Must we always look like zombies when we play theremin?

Posted: 12/4/2012 2:34:00 AM
FredM

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

" I have finally given control to my brain and I trust that it knows what "i am supposed to do" pitch wise... and hopefully, it is correct :)" - Amey

Amey -

I think you know that you are one of the "chosen few". You have (IMO) all the "inate" ability required, and are earnest and hard working enough to devote the required effort to mastering the theremin.

IMO, you dont have the "zombie look" because your brain is not continually going into "overclocking" in order to process pitch / hand coordination.. In fact, what you say is effectively that you have realised that your brain can manage pitch control as a (predominantly) subconcious process.

Fred.

Posted: 12/4/2012 3:42:39 AM
Amethyste

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

Joined: 12/17/2010

Hey Fred :)

Not sure if I am part of the "chosen few" as I sometime want to ram the pitch antenna in my eyeball when practices don't go the way I want them to go. So I just turn my theremin off and walk away. It is not worth the frustration :) I think one of the reason why I love to play the theremin is: Life is such a fast pace. You wake up, get ready and go to work. Never stop until your day is done (i have a part time job as well so sometimes, I don't finish until 8pm). But when I play the theremin, i get to live "in the moment". I feel every second that goes by and I feel alive when I am one with my intrument. It is such an indescribable feeling of time suspension!

Though, I think at first I did look like a Zombie ~ luckily, recording yourself while playing is a great tool in correcting blank stares, bad tics and the sorts!

 

 

Posted: 12/4/2012 6:10:20 AM
FredM

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

"I sometime want to ram the pitch antenna in my eyeball when practices don't go the way I want them to go." - Amey

LOL ;-) .. No, ive never felt at all inclined to do anything like that (pain aint something im into! ;-) - But I have at times felt the strong desire to snap antennas, attack the theremins with an axe or chainsaw, gather my mountain of technical scribbles and make an inferno of them, and format all the drives and disks on which my years of notes ans simulations are stored..

But who knows - If my primary objective had been mastering precision theremin playing, maybe I would have wanted to ram the antenna in my eye..

Posted: 12/4/2012 7:16:19 AM
Jason

From: Sammamish, Washington

Joined: 2/13/2005

This is why I highly recommend the official Theremin World "Don't poke your eye out" antenna ball :)

 

Posted: 12/4/2012 11:47:25 AM
coalport

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

Fred: "bias" towards the 'tangible' elevates the importance of precision...."

Fred, it is my impression from what you have written that technique (i.e. "precision") is less important for you than it is for me. Without technique, all those wonderful "intangibles" you refer to cannot be communicated. 

I watched a theremin performance recently given by an excellent, professional musician who is relatively new to the instrument and was not quite ready, from the technical standpoint, to perform the composition he was playing.

He was beautifully accompanied by a small orchestra, and all the timing and phrasing were in place, and the performance certainly contained the all the elements of a sensitive, "soulful" rendition of the piece, but none of that came through because of the basic lack of precision. Fortunately, the theremin "novelty factor" prevailed and everyone was thrilled.

Years ago, I got into bit of a scuffle with British thereminist "Hypnotique" when I pointed out that a particular performance was seriously off key. Hypnotique responded by saying "That's YOUR opinion!"

Here's the interesting thing. There actually is an element of OPINION when it comes to subjective assessments of pitch accuracy. For someone who does not naturally possess a highly developed sense of pitch, the performance was brilliant. Such people are not at all disturbed by an off-key musician because they are unaware that the musician is off key.

The theremin attracts an inordinate number of these people, who are able to find a level of satisfaction with the instrument that is impossible for those with a keener sense of pitch. 

A number years ago, I designed a test for the Levnet subscribers that consisted of a number of interpretations of a simple familiar melody, each one of which was slightly flat or sharp of the accompaniment. On a scale of one to ten, I asked people to listen to the recordings and gauge how far flat or sharp each performance was. I did not use a theremin because I had to control the degree of variation to the cent.

What I found was that not only did opinions about pitch vary greatly, but opinions about how much deviation was acceptable varied as well. There were those who said, "Gee, it sure sounds fine to me!" and others who said of the same selection, "It's a little bit sharp of the accompaniment, but not enough to bother me. I really liked it." Then, of course, there were those (like Charlie Draper who was about 16 at the time) who said, "I couldn't listen to this because it's about ten cents sharp and it made me feel slightly woozy!" (a "cent" is 1/100 of a semitone).

What I am saying here is that there is a highly subjective component to what is otherwise a measurable, objective level of precision.

Posted: 12/4/2012 12:13:59 PM
coalport

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

The more passionate you are about the theremin, the more angrily and even VIOLENTLY you will react to your inability to control it to the level of your own satisfaction. 

Clara Rockmore, in an interview about learning the theremin said, "Playing the theremin is bloo.......it's not easy."

It is obvious she was about to say, "Playing the theremin is blood, sweat and tears" but decided that such an expression was indelicate and unladylike. 

She was right the first time!

Posted: 12/4/2012 1:57:56 PM
Amethyste

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

Joined: 12/17/2010

Yep, I have those outbursts of un-lady like behavior where the cats and the dog will run 100 mph trying to bolt out of the room where I am having my meltdown. luckily it, doesn't happen too often, but when it does, i am sure my neighbors hear me cuss like a sailor! I am a very passionate person and when i am shaken, the house knows.

Posted: 12/4/2012 4:02:46 PM
RoyP

From: Scotland

Joined: 9/27/2012

Um... Doing my bit to minimize zombie looking performances here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2dB4M7KbYE

- Thomas G

 

Thanks for that wee ditty Thomas and congratulations for looking almost human :-)

One thing that was obious from your video is that not only did you not have a glaikit expression on your face (you even cracked a smile at the end) but you had the audacity to move a little as you played: something which new commers to theremin playing are most fearful of...

Yeh, ok, I appreciate the importance of being stationary during playing but...

Posted: 12/4/2012 5:25:18 PM
dewster

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 2/17/2012

"(a "cent" is 1/100 of a semitone)"  - coalport

True!  Fun facts:

One semitone = 2^(1/12) = 1.50946...

One cent = 2^[(1/12)*(1/100)] = 2^[1/1200] =1.000577789... or ~0.06% or ~600ppm.

That's the 1200th root of 2!

If the threshold of our perception is a deviation of ~3 cents (debatable?) then our ear can detect ~0.2%, which ain't bad for a device that is essentially a slab of meat (including the processor).

Posted: 12/4/2012 6:22:05 PM
FredM

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

"Fred, it is my impression from what you have written that technique (i.e. "precision") is less important for you than it is for me. Without technique, all those wonderful "intangibles" you refer to cannot be communicated." - Coalport

I agree.

But I dont think the matter hinges so much on a persons ability or inability to determine pitch deviation, I think it is probably more to do with what level of deviation they can accept before it becomes bothersome enough to "overpower" the enjoyment they get from the "intangibles".

And I do not think this "threshold" is fixed for any individual (or at least its not "fixed" for me) - I think that the genre probably influences it.

In fact, I think that there is some music where tight pitch "correctness" may even be "detrimental" - The interaction of slightly "off-key" pitches produces some (IMO) wonderful "fat" sonic "structures" (particularly with high harmonic waveforms from electronic instruments) which, in certain genre, are IMO essential. (IMO, this is one of the things which gives old analogue synths the edge on early digital synths - VCO frequencies are often drifting several cents apart, and are completely free phase to each other - the frequency / error relationship is often different for each VCO, and non-linear - So as the VCO's follow the control voltage, the harmonics produced vary hugely - At some point the error can become unpleasant - But this error if far greater than would be tolerable for a precision thereminist playing a classical piece)

But for most music I certainly agree that the tighter the pitch, the better the rendition - provided the music has the "intangibles" to give it "life". There is a narrow band within which the "tangibles" and "intangibles" must fit, and if either drops below some "threshold" (which I am sure varies from person to person, and is not constant across genre) then the music becomes less enjoyable or even annoying.

But I prefer to listen to theremin music right on the "threshold" than to listen to some manufactured pop which has perfect pitch due to autotuning.

Fred.

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