Back to the future

Eowave's latest brainchild is a step or two away from their previous products: the Persephone is a decidedly vintage-looking instrument built inside a wooden box and decked out in the kind of black leatherette that you'd expect to see on 1950ies-style suitcases and very old typewriters' transport cases. Still, the vintage chic doesn't end with Persephone's looks - Eowave have designed the instrument to mimick the sound and feel of those dinosaurs of electronic sound generation, Lev Termen's thereminvox and Maurice Martenot's ondes martenot, both from the 1920ies. Eowave emphasize Persephone's ability to create the eerie and otherworldly timbre often associated with those old electronic instruments, but then again that kind of sound is just a small part of the game. In fact, the horror-movie-cliché dates back to the year 1945, when the score for Alfred Hitchcock's hugely popular classic "Spellbound" stunned the audience with melody lines played by Samuel Hoffman on a thereminvox.

But the thereminvox has always been a highly versatile tool, with an unmistakeable voice-like timbre and unique usability. Of course, the tonal characteristics of an original thereminvox or an ondes martenot can easily be reproduced with modern synthesizers, especially if it's only a certain atmospheric sound that's required. Yet what makes the originals so desirable, is the way it feels to actually play them.

This brings us back to Eowave's Persephone, which features a mechanical control surface not unlike the one used in some versions of the ondes martenot. There's no traditional keyboard (nor the therminvox' ether-controllable antennas of course), but a ribbon controller that runs along the instrument's front. Touch the ribbon with your right hand to change the pitch of the note - glissandos and microtonal playing are possible, but no chords, since the Persephone is a monophonic instrument, which means it can only voice one note at a time. To trigger a note, the left hand presses a knob that resides next to the ribbon controller - simple as that.

An early Persephone prototype with original control layout, ready to be played.

Sound production is reduced to the bare essentials, too: a single analogue oscillator produces a triangle- or a sine-wave, thus providing the possibility to switch between a brighter or duller basic sound. Five knobs allow for change of volume, tune, tonal range and tone colour. That's about it as far as sound manipulation goes, so the output of the instrument will come down to your playing technique and style. After all, the Persephone is made to be played as a melody instrument, paying homage to the pioneers of electronic music.

So, summing it all up, Eowave currently have three very different hardware lines on their roster that offer welcome alternatives to the mostly homogenized products of the music industry. They haven't invented a killer innovation yet, but my feeling is the staff at Eowave are very serious about their products and they really enjoy what they're doing. And who could blame them for that?

(rh 08/MMIV, pictures rh and eowave)

>> Eowave website

The base unit of the Eobody system

< Bits and Bugs
= Back to the future