Roll Call - 2012

Posted: 6/17/2012 5:24:13 PM

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 2/17/2012

Hi everyone!

I'm a semi-retired EE, working on a (mostly) digital Theremin - so far it's coming along about as well as could be hoped.  Once that is mature (currently bogged down in the DIY processor backwaters) I'm hoping to move on to a hand-held drum controller.

If anyone is interested in digital piano sound technology reviews, I've done quite a few over on my Piano World DPBSD Project.  (With few exceptions, DPs are looped and stretched and have few velocity layers - i.e. total dogs in the sound technology department.)

I don't really play Theremin very well (I do play the guitar and sing, and made it through the first book of an adult piano method) but I've only recently been exposed to the various techniques of the excellent players here, which should aid in my learning immensely.

TW is a really great group of extremely knowledgeable people - thanks so much for hosting this site Jason!

Posted: 6/22/2012 5:48:27 AM

From: Goomalling, Australia

Joined: 6/20/2012

I remember in the 1970s I had a copy of a publication called "Electronics Australia" that contained an article which explained how to make a (light based) theremin. I didn't have the skills, the tools or funds to make this thing, bit I used to like reading the article and spent happy times trying to imagine what type of sound the device might make.

I can't recall when I was finally able to make an association between the sound and the instrument itself but I would have been very young. I daresay it was as a result of some DJ passing on the urban myth of the Beach Boys recordings.

All I remember about The Day it Came to Earth is that the robot scared the bejeebers out of me. And still does.

Since then I've been through music schools, instruments and any number of bands. I read an acronym somewhere on this forum which describes me but unfortunately I can recall it or find it. Something like Middle Aged White Honky Eclectic Musician. If there is an acronym for it I can't be in the minority here.

I bought a Gakken Premium Theremin just to see about how I felt about the whole thing before making a bigger financial commitment. I'm glad I did because it gave me a better idea of what is involved that I couldn't get from videos. The other thing is that I live in an extremely sparsely populated area so there was no way I could have walked down to the local music shop and check out a theremin.

Like many before me I went and bought an Etherwave Plus. It didn't really sound like I imagined a theremin should sound, but I am delighted with the sound nevertheless. Not only that but was over the moon when I discovered that the Oberheim OBSX I've got that had been gathering dust because of a faulty keyboard could be triggered by it.

I found that I could pretty much play it straight out of the box. Not like a pro of course, but I am a conservatorium trained piano major and can tune pianos by ear. So I have the advantages of knowing music and knowing where the pitches that I am aiming for are supposed to be.

Of course it is all slow and portamento at the moment so I don't overshoot the pitches and I need some left articulation so the bridge on Somewhere Over the Rainbow doesn't become some sort ambulance siren thing, but I can see that with some work I will be able to get to use the instrument in my recordings - which is the purpose for which the instrument was purchased.

I don't know if I will become a regular poster here, but I thought I would take the opportunity to participate in the roll call. My name is Adam and I come from an isolated part of Western Australia. I eke out a living as a recording engineer and a performer of celtic harp.

Thats about it for now.



Posted: 6/22/2012 11:12:41 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

Good God, Adam! It's no wonder you have to "eke" out an existence if you are a Celtic harpist and recording engineer in Goomalling! On the other hand, you are living in one of the most beautiful parts of the world (I've never been to Goom but I have been to Perth and I loved it.)


I just watched a couple of your vids: "HOW TO RECORD THE HARP" (like you, I am also a harpist and thereminist) and NICE MUSIC & PRETTY PICTURES (and it was, and they are).

Unfortunately, there are no "transferrable skills" acquired on other instruments that you can bring to the theremin. The hand/ear coordination needed for precision theremin playing is unique to the instrument. You do, however, have an excellent ear for pitch and, as Clara Rockmore put it, you have "music in your soul", so "you will find a way to do it".

You mentioned that you bought an Etherwave Plus but found it didn't sound the way you thought a theremin should sound. Would you like to change the timbre of the instrument, or at least have the option to change it? How would you like it to sound? There are many things you can do to alter the tone and bring it closer to what you want without modifying the instrument itself in any way (as a sound engineer I's sure you already know this and have made your own experiments). 

I recently discovered that an RCA theremin whose sound I have always disliked can become an enchanting "electronic tenor" simply by inserting an ELECTRO-HARMONIX Talking Machine between the instrument and the amp. It transforms the sound in ways I would never have thought possible. As you probably know, Leon Theremin himself experimented endlessly with all sorts of peripheral devices (most of them of his own design) which he used in his early theremin demonstrations to delight his audiences. 

Be fearless! Try everything! And rest assured that if you share your experiments with this forum, you will get an honest and well-informed response to your efforts. 


Posted: 6/22/2012 2:14:42 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Hi Adam, 

"Space is the Place". Lovely, lovely, lovely. I can see some theremin fitting very well into your ambient work. Tip of the hat to Sun Ra in the title?

Other than that, everything coalport said, seconded.

Posted: 6/23/2012 11:33:43 AM

From: Goomalling, Australia

Joined: 6/20/2012

Thanks for the warm welcome guys.

Coalport, yeah I am probably in the wrong place. Every weekend I drive to the nearest tourist town and do street performances for donations and sell CDs. I will get the odd gig and studio booking from that, sort of advertising I suppose.

Thanks for watching the videos, the Pretty Picture one was really made for the stuff I sell to tourists  - you would be better checking out "Galarnad am y Ferch Cimwch" to see what I am into. I have seen a number of yours and am subscribed to your channel. My favourite is the one with the kantele. I enjoy the sense of theatre that you get with your videos.

As for the non transferable skills, you are probably right although at least I can hear where the notes are supposed to be. I think when I am watching many of these youtube guys they don't know what the note is they are aiming for in the first place. So far I am finding it to be very much like playing golf. Its generally ok but sometimes you have to go and fish the ball out of the lake.

Already have been plugging the theremin through all sorts of other devices. I've seen your clip (or were there 2) with the talking box. It sounds really cool although I think if you did a whole album or concert with it, it would become like Frampton Comes Alive after a while. I have a Korg vocoder here that takes outside sources so I'm going to try it with that next week.

If you make it out here again be sure to look me up.

Gordon, I hadn't seen your videos until today - for some reason they don't come up in the searches. Its very interesting what you do. I've only watched the two clips because I had to go out and play but plan on watching everything there. What is it about Bill and Ben that make people think of illicit drugs all the time I wonder?

"Space is the Place" was made for a group of people who are sure not to get the Sun Ra reference. A nice lady helped me get together some gigs for a tour so I owed her a favour. They were having a astronomy fair in their town and had no ambient music.

I hate to disappoint you, but its the only piece of avant garde music I've ever done and as a working musician it is unlikely I will do another in a hurry unless its a paying job. I must say though it was so much fun and I can understand why people do it now. In any case, I'm glad you like it.

Now I will try and get you organized on all those social networking things.

Thanks again, will be back on the forums with questions.

all the best


Posted: 6/23/2012 7:38:53 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Nope, not disappointed. Impressed. So many people out there have been making that kind of music for years and still you can hear that they don't really "get it". 

Posted: 6/23/2012 9:49:20 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

Adam wrote:  "I think when I am watching many of these youtube guys they don't know what the note is they are aiming for in the first place...."

You are absolutely right, Adam. This is particularly true with people who are playing classical pieces by ear. They often do not know what the notes are, and they are playing "by the seat of their pants". This is fine if your audience doesn't know the notes either, and this is frequently the reason why people who play rather badly are hailed as BRILLIANT.

Theremin player and teacher, Kip Rosser, posted a video recently - "A TIP ABOUT READING MUSIC" - in which he pointed out that no matter how well you think you know the notes of a classical piece you love, if you check them against the written score you will inevitably discover you are making mistakes you were unaware of. This is one of the rare times I agree with Professor Rosser. 

Adam continued: "The Talking Machine...It sounds really cool although I think if you did a whole album or concert with it, it would become like Frampton Comes Alive after a while..."

This is true of the theremin in general. The instrument, as remarkable as it may be when it is played well, is a "one trick pony", and once you have done that trick a couple of times it becomes tedious. I think this is one of the reasons that Clara Rockmore, when she shared the stage with other artists (such as bass baritone Paul Robeson), instead of playing the entire first half of the show like an "opening act", would alternate after each composition, back & forth, with the headliner.

The pony's one trick works better if you interrupt with a chuck wagon race every few minutes.

The problem boils down to the fact that the expressive capabilities of the theremin are severely limited when compared to the human voice or other monophonic instruments. It cannot change timbre, it sounds vaguely vocal but it cannot express lyrics, it cannot play connected notes that are separated by much more than a fourth, and it isn't capable of a true "staccato" or attack. It has no repertoire of its own beyond some rather obscure compositions by little-known composers and even those pieces require a level of virtuosity that only a tiny handful of thereminists have attained.

All this sounds rather negative, but I think it is realistic. 

There is a contingent of theremin supporters that has always maintained that "the theremin is limited only by your own imagination!"

This level of enthusiasm is admirable, but these people are wrong. The instrument has many inherent limitations that no degree of imagination, no matter how creative or zany it may be, is going to be able to overcome. 

As someone once said of the elephant ballet, "It is not the beauty of the dance that enchants us but the fact that the great beasts can do it at all."

Posted: 8/16/2012 5:24:45 PM

Joined: 7/30/2012


I can't remember when I first discovered the theremin or how (it was probably Led Zeppelin) but I'm glad I did.

I started playing a single ariel theremin I bought from theremin planet about three years ago and I used to sing and play it in a rock band called Heck Tate until I managed to break it around a year ago (our shows could get a little lively and it fell on the floor one too many times I'm afraid).

I recently purchased an etherwave and I am starting to try scales and develop a style that is more refined to the one I used previously which was heartfelt but haphazard. I have it going through a loop pedal and an echo pedal but I'm doing my best to use them minimally whilst I try to learn to play.  I'm finding the tutorials by Thomas Grillo and Kip Rosser extremely useful and enlightening.

Posted: 8/16/2012 5:47:13 PM

From: In between the Pitch and Volume hand ~ New England

Joined: 12/17/2010

Welcome BigJon!

We all started somewhere right? I am glad you joined us... Grillo's videos are really helpful :)

Posted: 8/29/2012 2:57:07 PM

From: Rome, Italy

Joined: 8/29/2012

Hello everyone!

I discovered the theremin just a few weeks ago but it has been love at first sight :) now I'm waiting to get my hands on an etherwave plus (it should arrive next monday) and start practicing...Since this website was very helpful in my decision of trying to learn this amazing instrument, I took the opportunity to participate in the roll call.

My name is Jacopo and I live in Italy, where I earn a living as a physicist and financial mathematician. I hope to post soon again in order to share with you my first problems and maybe get some hints.



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