Messing around with an Analogue Systems “French Connection”

September 1, 2011 · Posted in Uncategorized 

Given that it was an early electronic instrument, the Ondes Martenot was singularly playable, so it’s not surprising that composers such as Barry Gray (see the box on the penultimate page of this article) continued to experiment with it throughout the ’50s, ’60s and 70s. Even today, its unique method of control and expression attracts musicians keen to develop new sounds and playing styles. So when Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead asked Analogue Systems to develop a Martenot-style controller for his modular analogue synthesizers, the company was keen to oblige.

Named the French Connection, Analogue Systems’ design adopts the control mechanisms of the classic Martenot, but leaves the sound generation out, and packages everything in a neat unit designed to sit in front of any of the company’s RS Integrator modular synths or, for that matter, similar modulars produced by other manufacturers. The keyboard itself is four octaves wide, and in front of this you’ll find the wire controller with the small ring through which you insert your index finger. The wire (which is actually a fine nylon cord) is stretched above a fingerboard in which you’ll find small circular depressions that represent the white notes on the keyboard; and protruding metal studs that mark the positions of the black notes.

To the left of the keyboard and the wire controller, there’s a control panel reminiscent of those that you’ll find on other Analogue Systems products. To the far left of this, there’s a sprung X/Y joystick that returns to the central position when released. Above the joystick itself you’ll find two knobs that determine the output range for each axis, with a maximum maximum (if you see what I mean) of approximately 10V. There are four joystick outputs, two each for the ‘X’ axis and for the Y axis. These, like all other Analogue Systems devices, use 3.5mm sockets. To the right of the joystick you’ll find the large, sprung wooden button that also harks back to the original Martenot. If left untouched, this sits in its uppermost position, and generates an output CV of 0V. As you depress it, the CV rises progressively to a maximum of approximately 10V. Again, a knob located above the button itself controls the actual range of operation.

There are just two further controls on the French Connection, and these are the switches located immediately to the left of the keyboard. The first of these determines whether the pitch CV is controlled by the keyboard or by the wire controller. The other determines whether the keyboard produces a conventional trigger and gate, or whether the button produces an amplitude CV. There are eight physical outputs for these – three pitch CV outputs, three button CV outputs, a trigger output, and a gate output. And that’s all there is to it. Add an IEC mains input and an illuminated on/off switch to the right-hand side of the unit, and mount everything in a gorgeous, polished wooden case, and you have a French Connection.

In this video:

I had the oppurtunity to mess around with an Analogue Systems “French Connection”, an imitation of an early electronic instrument called the Ondes Martenot. This controller is CV’d up to an MFB Kraftzwerg. Just a demonstration of some of it’s capabilites. I’ll make a more musical video soon.

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