The Ondioline

The Ondioline is an electronic musical instrument invented by Georges Jenny in France in the early 1940s and developed through a number of different models until his death in 1975. This versatile and expressive instrument is monophonic, but can produce a remarkable variety of sounds, from simulating orchestral instruments to creating unique and voice-like tones.

In total, around 1200 Ondiolines were built between the mid 1940s and late 1960s, most of them handmade by Jenny himself. The instrument was also offered in “kit” form, where Jenny recommended purchasing the more complex assemblies – such as the keyboard – as complete units. The schematics were made available for amateur engineers to construct their own custom instruments, and they were encouraged to experiment with the amplifier, tone circuits and cabinetry.

Although a number of musicians played Ondiolines in eclectic contexts through the years, the instrument’s main proponent and arguably sole virtuoso was Jean-Jacques Perrey [1929-2016]. After meeting Jenny around 1950, Perrey became the Ondioline’s official demonstrator and traveling salesman, later using the instrument on a number of pioneering electronic pop records. His technique of self-accompanying – playing the piano with his left hand while fluidly changing sounds and soloing on Ondioline with his right hand and knee – was a feat of remarkable musical dexterity.

Since 2016 the musician Gotye has worked to revive interest in the Ondioline through the non-profit Forgotten Futures and with an ensemble called Ondioline Orchestra that performs tributes to Jean-Jacques Perrey’s music. Forgotten Futures is dedicated to the recovery of Jenny’s under-recognized work, the recreation of critical Ondioline spare parts, and the dissemination of information that will ensure the functionality and accessibility of these remarkable instruments for future generations.

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Off-grid solar e-waste in the Global South

“There has been a boom in the sale of small-scale off-grid solar products across the Global South over the past decade. A substantial portion of this boom has been driven by international investment in off-grid solar start-up companies, and a formalized off-grid solar sector has been established, with the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association acting as a key representative body.”

“Although this boom has aided in extending electricity access to many energy-poor households and businesses, an emerging concern is the short (three to four years) working life that these off-grid solar products typically have. This has led to a growing issue of solar e-waste. Here we examine how the structure of the off-grid solar sector results in substantial barriers to addressing solar e-waste in the Global South. We consider how practices of repair might contribute to addressing the issue, and set out a research agenda to facilitate new approaches to the issues of solar e-waste.”

Read more: Munro, Paul G., et al. “Towards a repair research agenda for off-grid solar e-waste in the Global South.” Nature Energy (2022): 1-6.

Electrification, digitalization, webification, datafication, personalization, actuation, and marketization

“This theoretical essay argues that the development of so-called ‘smart innovations’ is based on the monotonous application of seven standardized principles: electrification, digitalization, webification, datafication, personalization, actuation, and marketization. When a new smart innovation appears, what has typically occurred was the implementation of these principles to an object or process that, until that moment, had managed to remain unscathed by the smart innovation monoculture. As reactions to this dominant logic, ten major critical arguments against smart innovations have emerged in the academic literature: smart innovations are considered to be superseding, unhealthy, subordinating, exploitative, manipulative, addictive, fragile, colonial, labyrinthine, and both ecologically and socially unsustainable.”

“To a certain extent adopting the traits of a manifesto, this essay aims to challenge the monoculture of smart innovations by means of proposing the development of a charter potentially capable of promoting change on two fronts. First, facilitating technologists to develop truly creative ideas that are not based on the application of the monotonous principles of smart innovation. Second, challenging technologists to develop new ideas and concepts that are effectively beyond the above-mentioned ten criticisms. This is a highly relevant area for citizen-driven, political, and academic activism, as smart innovations, despite their conceptual weaknesses and patent negative consequences, surprisingly continue to be preferred beneficiaries for funding in contemporary policy-making and academic research circles.”

Read more: Ferreira, António. “Seven Principles and Ten Criticisms: Towards a Charter for the Analysis, Transformation and Contestation of Smart Innovations.” Sustainability 14.19 (2022): 12713.

Via Roel Roscam Abbing.

How to Build a Persian Windmill

“This paper investigated a windmill in Nehbandan which is an example of architectural heritage. Harnessing natural energy and using local materials such as stone, wood and adobe, the residents were able to create environmentally friendly structures. In this paper, one of these windmills that is still standing in Nehbandan was selected from a chain of windmills. Then, based on architectural survey, interviewing with millers and sketching, the dimensions of architectural elements and mechanical components were obtained and the windmill was modelled.”

“The results reveal that there is a close relation between architectural features and mechanical components. The orientation of this windmill toward prevailing wind, the correct placement of walls in three faces and creating a hole named Darvazeh in the third wall to direct the wind into the Parkhaneh are architectural features which provide the kinetic energy of the wind to move the mechanical components. The stepped form of the surrounding walls prevents erosion of mechanical components and as a result increases the durability of the windmill.”

Zarrabi, M., Valibeig, N. 3D modelling of an Asbad (Persian windmill): a link between vernacular architecture and mechanical system with a focus on Nehbandan windmill. Herit Sci 9, 108 (2021).

Solar Metal Smelter

Jelle Seegers set out to design a production line that drastically lowers our footprint, using nothing but the sun, wind, or muscle power as its energy source. The ‘Solar Metal Smelter’ is his pièce the résistance: this huge magnifying glass creates a powerful focal point that, on a sunny day, makes metal melt. Cast in a sand mould, the hot substance is transformed into machine parts for a foot-driven grinder in an off-grid practice.