Based in Strasbourg in Eastern France, Christine Ott is a classically-trained pianist, composer and a rare specialist of the Ondes Martenot. One of the early electronic instruments, the Ondes Martenot produces a distinctive and eerie oscillating sound often compared to a “celestial” voice. Several 20th century composers including Olivier Messiaen or Edgar Varèse for instance have written for the instrument, and over the years, the Ondes Martenot have featured extensively in contemporary popular music and countless cinema soundtracks. Understandably, Christine Ott is a name that frequently crops up in several prestigious collaborations involving the ethereal instrument. Following on from Solitude Nomade in 2009, the musician returns with Only Silence Remains, her second solo album released in May 2016 last on Gizeh Records.
Closely associated with radio waves and developed by Maurice Martenot during the First World War while working with Morse code and military radio oscillators, the Ondes Martenot was first presented in 1928, around the same time as the similar sounding Theremin. The instrument is controlled by a keyboard and by a sliding metal ring worn on the index finger along a ribbon in front of the keyboard. The sounds can be further altered by additional controls and switches producing a wide array of timbres and effects.
Starting her career teaching and playing the classical repertoire and operas, Christine Ott was first invited to collaborate with French composer and multi-instrumentalist Yann Tiersen in 2001. She remained with his touring band for the following ten years, featuring on several live albums and soundtracks. Since then, the musician has broadened her sound palette by scoring silent films or working with bands and musicians from varied musical backgrounds.
Spurred by Jonny Greenwood’s interest in the Ondes Martenot, Christine Ott performed live with Radiohead in 2005. She also collaborated with many indie French bands such as Les Têtes Raides, Syd Matters and Oiseaux-Tempête amongst others or with Tindersticks through their soundtrack work for French film director Claire Denis.
Such an exploratory quest into the realms of classical music, cinema, indie rock and experimental music finds an echo in Christine Ott’s eclectic artistic output. But instead of solely focusing on the Ondes Martenot in her solo work, the musician rather refers to “sound sculpture” when discussing her music.
On Only Silence Remains, the Ondes Martenot becomes part of a wider orchestral palette which also includes keyboards, tubular bells, harmonium, harmonic tubes and percussions, but piano remains at the core of the creative process.
The way I compose is totally based on intuition. I begin by improvising on the piano, and from then on, I start fixing the improvisation on paper – the old fashion way – with a pen, a rubber and manuscript paper. Christine Ott
The piano-led composition style emerges clearly in the superbly melodic “Szczecin” for instance. Then comes orchestration where the musician endeavours to associate and layer sounds to build a unique soundscape. Guest musicians – harpsichord and double bass on “A Mes Etoiles”, cello and vibraphone on “Szczecin” or drum on “Raintrain” – complement each individual “sound installation”. Elsewhere, opening with spoken word samples from the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, “Sexy Moon” is an enchanting composition elegantly showcasing the “cosmic” and otherworldly nature of the artisanal electronic instrument.