UK-based ondes Martenot player
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Perception

A short experimental film exploring the effect of light on a subject, officially selected for Atrabilious Experimental Film Festival, 2018.

 Perception

A short experimental film exploring the effect of light on a subject, officially selected for Atrabilious Experimental Film Festival, 2018.

Focusing on the use and manipulation of light on the subjects, the film is experimental in nature, very minimal, and incredibly hypnotic. I was asked to compose and produce an original soundtrack early on in the process of the film, so was able to observe the intricacies of the soundtrack and it's relationship with the visuals in depth.

I have heard some of the great things that Josh has created with the ondes Martenot. This is why I wanted him to work with me on my latest film, as I knew he would bring something special to the project.
— Mark L.

The soundtrack is 100% ondes Martenot, 11 tracks to be exact. All of the reverb you hear (apart from one use of Ableton's own reverb) comes from LittlePlate by SoundToys, and most tracks have been treated to a little EQ, some occasional compression, and some tactful saturation. There isn't much adventurous processing, save for some pitch-shifted delay on one of the tracks. 

Something I wanted to use in this soundtrack was beat-frequencies. Beat-frequencies happen when two tones are so close in pitch that a beating, tremolo-like effect equal in speed to difference between the tones can be heard. For example, two tones at 137Hz and 139Hz have a difference of 2Hz and, when played together, will produce a 'beating' tremolo effect at a rate of 2Hz.

Interestingly, the way that beat-frequencies work is practically the same as 'heterodyning', which is the process that Maurice Martenot used for tone-generation in the first 6 iterations of the ondes Martenot. Put simply, the vacuum tube oscillators in the ondes Martenot would oscillate at supersonic frequencies, one fixed and one variable. The difference between these two supersonic frequencies was an audible sub-harmonic, which would then be amplified. The Mk. 7 ondes Martenot, first built in 1974, saw this system replaced with a transistor-based system, due to the fragility of the glass vacuum tubes, amongst other reasons. 

There are two separate recordings of me playing a drone around C# (138Hz), swaying sharp and flat, so the difference between the two pitches is in constant flux. Playing these parts au ruban enabled me to easily access the microtones required to achieve the desired beating effects. These parts were then grouped together and automated in post, to have the volume follow the movement of the light source. The tone I used for both of those particular parts was 'O', which stands for 'ondes' - a simple sine wave. Other tones used in various combinations were 'N', '8', and 'C'. 

The other parts of the soundtrack are simple intervals and repeating phrases that overlap each other at different speeds to provide a dense, shifting bed of texture and harmony. There is a kind of compositional palindrome at work, which allows the soundtrack to build up to peak density in the middle of the film and work back down to where it began, enabling the video to loop seamlessly. The video you can watch here is a version of the looping edit, so the soundtrack starts and stops rather abruptly.