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Piano wired: Singer plays antique electronic instrument

Old school: Pop star Gotye will play a 1940s-era Ondioline electric piano at Roulette’s Mixology festival on Feb. 13.
Brooklyn Paper
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It’s just an instrument that we used to know.

An international pop star will champion a little-known electronic instrument from the 1940s with an intimate concert showcasing the device in Boerum Hill next month. Singer and keyboardist Gotye, best known for his ubiquitous 2011 hit “Somebody That I Used To Know,” will lead the six-piece Ondioline Orchestra at Roulette on Feb. 13. The show, which kicks off the venue’s annual Mixology festival of electronic music, will showcase the Ondioline — an electronic piano that fell out of favor with the invention of the synthesizer, but which has a distinctive sound all its own, said Roulette’s co-founder.

“In the digital world people stopped caring about the Ondioline,” said David Weinstein. “But when you hear it in person you salivate.”

The Belgian-born Gotye, also known as Wally De Backer, was once based in Australia, but he now lives in Brooklyn, and has become a fan of the antique instrument over the last few years. He approached Roulette with the idea of performing a tribute to the Ondioline’s history, focusing on the music of Ondioline music composer Jean-Jacques Perrey. The concert venue welcomed the idea, said Weinstein.

“It’s a pop star performing in a 400-seat theater,” he said. “It’s a very focused celebration of Jean-Jacques Perrey.”

The Feb. 13 concert will showcase several restored Ondiolines, as well as other early electronic instruments, including theremins and Moog synthesizers. Performing alongside Gotye in the Ondioline Orchestra will be former Psychedelic Furs member Joe McGinty, theremin player Rob Schwimmer, and members of the rock band Zammuto.

Gotye’s resurrection of the Ondioline fits in perfectly with the Mixology Festival’s emphasis on stretching the boundaries of electronic music, said Weinstein. And visitors may be surprised to hear the instrument’s expressive nature, which is unlike the cold tones of many modern-day digital instruments.

“You can press hard or soft. It has a malleable sound like a piano,” he said. “It’s warm and beautiful.”

The Ondioline Orchestra at Roulette [509 Atlantic Ave. at Third Avenue in Boerum Hill, (917) 267-0363, www.roulette.org]. Feb. 13 at 9 pm. $30 ($25 in advance).

Reach reporter Adam Lucente at alucente@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow him on Twitter @Adam_Lucente.
Updated 5:49 pm, July 9, 2018
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