Sea - New work for piano and theremin

Posted: 9/25/2008 2:45:42 PM

From: London

Joined: 6/5/2008

Hello all.

I came here searching for some info about the theremin and the techniques. You might know that! Then I posted a work of mine. And now, since I've been kindly asked, I'm here to explain a few things about the composition. :)

The above is the score of the work.

I think that I need to be totally honest, and in order to do that I do need to divide the post into different sections.

Reasons I was drawn to the theremin

Two reasons are really all they are and none is too fantastic or awesome or for the love of the theremin, I'm sorry to admit!

I have a friend, in the UK, called David. He posts in NSS regularly and recently he got a theremin. I got intrigued and researched a little bit. Even though I've never met the guy, I do feel strangely close to him. Like I could travel to his home, knock on the door and he would welcome me, uninvited! Which is not the classic British attitude you have to admit!

- This is the one

The other is very much pragmatic. A competition to write a new work for piano a theremin. Prize is a recording. Very tempting, even if there's no money involved. I don't care for money at this point, I've got it covered elsewhere.


Since I met this forum I did decide to post here as well. The competition is yet undecided and I've starting to have doubts on whether it will be played or not. But this forum gave me a great welcome and I have to say that I do feel rather at home. (even if it sounds somewhat 'kissing your ass' to get my work performed... I realise that)


Techniques used in the piece (composition wise)

Over the years I've developed what I call "non repeated elements". Imagine a line of notes which has nothing in common with itself. A long line of pitches which does not resemble anything else and there's nothing to latch your ears on. No patterns, not the same interval progression, etc.

It's actually pretty tough to make it happen, since there are tons of restrictions, and usually it ends into a dead end, but still it's a nice little game I like to play from time to time.

Anyways, this piece is very much governed by a line, whose pitches never form repeated patterns of 4 notes! But I did allow them to create patterns of 2 notes (particularly the Eb-D in the bass). ;)

The rest is tonal triads in a very non strict fashion. And finally breaking away from the above system of lines and pitches and non repeated elements.

I did pick up a few things here and I always kept in mind that the theremin is very tough to come back to exact pitch, after a long break. So I decided to make the 'whole' thing (not the whole really), rather aleatoric (from alea, which means dice in Latin and is a technique with techniques pushing the performer into the place of hte composer, by letting various elements undecided or not exactly defined). Long glisses, etc... The sound world was already rather abstract with non repeated materials everywhere, so it did feel very strangely... "under the sea".

I was in Greece, when composing the piece and I did spend every day in the sea (yes I'm THAT lucky! :D). I love putting my head in the water and remain calm for as long as I can. But I'm always interupted by something. My kids, a strong wave, some sound ,etc. And I emulated this by breaking the strong pulse that the piece has (that of every 1/4). Otherwise it would simply be some kind of marching piece. Now it breaks unevenly (and what do you know, under non repeated patterns really), every once in a while and destroyes all rhuthm.

I knew that rhythm shouldn't be much of a problem for the theremin, and the piano is very defined in his attack, so no problem there, either.


Notation wise, as I said I know Finale like the back of my hand and love this little drawing that I can create with it.

Because of the uneven breaking of mos
Posted: 9/25/2008 5:04:01 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

[i]Like I could travel to his home, knock on the door and he would welcome me, uninvited! Which is not the classic British attitude you have to admit![/i]

Hmm. On the contrary. It's not the [i]modern[/i] British attitude, but there is still plenty of the country - not so much in and near London - where people still have the classic British attitude.

Thank you for a fascinating explanation.
Posted: 9/28/2008 3:08:48 AM

From: London

Joined: 6/5/2008


Didn't know that about modern vs classic British... :) Thanks for letting me know! I never took off too much out of London, went one time up to Midlands and that's all I'm afraid!

Now a bit of bumping (I hope you won't mind too much):

I posted a link to an mp3 with the solo piano version so you can all have a go, if you wish.

Thanks for showing interest!
Posted: 9/28/2008 5:44:21 PM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

I must own up to being the person who hosted the competition - the results have been published.

I'd love to record 'Sea' at some point in the future, even if only over the top of the solo part you've provided. It's an exciting work, which certainly exploits the capabilities of the instrument very effectively.
Posted: 9/29/2008 1:02:34 AM

From: London

Joined: 6/5/2008

Thanks Charlie. Glad to know the competition was finished. :) I do hope that you enjoyed the work! :) (Is there any way to get ahold of the winning piece? The score, etc?)
Posted: 10/23/2008 9:44:54 AM
Thomas Grillo

From: Jackson Mississippi

Joined: 8/13/2006

I've been looking over this work. I only have a couple of suggestions which would help a thereminist get their starting note right.

It's very difficult for thereminists (even with pitch preview) to cold start any work in which both pianist, and thereminist start at the same time.

It would help greatly, if you would write in a short intro which would end on the thereminist's starting note, and give a short rest to allow the thereminist to prepare.

On one of my youtube vids, namely the Half Hour Theremin Concert on Burns B3 Deluxe, I actually created an intro for some of the works by cut and pasting a short bit of music to the front end of the piece to give my self the intro I needed. Otherwise, starting a piece like Minuet in G would have been very difficult to start.

I wish you luck with Sea. It looks interesting, and I'd love to have a recording of the accompaniment to work with.
Posted: 10/23/2008 1:19:11 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

[i]"It's very difficult for thereminists (even with pitch preview) to cold start any work in which both pianist, and thereminist start at the same time."[/i]

Thomas' statement is quite true. In fact, it is all-the-more true if the other parts are recorded.

This has always presented a problem to me as a composer -- because I don't always want my compositions to start with intros. So how does one balance the practical need for an intro with a desire not to have one?

I'm kind of partial to my solution for the start of "Mummies and Unholy Ghosts" which is just a single note that sounds a minor third below the theremin's starting note. I will admit, this entrance is harder to play than it sounds -- I wrote it to challenge myself.

Another short intro is the intro to "Cowboy Song" --

In Cowboy song, I play an opening note on the dominate pitch (that is, on "SO") and the theremin melody starts with a couple of pickup notes.

In "The Sad Little Ghost" I felt the work demanded a relatively long intro to set the mood --

However, the theremin's starting note is NOT doubled in the accompianment.

In general, I don't like the intro to "reveal" the theremin's starting pitch. In fact, I don't like the accompianment to double the theremin's melody very much at all. This little obsession comes from (too many) years of accompanying amateur singers that go out-of-tune unless the accompanist "pounds out" their pitch for them.

Art is sometimes reactionary and my short-as-possible intros are, admittedly, a reaction against the more-common intro lengths.

Posted: 10/23/2008 1:36:21 PM

From: London

Joined: 6/5/2008

Just a small note about my work.

The first note in the score (the bass B, bellow the bass staff), was given to me as the lowest note of the instrument (from the performer who would perform the work). I don't mind the exact pitch of those first notes, and it can be the "lowest" pitch ever.

Bar 5 has a gliss and a fermata, which I hope is enough for the theremenist to pick up the right pitch (one 3rd major "lower" than the F# of the piano there).

Hope this helps a bit, as it was my thinking when writing the piece. ;)
Posted: 10/23/2008 11:20:33 PM
Thomas Grillo

From: Jackson Mississippi

Joined: 8/13/2006

Nikolas, I will certainly give that approach a try.

Kevin, I agree with you about works with too much melody in them. After my first year on theremin, I got sick of playing to so called accompaniment which spoon-fed the melody to me all through the work. I also "had" to ween myself off that kind of accompaniment very quickly in order to do the movie score properly. Those spoon-feeding accopms are great for me to learn my line with, but not for performing. That's why my latest vids don't have the melody in the accomp. They're "real" accomps, and that's why it's taking me longer to produce my vids. Being legally blind, I have to learn by ear, and memorize. But, I do like to have that first starting reference note. I like your approach to having a harmonic starting note, instead of the theremin's actual starting note. I'll have to give that a try.
Posted: 10/24/2008 4:00:04 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

One doesn't necessarily have to fish for the theremin's starting pitch. It may be easier to fish for a pitch that is up to three steps below the starting pitch, then use an aerial fingering position to get to the starting pitch.

Indeed, isn't it fun to play a melody without having it doubled in the accompaniment? Sounds like you are having a good time with it, Thomas.

The movie project was a lot of fun. I hope that I get to see (and hear) the movie soon :)

[i]-- Kevin[/i]

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