Aerial Fingering II

Posted: 12/14/2007 11:05:43 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

[b]To correct a pitch and steer a Starship[/b]

One of my favorite movies is "Galaxy Quest" and one of my favorite scenes is when they take their new Starship for its maiden voyage. The pilot, unfamiliar with the controls and the ship's handling, veered off course towards a scrape with the wall of the space dock. The rest of the crew members, seeing the upcoming scrape, start cringing and leaning to the side as if their action will magically "drive" the Starship away from the dock's wall!

When I listen to my practice recordings, there are times when I hear a note and my throat muscles start to tighten and I may even grimace a bit -- trying to push that note on to pitch. The effect of an uncorrect pitch makes me feel "edgy" -- as if a suspended dissonance has never been resolved. Why would someone else or I hold a note that is a little off pitch rather than correct it to pitch?

I think this stems from the fear that the correction will be unpleasantly noticeable. Turns out that nothing is farther from the truth. To play the theremin requires constant attention and minor corrections to pitch. I have learned to let go of this fear and steer every note to the center as best as I can.
Though a note may start a little off center, to correct it resolves the situation and lends a pleasant fluidity to the musical line.

The strategy here is simple: Correct every note that needs it -- even if the correction is audible to the listeners it is a much better effect than just to hold the note without correction.

Back to "Galaxy Quest", the pilot stubbornly held the incorrect course (as if no one would notice) and the crew's cringing got worse as the ship ran way off-center, scraped the docking station, and emerged with a long dent down the side of the ship. Imagine the sigh of relief that would have resulted had the pilot made the correction!

The theremin is similar, even if trained listeners "catch" the correction, the correction will stop the "cringing" and produce that relaxing "sigh".

[i]-- Kevin[/i]
Posted: 12/15/2007 12:13:38 AM

From: Connecticut

Joined: 10/10/2007

I loved that comparison, great way of putting it!
Posted: 12/15/2007 4:04:19 AM

From: Redmond, WA

Joined: 9/1/2007

I agree, that is brilliantly explained! Good one, kevin!
Posted: 2/12/2008 11:38:43 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

One of the decisions that confronts me when playing the theremin is to control whether a gliss is noticeable or not.

The knuckle extensions of aerial fingering mask the glisses very well whereas arm movements tend to produce audible glisses.

Thus, when playing passages wherein I want the gliss to be heard, I generally hold a constant finger position (i.e., 1st position) and move my arm instead. Besides the use of the arm, I deliberately listen for the gliss such that I really hear it from end to end. My goal with this is to avoid rushing.

Why is it important not to rush? Two reasons come to mind.

The first is that my own glisses sound exaggerated to me while I am playing. I discovered this from playing and then listening to the recordings. Glisses that seemed too slow while playing sounded "just right" when listening to the playback. One's sense of time can become exagerated while performing because one is so focused on the task at hand.

The second is that to gliss to a note is preferable to [i]overshooting[/i] a note. Overshoots are always noticeably clumsy compared to a slight undershoot+correction.

[i](Listen to Clara Rockmore's recordings -- she tends to undershoot+correct a lot. In fact, I consider this part of her distinctive style.)[/i]

Indeed, to gliss all the time starts to give a "slide whistle" effect. However, when it suits the music, glisses are a beautiful and effective part of the theremin's unique sound.

[i]-- Kevin[/i]
Posted: 5/10/2008 9:22:23 AM

From: Kingston, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

I've been focusing on the "gliss" a lot lately.

Thank you for all these thoughts.
The tuning of the volume antenna is a big factor too. I've been adjusting it wider (more counter-clockwise), Masami Takeuchi uses a very wide volume field. I haven't been able to get the same effect yet on my instrument, but even the new setting are giving good results.

The wider tuning encourages more gliss and longer phrases. I hadn't expected the advantage to hitting the pitch but Kevin's right, it can be musical and help accuracy without over shooting the note.

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