Gordon's Progress

Posted: 10/18/2005 8:13:03 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

My first theremin, a Kees Enkelaar, arrived today. DiggyDog suggested over in the Roll Call thread that I make the occasional posting as to my progress, and I am happy to oblige.

So here goes with initial reactions.

I was not disappointed on opening the box. It was lighter than I expected, so no worries about putting it on my mike stand, and the finish is really good. It has a reproduction period piece feel to it, and really deserves a matching wooden stand rather than a modern black tubing mike stand.

Plugged in a battery and hooked it up to my Marshall MS-2 micro-amp (it's tiny) switched it on, twiddled knobs and it made noises. Went to Kees' notes on the laptop, followed his instructions for tuning it, and it worked as advertised. Hurrah!

By golly this is fun. I experimented with emulating a police siren - fairly easy - found an appropriate distance to move my hand after a minute or so, but really hard to maintain it accurately for anything more than a couple of woos.

Wolf whistle... fiendishly difficult to get both hands to do the right things. Occasionally I found a bit of it. I'm going to have to work on that.

Clangers (a classic British children's animated sci-fi - the Clanger's voices were slide whistles, played to a written script) pretty easy to get a clangeresque sound, harder to make it talk, but could be a good exercise for the volume hand, and if I can make it talk I'm one step closer to making it sing.

Twittering birds: (i.e. high pitch fast vibrato) - this is easy - as I opined in Roll Call the best way to get a fast, tight vibrato is a hand position and movement with which the majority of people are intimately familiar. A little trickier is simultaneously dipping the left hand in and out of the ring to give a panting intonation to the voice. I have yet to consider low moans beyond a cursory tryout, but that too seems feasible, so that's a step towards recreating that scene from When Harry Met Sally.

Well, for a while I considered this (as one would), and then I thought about an idea I met on Theremin World - World Thereminisation, and I thought "Sex sells." The world may not particularly need yet another sexy pop video, but the idea of a moodily lit video of an attractive young thereminist in a suitable decollete dress making a theremin sing like Donna Summers doing Love to Love You Baby, having adjusted her gestural techniques to emphasise the sensual nature of the instrument and echoing the emotions of the song in her facial expressions sounds like it would be popular to a fairly broad audience. And, with a bit of luck, just sufficiently suggestive to be banned outright in those areas of the world where a more delicate sensibility prevails, which is always good for ratings. ;-)

So, back to play. Lets plug it into my iBook, to which ends I had purchased an UA-1A USB Audio Interface - a very basic entry level device, the iBook not being equipped with Audio In. I powered up garageband and, after a bit of fiddling with preferences obtained a very faint sound from the theremin. I think I need to feed the signal through my amplifier first, but that requires another cable, so next time I go to the shops in Watford. Might be a while. :-(

Still, enough signal to play with a bit. I had found a neat little $5 app called WaveWindow to turn my mac into an oscilloscope, so I now know that the sine-wave setting produces a sine-wave, and the saw-tooth setting chops the bottom off it. I also got another app at the same time that indicates if a note is on pitch or not, but that is for later on.

I did not play long with garageband, but I boosted the signal with it to fairly audible levels on my usb headset (yes the ibook does have a headphone socket, but I wanted a mike on it for skype) and I learned that it responds well to some filters, and not so well to others. (From photoshop I have learned that some filters require particular sorts of images
Posted: 10/18/2005 9:32:06 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

When Peter Pringle plays seated at his Etherwave with his left and right feet on control pedals, the first thought that came to mind was "rudder pedals".

I wonder if one would slip when playing in a cross-controlled manner? (if you get this you are probably a pilot)

Well, at least if one makes a REALLY BAD mistake on a Theremin the earth will not rise up and smite thee a mighty blow!
Posted: 10/19/2005 9:31:52 AM

From: Jax, FL

Joined: 2/14/2005

Great post, Gordon.

In the words of Obi Wan Kenobi, "You've taken your first step into a larger world."

OK, that's a bit melodramatic but it sounds like you are on your way to becoming hooked on this instrument.

Good luck!
Posted: 10/19/2005 6:42:51 PM

From: Liverpool, United Kingdom

Joined: 7/20/2005

well done dude, ive said it before on here and i'll say it again, your life is about to change !!! obsession here you come haha :)
Posted: 10/19/2005 7:15:27 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Sounds like you are having a great time with your new Theremin.

For the bird-singing sound, you might try a "chicken peck" hand position and open and close your fingers rapidly. It produces a cute, trilling bird sound kind of like the wacky singing birds in the "Tiki Room" (Disneyland).

The "wolf whistle" ("sweee, sweee-ue")is difficult because of coordinating the volume hand with pitch. The secret to this is after the slide up to the first whistle (the "sweee"), you must hold a steady note at the top while instantly bringing the volume back to zero. Doesn't matter which note ... just gliss up to it and HOLD it while instantly turning the sound "off". The "swee-ue" is easier, though. You might try the same technique (in slow motion) that Pamelia Kurstin uses for the walking bass so that you can rapidly mute the volume after the first "sweee".

You will likely discover that the Theremin will seem less unstable the more you practice it. You will develop your preferred place to stand, your preferred posture, etc... and it will all work out. (I did enjoy reading your analogy with fighter jets - btw)

Keep us posted on your progress and observations.
Posted: 10/19/2005 8:56:20 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Hi guys,

Let's see. kkissinger, my first thought was, "and if you give him a broom."

I'm not a pilot, but I can google. I think this is: "Never show a child an ice cream when he's running for a ball. The body starts to move towards the ice cream in opposition to the direction the feet are still heading and the child will effectively stall and spiral towards the ground."

Perhaps not a mighty blow, but one's 14 year old son might well say "I hear you're playing The Cat Strangling Song again."

Thank you DiggyDog and sinno. Hooked. Obsession. Yup, I've got a bit of a tendency towards fixating over my interests. Fortunately my family are very good at giving me real-world things to interrupt my building up a real good solid obsession over anything.

Which reminds me - the family have accepted it very well. I keep my practice mostly to when they are at work and school. Laura has been having little goes of it between her regular after-school activities and Alex grinned excitedly, had a good old go of it and stuck his head back into wikipedia. Maya commented on the quality of the construction and had a quick wave of her hands. Then it was dinner time and business as usual.

Also I had the fun of telling people - a couple of the local mums I bumped into - they know what I'm like too, so they no need to ask why buy a theremin: "it's Gordon" is sufficient answer. :-}

We did the traditional "what's a theremin" "you know the soundtrack to The Day the Earth Stood Still? Wooeeeoooo. You don't have to touch it." "Oh, one of those." "It's a serious musical instrument too." "Uh-huh."

"The player is actually a part of the instrument in a very literal sense." That caught their attention. "You are half of a capacitor."

Now I must apologise for perhaps not showing respect, but I explained the original method of playing as; wearing a corset and neck brace, patting a small child on the head and playing darts. The description of the modern method was pretty much the same innuendo as in my previous posting, complete with guidance rated mime and sound effects. (Like I said - they know what I'm like - I've been hanging out with the local mums for years.)

Anyway, I shall be continuing to play a little most days. I'll make the occasional addition to this thread from time to time if no-one objects and I have something new to report, but I expect the pattern won't vary much for a fair while.

Also, got to choose a stage name. not that I plan on going on stage, just part of getting into the mindset. As a teenager I favoured naming a band Itsapo Tato, for no particular reason, but now I would equally like a theremin portmanteau word. Best I have come up with so far is TherEminem, but that's not a sort of music I want to make.

Posted: 10/20/2005 6:58:57 AM

From: Netherlands

Joined: 10/5/2005

Hi Gordon, thanks for that stuff about Wave Window and Audio iterface etc. I need to check out 'waveform'-once I've cleared a space.
Posted: 10/20/2005 4:14:57 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

A quick observation from today's play. It's not just about distance from the pitch antenna and when you move from note to note - it's also about how you move - not just velocity but also acceleration and possibly jerk and yank as well. That was why I was having trouble with the police siren. The pitch of a British police siren varies sinusoidally, which is the horizontal component of a circular moving path, so I described a circle with my hand and - bingo - a convincing and sustainable siren. And a bonus - it became easy to add a Doppler shift and vary the volume accordingly because you can describe a circle at a constant speed without having to think about it and let the trigonometry of it provide the sine wave...

(Having done this for a while I discovered it was easy to switch to a horizontal movement and maintain a fairly decent siren for a few cycles. As if my arm had learned the horizontal component.)

Now I think about it I should be able to improve the wolf whistle by figuring out what curve to describe when varying the pitch.

Posted: 10/20/2005 8:48:02 PM

From: Ypsilanti, MI, USA

Joined: 9/29/2005

Dude, thanks for posting your initial thoughts and feelings after getting your Kees. Mines on the way and I'll likely be consumed by it beautiful strangness as well.
I wish I could offer some help on the line level problem you had with your iBook. I've used a Roland DR-550 and a 660 through the line in on my Powerbook with out any problems (using both Garageband and Peak). Maybe instead of using your amp to boost the signal, try another usb micpre such as the M-audio one Apple sells from the store. I would stay away from Griffins iMic though. It's utter rubbish.
Posted: 10/21/2005 10:56:24 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

That'll be the M-Audio MobilePre USB Audio Interface? 99.95 UK Pounds. Looks good - especially the zero-latency monitoring - the lag that garageband introduces is going to be a nuisance. But at 100 notes it'll have to wait a while.

Yup, the iMic is rubbish. I rather foolishly bought one a couple of years ago. That was my first and last griffin product.


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