenot: the Palme, a lyre-like speaker with sympathetic strings, and; the métallique, a gong resonator (1947 French patent for métallique with images).

The modern ondist can recreate the Principal with a consumer amplifier and speaker; although, one should be careful as loud sub harmonics can cause damage to speakers. The palme and métallique are much more difficult to source. The inventor of the Ondomo, Nao Omo, has produced wonderful recreations of both that I was lucky enough to hear at the 2017 NAMM show, but does not plan to put them immediately into production as he is busy with the swelling demand for the Ondomo. Eowave produced the Metallic Resonator 60cm for a brief amount of time, but production has since stopped. Their site does have a signup form to be updated when they are beginning production again.

Geoff Farr demonstrates his Métallique resonator. I was told by a fellow ondes Martenot enthusiast that he does have them for sale, but I have not reached out.

The Challenge:

Although, I do not have a formal education in audio hardware or electrical engineering, I work in a studio full of analog gear and have had to hone my soldering and repair skills in recent years. The project of building a custom métallique seemed like a good opportunity to continue to develop these skills and learn more about how sound is generated while hopefully creating something interesting and useful. The concept is simple: to suspend a gong (or cymbal in my case) so that it can resonate and then attach a driver that is connected to a amplified audio signal.

I was unfamiliar with how drivers work, so after a quick internet search, I came across a forum where people were discussing using audio exciters to drive the cymbal. These are inexpensive products that are designed to turn any surface into a speaker – a table, wall or car window, for example. When I met with Omo in February, I asked him about using exciters and he advised against it, recommending to create a voice coil driver instead. While I trust and respect Omo’s expertise on the subject, the price and simplicity of the exciters seemed like a promising place for a novice like me to begin.

Materials:

  • Gong or cymbal: A friend gave me two beat up and pretty dead Zildjian cymbals.
  • Sound Exciter: I ordered two Dayton Audio Sound Exciters from Amazon for $20. These attach by 3M stickers. Dayton Audio also makes exciters that screw on, but that involves drilling the gong. The above forum recommends using the Monacor AR-50 for those of you in Europe.
  • Cymbal suspension: Here I used a microphone stand and some string (shoelaces to be exact).
  • Amplifier: I used an Alesis RA-100.
  • Speaker wire.

The Setup:

This was pretty easy to put together – the most difficult part was waiting for the Amazon 2-day Prime delivery. I ran a string through the center of the cymbal and tied it to an extended arm of a microphone stand so that the cymbal could freely resonate. The sound exciters had four stickers that you peel and then press firmly onto the cymbal – I placed it a couple of inches from the edge. Finally, an instrument was connected to the input of the power amp and speaker wire was run from the amp to the sound exciters.

A video of random phrases performed on the Ondomo through the métallique resonator and recorded on an iPhone.

The Results:

It worked perfectly, just as the contributors on the forum recommended. The cymbal resonated better on higher pitched instruments than lower, as bass frequencies would rattle the small sound exciter. When I connected the exciter to a larger, darker cymbal, the reverb tail became quite long, but the small exciter lacked the power to fully power it heavier piece of metal.

An SM57 and guitar pickups were set up within an inch of smaller, brighter speaker opposite the driver and were able to pick up quality tones. Anything that is a microphone is also a speaker and vice-versa, so I connected the second exciter to the opposite side of the cymbal to be used as a contact microphone. This worked as well, but having the second exciter attached, deadened the sound a bit.

The first track is a live experimentation of old songs performed on the Ondomo through the métallique and recorded by guitar pickups. This is to demonstrate how the métalique responds to varying tones and registers. The latter two tracks are of synth rhythms, the first one dry and the second played through the métallique resonator and recorded by an SM57.

Room for Improvement:

  • Find a way to attach a more powerful driver.
  • The Dayton Audio exciter stickers are convenient, but do not hold well. Need to determine a more permanent and reliable solution.
  • Although, the exciters are light, they do add weight to the cymbal which dampens the sound. A better solution would be to have a lighter driver setup.
  • Experiment with the placement of the driver and pickups.
  • Find a better way to suspend cymbal so that it freely resonates, but still limit it’s movement so it can be enclosed and portable.
  • Design a frame to protect the cymbal.
  • Possibly include its own paired amplification circuit.

Further Reading:

Please feel free to contact me on this site or on social media if you have questions or ideas. I’m currently documenting a second attempt and plan to continue developing this.

Ondomo – Modern Ondes Martenot

“I find it so amazing when people tell me that electronic music has no soul. You can’t blame the computer. If there’s no soul in the music, it’s because nobody put it there.”
– Bjork

Upon first hearing a recording of Messiaen’s Oraison, it is hard to believe that it was created on an electronic instrument. The performance is so expressive and organic that it could almost be confused for a human voice. Even more surprising is that the synthesizer it was written for was invented in 1928 – decades before electronic music became popular.


Performance of Messiaen’s Oraison featuring the ondes Martenot. 

Messiaen composed the piece to be performed by six ondes Martenot, an instrument invented in France by cellist, Maurice Martenot. Similar to the Theremin, which was invented around the same time, the ondes Martenot is performed by the musician using the right hand to adjust pitch and the left to control dynamics. A ring is fixed to a string (the ribbon) running the length of the instrument with the pitch determined by ring’s location – moving it to the right increases the pitch and left decreases. The Tiroir is a drawer that opens containing a button (the Touche) that, when pressed, increases the volume.


Ondist, Cynthia Millar, demonstrates the ondes Martenot.

As versatile and expressive an instrument as the ondes Martenot is, it never gained the popularity of the its contemporary, the theremin, or other more modern synthesizers. Few of the instruments were created, (I can’t verify this, but I heard that all were made by hand by Martenot) and they are difficult for modern composers or musicians to access, but there has been a renaissance for the instrument of late in popular music led by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead.

This renaissance has only been possible by a new generation of ondes Martenot-like instruments being made available to musicians and composers by inventive instrument makers. I have not had the opportunity to play an original ondes Martenot, but I have played some of the recreations, each having their own unique characteristics. The Haaken Continuum allows for polyphony and MIDI control. Analogue Solution’s French Connection is a CV controller allowing the performer to manipulate complex sounds on an external synthesizer. The Theravox is hand-crafted, containing a built-in sound generator and has MIDI outputs via USB. The most authentic to the original ondes Martenot is the Ondomo created by Naoyuki Omo.

Omo, a former Formula One race car designer has spent the last nineteen years developing the Ondomo, calling it a “Legacy of Love.” The design is portable and he has priced it affordably with the goal of sharing its sound with as large an audience as possible. This stays true to the original philosophy of Martenot, a teacher as well as inventor and musician, who wanted the ondes Martenot to be accessible, believing that everyone could be a musician. Martenot spent his life making adjustments and improvements to the instrument, so each one is unique. Much the same way, Omo is constantly tweaking and improving his designs for the Ondomo.

In February, Omo travelled to Los Angeles from Tokyo and gave me my own Ondomo. While, I have been casually practicing other ondes Martenot-style instruments for a couple years (primarily the Theravox), I have been dedicating more time to studying the instrument since receiving the Ondomo. Omo has been cultivating a friendly community of ondes Martenot enthusiasts and I have been lucky to receive tips from Micka Luna and Ayako Hase, both accomplished ondists.

Omo has put a lot of energy and love into the Ondomo and the Ondomo makes it effortless for a musician to put soul in to electronic music.


My recent performance of Wojciech Kilar’s Love Theme to Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) on the Ondomo.

Further Reading:

Solitude, Creativity and “Tales From the Dark Tower”

Spoiler alert: this article discusses the characters and plot of “Tales From the Dark Tower.”

I retreat to my windowless sanctum, to my books, to the darkness, to wait out the long, dead days.” – The Baron

The cover of Monolith Graphics’ “Tales From the Dark Tower.”

In an effort to encourage reading back in 2001, my middle school conducted a contest for students to create artwork influenced by a book. Joseph Vargo’s posters had long adorned the walls of my childhood bedroom, so I took that as an opportunity to read “Tales From the Dark Tower,” his collection of thirteen short stories, and then paint something in his signature style. As a teenager interested dark fantasy stories, I enjoyed everything about the book full of vampires, knights, witches and ghosts.

Eleven years later, Vargo released the second volume, “Beyond the Dark Tower” and completed the trilogy with “Return to the Dark Tower” in 2015. I needed to know what happened to Brom and his cursed Dark Tower, but decided to first re-read volume one to refresh my memory on where the story left off.

Upon reading for a second time, I still enjoyed the haunting atmosphere and creepy aesthetic as much as when I was young, but this time found buried beneath the vampires, wolves and witches, a theme typical of gothic literature: solitude and isolation. In particular the type of solitude that comes as a by-product of drive and ambition leading to loss.

The original hard cover of Tales From the Dark Tower.

In the first chapter, Brom tells his love, Rianna, (pp. 16) “I have thought long and hard of my calling in this life. Since my childhood, I have been taught that we all serve some purpose beyond our mere existence. I feel mine, still unfulfilled. It beckons me.” This parallels the thoughts of another gothic hero, Victor Frankenstein who states, “from my infancy I was imbued with high hopes and a lofty ambition,” describing his mindset that drove him to create the infamous monster in Mary Shelley’s nineteenth century novel. Both Brom and Victor Frankenstein are sentenced to a life (using this term loosely) of isolation due to their ambition. While Frankenstein’s ambition is blind and without obvious warning to him, Brom is given the clear choice by the Baron in the first chapter: to choose to live out a life of happiness or to attempt to fulfill his destiny. Brom’s decision has consequences that haunt him and his loved ones for the remainder of the book.

This isolation suffered by Brom is a throughline that connects him with the previous two rulers of the Dark Tower – the Baron and the Dark Queen, Mara. The Baron suffers similar circumstances to Brom as he is set apart from the rest of humanity for his valiant effort to rid the world of Mara’s evil, but his suffering is intense. He states, “I retreat to my windowless sanctum, to my books, to the darkness, to wait out the long, dead days, listening to the world outside, waiting for the heat of the sun, dimly discernible even here, to fade to the cool of night.”

Mara’s solitude differs from that of the Baron and Brom. Her isolation is the cause of her deeds, not the result. She was born the bastard daughter of a great king who was ashamed and kept her hidden away in the tower where she was known to keep only the company of gargoyles. In her adolescence, she seeks the companionship of an menacing court jester to combat her forced isolation. After one particular slight from her father, Mara decides to exact revenge on everyone who has kept her locked away, plunging her permanently into a future of evil.

Unfortunately, I could not find the original painting I did, but I was able to dig this one up that I did around the same time. Concept is cool, but definitely a good thing that I switched to music!

Many of the stories contained in the collection are written from the perspective of the third person, which works to further isolate the reader from the characters and enhance the theme of solitude.

One of the tools that Vargo and the fellow authors use to get inside the minds of the characters are journals. One such entry hints to some of the positives of a lonely life, as the Baron documents an increased sensitivity to light, sound, and feeling. With this additional perception and tortured past, the Baron finds an outlet for his loneliness in writing. Brom notes about the Baron, “his prose is so intense, so dense, I cannot help but suspect that something more drove him, as if he busied his mind with endless words so as to avoid something else, something too dark, too painful to contemplate.” This may be one of the reasons that creative people relate to and gravitate to these types of lonely, but driven protagonists.

In arcane tomes, on crinkling pages,
I search for my future’s key,
Locked in the past.
Even the shortest night takes ages to pass,
As I do battle with the hunger in my soul.
No mirth can move a mind tormented thus.
For too long I have existed alone.
Yet, I dare not seek solace
For fear of awakening the darkness
Which lies dormant within me.”

As with most art or literature, our interpretations can evolve and change as we do. When I was in middle school, I did not see or feel anything beyond the surface level, but years of life and experience has now led me to look at the characters in a different light. When I created the painting in 2000 based on the book, it was a simple image of the Dark Tower cloaked in the shadow of a full moon. If I were to interpret the book now, I would attempt to convey the isolation that Brom feels instead of focusing on simply the tower’s facade.