Theremin and jazz?

Posted: 2/15/2012 1:24:21 AM

From: Hillsborough, NC (USA)

Joined: 2/13/2005

Private messaging is on the backlog to implement in the site :)

Posted: 2/15/2012 2:21:27 AM

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

Joined: 12/17/2010

I'll message your privates...

Juuuuuuuuuuuuust kidding! :)

Posted: 5/15/2012 7:52:59 AM

Joined: 5/15/2012

Sorry if I'm breaching any etiquette raising a thread this old or speaking out of turn as new as I am, but I think I have something relevant to contribute to this topic.

I've been playing the theremin all of a single day, but I was picking out the melody of "Ain't Misbehavin'" with some guitar accompaniment just to see if I could today, and obviously it wasn't perfect or even good, but I could really see how this instrument could be used in some jazz, especially early jazz more concerned with the emotional content of the music than technical sophistication, if approached with the right attitude.  It has some qualities of the human voice, the fiddle or violin, and the trombone, and can be played in the power range of a trumpet with a similar timbre.  Yeah, it can't do all the things any of those instruments do, but I don't see how it would be impossible to fit right in playing one in a jazz combo, recognizing and respecting the theremin's strengths and limitations.  It's expressive enough in its own way, and has its own unique sound to contribute to a combo.

I can see where coalport is coming from, judging by what has already been done on a theremin in a jazz situation, but I really think the problem here is more about the approach of the players than the instrument itself.  Maybe being so new to the instrument gives me a different perspective compared to the very experienced among you, so I may see possibilities here that would be more difficult for someone to see who has already had their dreams smashed.  Of course maybe that means I'm more likely to be wrong as well, but I always have trouble believing someone who says something "can't be done" artistically.

Theremin as a jazz instrument would work, in my very humble opinion, if it was approached less as a substitute instrument for a part written for an already established lead instrument, and more as a theremin, with all the theremin's quirks, by a talented theremin player who already has a good feel for jazz.  In my experience with arrangements for unconventional instrumentation, that's usually the way to avoid having the piece sound cheesy, karaoke-like, flat, and soulless.

Posted: 5/15/2012 11:08:34 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

"Jazz" is a word that covers a tremendous variety of genres and subgenres from Dixieland to Neo-bop. The theremin would probably fit quite naturally into something like "Cyber Jazz" or "Avant Jazz".

For years I have heard people (mostly noobs) valiantly defend the theremin's ability to play all sorts of music because they can hear it clearly in their own musical imaginations. I think that's great, because if it is going to happen at all, it's going to happen first in someone's musical mind. 

The field is WIDE OPEN. Go for it jo!

Posted: 5/15/2012 6:00:23 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 . ...................................

Joined: 12/7/2007

"I think that's great, because if it is going to happen at all, it's going to happen first in someone's musical mind."


In fact, I suspect that everything which is created, is created at least twice - first in the imagination, and then, if possible, in "reality".

(perhaps one possible exception to this is children)

Posted: 5/16/2012 1:13:30 AM

Joined: 5/15/2012

I'm taking you up on your challenge, sir.  Maybe not having developed good habits yet will put me at an advantage for this particular skillset.  My intonation is loose, my volume hand is pumping at a normally unacceptable level, and the thing is sounding a fair amount like a fiddle in the highest two registers, a trombone in the next one, and an upright bass in the last two, and the level of expression I can pull out of it instinctively is pretty exciting to me.  I'm really feeling the jazz in it, like having begnets and chicory at Cafe du Monde at four in the morning with a belly full of Chartreuse and the Saints winning an away game. A little big French, a little big Afro-Carribean, a little bit lazy and a whole lot loose.  Maybe I'll stick something on youtube in a couple of weeks when I'm feeling like I have it down to a listenable level.

Posted: 5/16/2012 1:17:01 AM

Joined: 5/15/2012

And if I can succeed at making it jazzy enough, next time I'll tackle some early rhythm and blues, then rock'n'roll, then ska, then punk, then 2nd wave British metal, then Norweigian black metal, then I'm not sure what comes next yet.

Posted: 5/16/2012 11:36:20 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

The theremin jazz performances I have heard that have been more or less successful have consisted of arrangements in which the jazz element has been provided by other instruments, such as the piano, while the theremin plays in a fairly traditional theremin style. 

As for Norwegian Black Metal, that is one of the most violent and bloody of musical cult phenomena that we have seen in the last fifty years. We often think of the Norwegians as placid, organized, cool-headed and rather conventional. Then we are surprised by the actions of Per Ohlen (lead singer of MAYHEM) or Anders Breivik. How could such things happen in Norway?

Lurking beneath the calm surface of the modern Norwegian lies a wild Viking marauder! 

The theremin in the award-winning Norwegian film THE BOTHERSOME MAN, was played by none other than Levnet's own Howard "Uncle Howie" Mossman. The film suggests that one should not be fooled by the contented exterior of modern Norwegians because, on the other side of the wall, there's a THEREMIN!




Posted: 5/16/2012 3:40:20 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Finland is the metal centre of the world. It spills over into Norway.


Posted: 5/16/2012 5:52:21 PM

Joined: 5/15/2012

The theremin jazz performances I have heard that have been more or less successful have consisted of arrangements in which the jazz element has been provided by other instruments, such as the piano, while the theremin plays in a fairly traditional theremin style. 

Maybe for my arrangement I'll try to keep the accompaniment to the minimum necessary to stay on pitch and on beat, and play the theremin in a more jazzy style then, and we'll see what happens.

I've been practicing this number ("Ain't Misbehavin'") for a couple of days now after I get bored with scales and arpeggios, with my girlfriend alternating between guitar and piano, just playing the chords or bass notes at a steady shuffle.  What I'm getting out of the theremin, my noob mistakes aside, is a performance somewhere between a vocalist, a fiddle, and a trombone, in a style unmistakably more jazz than "fairly traditional theremin style."  I'm putting my guitar and saxophone experience into it I guess, knowing where and how to bend which notes, where to glide and where to go more stocatto, etc. 

When I feel confident with my ability I'll post a video, but keep in mind this is day three of my theremin career.  I think I've heard Thomas Grillo say to take about a year before you expose yourself to the public, but I do feel like I'm making progress pretty fast, so we'll see.


As far as black metal, I could see more minimalist, melodic trem-picking guitar lines (like Darkthrone) translating pretty well to theremin with the appropriate effects.  My goals as I see them at this point are to progress through a few numbers from each genre I enjoy in roughly the order they emerged in history, then start composing in whatever style comes out at the end of that.

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