It’s OK to admit you’d never heard of the ondes Martenot before 2000/2001, when Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood used one on Kid A and Amnesiac. I hadn’t either. It was invented in the 1920s by French cellist Maurice Martenot, and has a variety of controls including a keyboard, but the one that sets it apart is a metal ring, worn on the player’s right hand, which is drawn along a wire to produce theremin-like tones.
Christine Ott‘s Chimères (pour ondes Martenot) is exactly what it sounds like: a collection of eight pieces written for and performed on this mutant instrument. Additional layers of dreamy weirdness are added thanks to live signal processing and electronic effects manipulated by two of her longtime collaborators, Frédéric D. Oberland of Ouiseaux-Tempête and Paul Régimbeau of Mondkopf. They also edited, arranged and produced the final recordings.
The pieces all blend together, effectively turning the album into a single 47-minute suite of swooping, whooshing kosmische music. Track titles like “Darkstar,” “Pulsar,” “Sirius” and “Eclipse” hint at the deep-space feel that runs through much of the disc; close your eyes and it’s easy to imagine yourself floating through the infinite blackness in a dead spaceship. Other pieces, like “Mariposas,” break that mood in favor of trilling melodies that recall the softer, prettier side of Kraftwerk, and there are some disruptive moments, too. On “Todeslied,” the external electronics get quite chaotic, like a short-wave radio beaming blasts of static through the sci-fi theremin-like tones. “Pulsar” is one of the most aggressive tracks; its sharp, staccato pulses make it sound like the work of Pan Sonic, more programmed than played.
Chimères is ideal for fans of early ’70s Tangerine Dream albums like Zeit, Atem and Alpha Centauri, as well as Klaus Schulze discs like Cyborg, Timewind and Moondawn. Its mix of eerie, wavering pitches, deep and distant rumbles and whooshes, occasional beautiful melodies, and slightly disruptive production touches will make any listener attuned to its virtues wish it was longer.