Review: Christine Ott – Chimères (pour Ondes Martenot)

Christine Ott - Chimères (pour Ondes Martenot) - Cover

Label: NAHAL Recordings

A vitally important instrument in the development of electronic music, the ondes Martenot is nevertheless something of a curio; their distinctive sound is integral to the growth of sci-fi soundtracks in particular during the 60’s, but high cost (at around 12,000 Euros an instrument) means they would never be a common instrument. As such, it’s little surprise few records have been based around them, even if their use on parts of Radiohead’s Kid A might have brought their existence to the attention of a new generation. Yet that’s just what Christine Ott has done on Chimères (pour Ondes Martenot), with the album played entirely on an ondes Martenot, as the title suggests – the first time the instrument has been the sole presence on an album. It is a haunting, evocative listen, that inherently recalls classic horror and sci-fi soundtracks; but also demonstrates Ott’s own talents as a modern classical composer and musician.

Unlike many electronic instrument, the ondes Martenot has something inherently human about its sounds, with the way it can move and shift through higher pitches not being far removed from the natural grace and beauty of the human voice. Conversely, its lower registers are inherently haunting, with a sound reminiscent of bowed strings. Taken together, this means that Chimères (pour Ondes Martenot) is a multi-faceted record, heavy with emotional weight that belies its electronic origins. To take two starkly contrasting examples, third track ‘Todeslied’ is a cosmic nightmare, like something drawn from the depths of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Yet following track ‘Mariposas’ is light and playful, with flute-like melodies soaring above a subtle bubbling rhythm.

As this might imply, there are two main sides to Chimères (pour Ondes Martenot); the parts where Ott focuses on the more human aspects of what the ondes Martenot can emulate, and the sections where she leans into the more retro-futuristic nature of the instrument. These different sounds and moods play off one another well, and the album is cleverly structured to ensure their contrasts compliment, rather than undermine, one another.

It is also remarkable just how many different moods and sounds Ott manages to create from the ondes Martenot whilst still sticking broadly to those two themes. ‘Eclipse’ is a slow-burning haze of dark ambient terror, evoking worlds that have caved in on themselves and the nightmare of infinity; opener ‘Comma’ is a graceful, slow-burning piece of shimmering beauty; whilst ‘Darkstar’ brings to mind the thrill and danger of exploration, of being the first living being to cast eyes upon a landscape in millenia.

All of which serves to underline just what a remarkable talent Ott is. Along with Paul Régimbeau (Mondkopf) and Frédéric D. Oberland (Oiseaux-Tempête), who aided in manipulating the sounds of the ondes Martenot via live effect boxes and sonic manipulations, Ott has created an album of distinctive character, full of striking beauty and terror, the effects of which will linger long after the record has finished playing.

Chimères (pour Ondes Martenot) is due for release on 22 May 2020, and can be pre-ordered digitally via Bandcamp, and on CD and vinyl from Nahal Recordings.


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