What theremin models give a throatier or human vocal sound, not a whistle?

Posted: 2/27/2011 12:28:16 PM

From: Tucson, AZ USA

Joined: 2/26/2011

* * Edit: My smooth vocal sound develops in this later "theremin tease" (http://www.thereminworld.com/forum.asp?cmd=p&T=4914&F=1) thread * *

I am developing interest in this instrument for my wife after listening to 'Song of Grusia' (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmsx4oPy8nA&feature=related) a video of Clara Rockmore. Does her instrument sound that beautiful or did they process the sound in those days in some way?

I would spend a $1000 usd or more while I would like to first find "unprocessed" samples of particular theremin models somewhere.

Theremins seem to be like street racing here in the USA, you don’t get to know what is under the hood, you don’t know if the engine is stock or what accessories have been added.

I thought Paia might be a nice build to play with but now after the good advice of Fred or Thiery I would enjoy hearing a few of their sound samples and possibly purchase something new or rebuilt from one of them.

I listened to one west coast model in my price range which will go nameless out of respect but it sounded like a mouse getting its nuts squeezed off next to a guitar player. For that price I would think there would have been more than one demonstration to promote the product.

Clara had pure organic richness in her sound and "I want it", I am not talking about her wonderful gift of playing, though I am sure they go hand and hand.

Thanks in advance
Posted: 2/27/2011 8:12:18 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

Touchless, you hit the nail on the head when you said you recognize that Clara Rockmore's wonderful gift of playing went hand in hand with her instrument. Clara's theremin is unique. It was created specially for her by inventor Leon Theremin himself, with Clara guiding him every step of the way.

Clara was already an accomplished violinist, and she knew exactly what she wanted from a theremin. Sadly, she was forced to abandon the violin (an instrument on which she had been concertizing since childhood) because of an injury to her bowing arm. She later said, Lev Sergeievitch Termen "saved my musical life".

No other theremin sounds quite like Clara's instrument. I have heard it played by people other than Clara and frankly, in their hands, the instrument does not have the magic we hear on Clara's original recordings. The instrument was bequeathed to one of Clara's students who has posted some videos of herself playing it, to YouTube. I think you will agree, as gifted as she may be, she ain't no Clara Rockmore. But then, no one is!

Clara's Theremin (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90CFw9Ags4g)

Posted: 2/27/2011 8:27:55 PM

From: Eastleigh, Hampshire, U.K. ................................... Fred Mundell. ................................... Electronics Engineer. (Primarily Analogue) .. CV Synths 1974-1980 .. Theremin developer 2007 to present .. soon to be Developing / Trading as WaveCrafter.com . ...................................

Joined: 12/7/2007

The quest for the ultimate theremin sound - LOL! ;-) .. I do not think there is any "fixed" sound which will make everyone happy.. so I have spent the last 3+ years developing a theremin with tone adjustment possibilities I hope will cater for all 'tastes'.

If I was to write about all the technical aspects which influence theremin sound, I would probably crash this site! ;-) .. But I think there are some fundamentals - These are my opinions only.. I may be wrong!

1.) Wave-shape (harmonic content) must vary as the pitch varies.. But should not become "gross" at any point - Usual mechanisms by which this is achieved include oscillator syncing at low frequency difference, syncing producing an increase in harmonics, which reduce as frequency increases.

2.) Ideally, harmonic content should also be slightly affected by volume level.

The harmonics from oscillator syncing only affect the audio output on purely analogue theremins - Mixed signal or digital theremins must vary their harmonics by some other means..

Other forms of deliberate (and often pleasant, but also often quite often horrid) distortions of the post heterodyned audio waveform can change the 'base' charactaristics of the tone - with a theremin like the EW, both syncing and adjustable distortion are at play.

My approach is different - my focus has been on pre-heterodyne wave shaping.. One has independent adjustment on the levels of the first 5 harmonics, and also each harmonic can increase or reduce as a function of frequency.. I was planning control over 16 harmonics, but this was nightmareishly complex, and I find 5 harmonics are sufficient for a good audio pallette.

But the biggest discovery I made was when I accidentally introduced frequency modulation on my H1 (pitch only)"theremins".. Feeding the audio signal back in an adjustable way, and causing this to modulate the variable oscillator frequency, gives astounding richness to the tone - this modulation can be taken from before or after the VCA, allowing it to be constant or volume dependent.. It is real easy to do.. Simplest way is to vibrate the theremin at the audio frequency (bolt a speaker or one of those audio transducers to the bottom of your theremin and drive it hard!) (This is not the way I am doing it - but there will be a microphone input to allow FM from acoustic sources such as a speaker playing the theremin sound - or voice or whatever).. This causes the antenna to vibrate, causing frequency modulation.

My theremin modules will be available by Aug.. I will be launching them at Hands-Off 2011. I had intended them to be on sale by now - but made a big mistake of having some extremely special inductors made in China (they were the only quote I could afford) The samples were great - but the parts supplied did not match the samples at all (one winding had inductance of 15uH rather than 85uH, for example) .. I cannot get anyone to make these parts before July - So I have been forced to redesign the boards to use other parts.

Drop me an email (<- see picture) and I will keep you informed.. I might have modules available before Aug..

Posted: 2/27/2011 11:56:16 PM

From: Tucson, AZ USA

Joined: 2/26/2011

Thank you Coalport for the link, Dalit is beautiful and her style of play is interesting but it does miss the mark. Could it be hidden in the early tube designs the sound I must have? Fred your research is exciting; if you have something in the works I will be interested. I am still looking for sound samples.

My wife’s family has all the musical talent and it was her nephew Jimmy that brought her attention to the theremin. He passed at age twenty eight. He always spoke of touching perfection with musical instruments. I did not like some of his bands lyrics but he became popular here in the states. In his band he was the Rev. He had multiple instrument talent but I never got to hear him engage the theremin.
Posted: 2/28/2011 5:39:24 AM

From: A Coruña, Spain

Joined: 9/26/2010

As coalport said, the instrument you see in that video is the very same one that Clara Rockmore used to play. So if you think that "the sound you must have" is Clara Rockmore's but not the sound in that video, then what you want is not hidden in the tubes... it's in the performer.
Posted: 2/28/2011 7:10:02 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

Ninety percent of the charm of any musical instrument is in the player. Ten percent is in the instrument.

A fine instrument will not make a poor player sound good, but a fine player can do wonders for a poor instrument.

Of course, not everyone is going to agree on exactly who is a fine player. I was talking a couple of weeks ago with a young guy in a local music shop who was in the process of buying a classical guitar. There was no one else in the shop at the time, and the young guitarist - who wanted an objective opinion - asked me which of the three instruments he was considering, sounded best to me. Frankly, they were all mass-produced instruments and none of them sounded particularly good. I picked one out and said (jokingly) I liked it best because it had a hint of Andres Segovia's sound in it. He had never heard of Segovia.

If you want a theremin to have a "human vocal sound" you not only have to have an instrument that can potentially give you that particular timbre, but you need to shape the sound the way a human vocalist sings. Modern synthesizers and samplers can reproduce the sounds of every conceivable instrument but in order to do it convincingly they must be played by the musician within the parameters of the instrument they are designed to emulate. You can't take the sampled sound of a cello and play it as if it were a piccolo and expect it to sound like a cello. The range, sonic characteristics, and expression of a cello must be respected. Of course, in order to do this, you are going to have to know something about the cello.

The following quote cannot be repeated often enough!

"People expect to go over to the theremin and IT PLAYS. No! It takes hard work, sensitivity, sensibility....attention to detail. You have to learn it and it's not easy. The music comes from the heart, the mind, and years and years and years of the study of music." Clara Rockmore

Posted: 2/28/2011 9:28:47 AM

From: Tucson, AZ USA

Joined: 2/26/2011

Coalport Said:
[i]“Ninety percent of the charm of any musical instrument is in the player. Ten percent is in the instrument.

A fine instrument will not make a poor player sound good, but a fine player can do wonders for a poor instrument.”[/i]
- - - - -
Your words are true wisdom. It first reminded of Israel "IZ" back in Hawaii who use to take a not so fancy ukulele and mesmerize a crowd.

I did find Dalit’s playing very good but I think the way it was recorded may have changed the acoustics. It appears the difference could come from several variables, if Clara was able to step in immediately afterword; I could make a better evaluation.

[i] “If you want a theremin to have a "human vocal sound" you not only have to have an instrument that can potentially give you that particular timbre, but you need to shape the sound the way a human vocalist sings.” [/i]

The above makes sense. There is a lot for me to research, I am patient. Though I am newer to Youtube it may reveal some good information. I am happy I was saved from putting together the kit I was thinking of, it may have wasted time and not given any reward.

Finding sound samples is all I can go on for now, how to get “the sound I must have” in the instrument I would purchase will take time. I would imagine others must also want it but maybe not. I cannot fully accept that it is just Clara, something else also changed.

I hope those html codes work
Posted: 2/28/2011 10:26:42 AM
Jeff S

From: N.E. Ohio

Joined: 2/14/2005

Obviously, there IS a difference between the skills and playing styles of Dalit and Clara, but...

That is still one fine sounding instrument!

On another note...

While not an ideal recording, here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iokXM9zChaQ) is an example of another theremin worthy of consideration. Unfortunately, they are no longer available for purchase - you must build one. Certainly not an easy task, but there are several people who can help.

Here (http://www.neidlinger.us/twilight.mp3) is another audio example. And, here (http://www.neidlinger.us/keppinger.htm) is a peek "under the hood" (or, "under the bonnet" if you're from across the pond).

"...it sounded like a mouse getting its nuts squeezed off..." (in regards to the Wavefront Classic)

Ouch! That seems a tad bit harsh. Perhaps, you would find this timbre (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C29ajLVc-fQ) a little more pleasing.
Posted: 2/28/2011 12:15:40 PM

From: A Coruña, Spain

Joined: 9/26/2010

It's a pity that Clara Rockmore didn't leave us any recordings playing an easily attainable instrument like an Etherwave Standard. That would be enlightening as to how large the player's influence can be.
Posted: 2/28/2011 12:56:59 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

Clara considered the Etherwave standard (as it existed in the early 90's) to be a toy. Bob Moog tried to interest her in endorsing it but she politely refused.

Since that time, the Etherwave has evolved considerably (and sadly we have lost both Bob and Clara).

Personally, I think it is wise for newcomers to the theremin to invest in a good entry-level instrument (like the Moog Etherwave) rather than taking the leap right from the start and building or buying a very sophisticated instrument. You just don't know what you are going to want until you have been playing for a year or so.

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