UK-based ondes Martenot player

about josh | josh semans | ondes martenot

About Josh / Josh Semans / ondes Martenot

The ondes Martenot has changed my life, and my relationship with this musical instrument is profound.

Since the ondes Martenot is so rare, I am often asked how I started my life with it. The truth is, I don’t remember exactly how or when I first came across the ondes Martenot, but I cannot imagine my life without it now. I remember the ondes being present in my college days, and I spent a lot of time researching this mysterious instrument; watching, listening to, and reading every video, recording, and article I could find. The more I learned about this instrument, the further in love I fell with it. Over the years, it burrowed deeper and deeper into my heart and became a passionate obsession. How could I not pursue this instrument that has captivated me so?

Over the years, I have been guided by some of the world’s leading ondistes, and am very grateful to call some of them friends and colleagues. My years of relentlessly studying the instrument, its history, and its players, meant that I took to playing it very quickly. Being able to study this instrument so intensely with the input of other ondistes has been incredibly valuable, and I feel very lucky to be bound by a common love.

Now, my main instrument is an ondes musicales built for me by Jean-Loup Dierstein in Paris, France. Mine is the 22nd instrument he has built in around 10 years, and is, essentially, a continuation of the Mk. 7 ondes Martenot from ~1974, but with a few improvements of both Jean-Loup’s and my own design. Several of my design-changes and customisations have now made it into Jean-Loup’s ‘production model’. The wait for my instrument was tumultuous, and the memory of meeting Jean-Loup and my ondes for the first time is one steeped in emotion; one that I will never forget. My other ondes is a smaller, digital version; the Ondomo by ASADEN.

The unique interface of the ondes Martenot facilitates a very broad range of incredibly nuanced gestures, so much so that the instrument and player, ideally, become one. My ondes really is a part of me, as much as my vocal cords, arms, or lungs. This instrument continues to lead me on an incredible journey, and has taught me so much. The ondes Martenot is not just an assembly of wood, metal, and electronics - I believe that it is something that is in each of us. Maurice Martenot’s invention allows us to make heard our own waves.

The instrument is first and foremost ourselves
— M. Martenot

My work with the ondes Martenot currently involves a lot of remote recording for musicians and composers. I am often tasked with writing the ondes parts myself, but also enjoy following and interpreting scores. I am also working on an ever-expanding performance repertoire of pieces for ondes Martenot (solo, duet, quartet, etc) as well as various combinations of instruments such as piano, strings, voice, and electronics. While I enjoy playing existing works, I am also very glad to be working on original music of my own, and in collaboration with musicians and composers from all over the world.

I have also found myself consulting on a number of instrument-building projects, as well, which is always a delight. Whether it is guidance of a one-off instrument, or consulting on the development of the Therevox, I love seeing these instruments come together, each one inspired by the ondes Martenot in different ways.

I am also working hard to generate high quality media and accessible resources to further proliferate the instrument that I so dearly love, so that others may begin their journey with it.

As well as the ondes Martenot, I love a good black coffee or herbal tea, being outside in nature, and almost anything to do with music and art. I also enjoy taking photographs, building things, and making my way through non-fiction books very slowly.

Josh Semans with his Dierstein ondes musicales (2019)

Thank you to Paul & Lynda, Lauren & Shaun, Mo & Nev, Joshua, MalcolmNaoyuki, Yasuko, Taka, Takashi, Marie, Thomas, Nadia, Natalie, Gen'vieveChristine, Mathieu, Augustin, Cécile, and Jean-Loup.

I would not be able to do any of this without the constant love, support, and encouragement of my wife Rebekah.

Josh Semans / ondes Martenot (illustration by F. Devine, 2018)