Gordon's Progress

Posted: 11/2/2005 5:53:15 AM
GordonC

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Time for an update.

I didn't get many opportunities to play over the school half term holidays, but I did manage to buy another cable and a power adaptor. The adaptor doesn't work well with the theremin - it stopped making that pure tone and got all dirty. Not what I wanted. But it powers my tiny amp just fine, and I have bought packet of rechargeable 9 volt batteries for the theremin which work fine and give me one less thing to connect to the mains.

Of course we got it out for Halloween. At first I hid in the hallway and made with the eerie wailing when trick or treaters came, but after positive feedback from five out of five callers I relocated to the driveway (but still hiding a little bit behind our car.)

This worked well, although I suspect we were perhaps a little scarier than the occasion really demanded. Permit me to paint a brief picture. Alex, my son, is 14 but tall enough to pass for 17. He was wearing a Texas Chainsaw Massacre latex mask and wielded a plastic kitchen knife with built in shower-scene-violin effects. He spent much of the time with his arms and legs akimbo, hopping maniacally from foot to foot. Laura, who is four and has something of Wednesday Adams about her but with long curly black hair sat on a low wall by me, in a floppy witches hat and black Hogwarts cloak. I wore black and concentrated on my playing. The overall effect was very David Lynch - specifically we would not have looked out of place in say Lost Highway.

All the feedback we got was positive, with the possible exception of one teenage girl who shouted something indistinct to us. From the tone I am guessing it was something she felt witty. As she turned away I switched from ghosty stuff to doing a police siren. She jumped and spun round and I drifted back into the Halloween theme. Ha.

Yesterday I connected the computer successfully. As I premised, feeding the output through my little amp first did the trick, although I think I might have the wrong cable - pushing the jack right into the socket didn't work - I had to pull it out half a centimetre until I felt it gently click into position. Also the sound comes in on channel 2 (according to garageband - Apple's entry level music application) so I'm thinking maybe I should have got a cable with stereo jacks. Still, it works, and that's fine.

As it has no theremin settings (what a surprise) I went for voice effects - first on the list of presets is "Ambient Vocals" - really good - very Whale Song.

Tried pitch correction. (Darn it - why did I have to mention that song by Cher - they played it on the radio two days later. Now I know it is called Believe. Another fact I have managed well enough without.) Anyway, pitch correction full on sounds like that. Turning it down until the stepping is not quite perceptible is probably the way to go most of the time - just to tweak the tuning a little but not get in the way.

There is a definite lag introduced by going though the iBook. I think the term is Latency. Well I've got it and I'm not mad keen on it. Perhaps I want to take some of the processing out of the computer and into hardware. But I have a better idea what I want now.

Delay and Reverb are good - they fill out the sound well, and compression seems to make the tone richer - I'm not really sure what compression does but I like a bit of it. A lot of the stuff that is good for guitars - giving that grungy hard sound with pops and distortion - isn't so hot. I don't like chorus and phaser, flanger and wah don't do anything I want at the moment. So that brings my shopping list to - delay, reverb, compression, pitch correction. I suspect the last of these does not fall into the minimum budget category. I had a quick look on the web - Danelectro Mini Effects pedals seem to offer what I am looking for in a Christmas present price-range. I'd love to hear what people think of them qua theremin usage.

Gordon
Posted: 11/2/2005 9:16:41 AM
DiggyDog

From: Jax, FL

Joined: 2/14/2005

I have run my theremin thru many different effects pedals and processors before settling on the Art SGX-2000 multi processor and a Zoom 508 delay pedal.

You might try taking the theremin to your local music store and trying out a few.

To get rid of the latency problem you will need either a professional sound card or a USB interface.

There are too many on the market for me to reccomend one.

Posted: 11/2/2005 11:30:12 AM
Edweird

From: Ypsilanti, MI, USA

Joined: 9/29/2005

I agree on the latency advice and would also add this: If you've been running the iBook for a while with the same OS that came preinstalled for longer than a year, you may be able to fix some of the issues with an archive and install of the OS. I do this once a year with my G4 now and it's helped. I run MOTU gear so all the audio is run from a sound card and rack mount a=>d converter.

BTW I just got my Kees last week, but haven't had much time to not touch it yet. ;-)
Posted: 11/13/2005 7:55:36 PM
GordonC

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

What have I jumped headlong into?

I played to passers-by on Halloween. Now I'm booked for a children's party next year. Wednesday was Studio Night at camera club, so I posed with my theremin. Naturally it was switched on. The idea of booking me for the next club show, with a paying audience, was mooted. Laura insisted I bring it to school, so on Tuesday I'm demonstrating to a class of four and five year olds. Sounds fun but scary!

Not half as scary, apparently, as what I actually want to do, which is to commit myself to a recording. I appear to be allowing circumstances to become obstacles and generally putting-off whenever possible.

I have a few ideas. The plan is to sample myself and construct a pastoral soundscape from bits and pieces. I am thinking of whale-song, sparse at first but gradually building up into an ambient drone. I envisage this as a platform to garnish with brief bird trills and cheeps, while through the midrange wanders something fragmentary - snatches of a dimly remembered tune caught on the wind.

The other part of the plan is not to stick rigidly to the preliminary sketch, just to use it as a departure point.

I am prevaricating - I know why, it has happened plenty of times before - I'm leaving it on the back-burner - letting the pressure build up until I can't contain it and it just explodes out of me, or until I think of a better plan, whichever comes first.

Also because I want to do something that will astonish me - that I can listen to and think "gosh - did I [i]really[/i] do that?" - but as a critic I have [b]opinions[/b] and that makes it a bit daunting for a beginner.

Hopefully I'll get over my recording nerves soon!

Gordon
Posted: 11/13/2005 8:03:33 PM
GordonC

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Also, settled on a stage name, for the time being...


[b]beat frequency[/b]



Gordon
Posted: 11/13/2005 9:22:31 PM
Edweird

From: Ypsilanti, MI, USA

Joined: 9/29/2005

I can understand the recording jitters. I've had my Kees for a couple weeks now and I couldn't begin to imagine recording with it yet. I've figured out how to get from the highest note to the lowest note and back again, so I feel like I've made some progress. I just need to slow it down and gain some level of control. :-o

BTW I had a session with some of my (high school/college) students this weekend and I got to show off the theremin to them. They dug it pretty hard. I wouldn't be too afraid of the little ones. They'll be so fascinated that you won't have to really look like you know what your doing. ;-)
Just have fun with it.
Posted: 11/14/2005 2:00:43 PM
DiggyDog

From: Jax, FL

Joined: 2/14/2005

Gordon,

I have been toying with the idea of doing a theremin demo atmy son's school.

I may call the music teacher and see if she is game.

I would want to do it in a way that lets the little ones try out the instrument. (Get them hooked at a young age...)
Posted: 11/14/2005 5:08:48 PM
GordonC

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

I'll try to post tomorrow and let you know how it goes.

Gordon
Posted: 11/15/2005 8:44:49 AM
Jason

From: Sammamish, Washington

Joined: 2/13/2005

I'm looking forward to hearing how it went. I've done a few demos for elementary school kids, and it's like pouring sugar straight into their mouths. They go wild! Poor teachers... I think it's best to warn them ahead of time that theremins cause hyperactivity and wild excitement :)

I envision a version of "The Music Man" with theremins instead of band instruments: "We've got Trouble... and that starts with T and that stands for Theremin!"
Posted: 11/15/2005 7:57:10 PM
GordonC

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Before I get to how it went at school, I have had another thought...

One of the apparent difficulties with the theremin is lack of tactile feedback - one relies on only one channel - hearing - to find the note. (Visual feedback - not good, one may be looking at a conductor, or sheet music or the audience, and the angle of view from the hand to the pitch aerial is not ideal, particularly if you hold your hand up high.) As I believe any pilot would tell you (well, one told me, anyway) two channels are better than one.

So, methinks, if we can't use touch, how about proprioception (the sense of the position of parts of the body, relative to other neighbouring parts of the body - how come you can touch your nose with your eyes closed) - all it requires is a simple twist in thinking - instead of your moving your hand towards and away from the pitch aerial, think of moving it away from and towards your chest, so that proprioception can kick in.

I note this involves a paradigm shift - the instrument is no longer 'your hand in relation to the aerial' it is 'your hand in relation to your chest' - previously I supposed that you became a part of the instrument in the literal sense of being a moving capacitor, but in this new way of thinking the body is the whole of the instrument.

So henceforth (he says, with a mischievous grin) I shall imagine, when playing, that I have pinched between my thumb and forefinger a particularly long, fine and surprisingly elastic chest hair, and that the theremin senses this and emits a sympathetic cry, which becomes higher in pitch as it imagines my discomfort increases!

Now, on to my show and tell.

If you have a mind to do it, I say go for it. Be prepared to emerge dazed and confused out the other side - at that age (4-5) the classroom is a busy, busy place. But very gratifying - Jason is right, the kids love it!

Things I have learned:

It's no good just saying "It's an electronic instrument" - also say "so I'll need a mains socket and a small table for my gubbins." It would make things run a little smoother.

Be accurate in your estimate of how long it takes to set up. Fortunately Miss McGrail filled in wonderfully with pretty much the same opening discussion I had in mind - What instruments can you think of and how do you play them. How do you think you might play this one?

After I had played for a couple of minutes teacher asked them about how the music made them feel and what it reminded them of, and I continued playing, more quietly, while they answered.

Like being in outer space. Science fiction. Underwater. Scary. Goosebumps. It makes my tummy feel funny. And, from the look on their faces, if they had the vocabulary and a good handle on their emotions, they would have added; enthralled.

Then the class scattered to various activities, and two children at a time were dispatched to me. Stand on this box, this makes it louder and softer, this makes low notes, middle notes, high notes. Make little movements and try wobbling your hand, and stand back for a while, and down you come. And repeat.

Tip. At this age two goes are better than one. They don't tend to wonder about duration. ;-)

Another thing I learned. Make sure your amplifier is up to it. Busy kids are really very noisy.

Another tip. I had decided to take along my ibook and was routing the signal through it, and giving it the ambient vocals treatment - essentially bags of delay and reverb. So I got wave-window, my little oscilloscope, up on the screen showing Lissajous figures (straight out of '50s sci-fi!) from the source sound. This gave the waiting children (soon enough two by two turned into a random stream) something to look at rather than pester for their turn, and most of the kids realised their was a relationship between the sound and the pattern.

Do not expect to be informed. Suddenly Miss McGrail held her fingers up and wr

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