Bonding with the theremin

Posted: 8/7/2013 8:13:18 PM
PBOCAT_Ben

From: Bowling Green, Ohio

Joined: 7/29/2013

Hi, all.

 

As a newcomer to the instrument, I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions or advice for beginning the journey of playing? I mean as far as mental/psychological ideas/rituals one has with playing. For example, I personally like to spend a few days just playing around with any instrument and becoming a bit attached, if you will. I like to see the instrument as something more than just some object I can bang on (or not, in this case) and make sound.

Anyway, if anyone had any thoughts to share, I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks!

Posted: 8/8/2013 2:30:03 PM
coalport

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

Hi PBO,

 

I have a suggestion but first of all, do you have a theremin? If you do, what sort of theremin is it?

 
Posted: 8/8/2013 7:58:02 PM
PBOCAT_Ben

From: Bowling Green, Ohio

Joined: 7/29/2013

Hello, there.

I do, in fact, have one. It's a standard Etherwave model in black. I mostly run her through a mixer and then directly into headphones as to keep quiet and not disturb anyone while I gain experience.

Posted: 8/8/2013 11:59:17 PM
coalport

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

PBO, did you build your Etherwave theremin yourself from a kit, or did you buy it already assembled?

Posted: 8/9/2013 2:02:08 PM
PBOCAT_Ben

From: Bowling Green, Ohio

Joined: 7/29/2013

I purchased it pre-assembled.

Posted: 8/10/2013 12:07:43 AM
Jason

From: Sammamish, Washington

Joined: 2/13/2005

Congratulations on your purchase!  My advice is to spend some time just holding a single note steady at a constant pitch and volume as long as you can.  Try it with your eyes closed too.  This will help you get a real feel for how sensitive the instrument is to any slight motion and can double as a meditative exercise. 

Posted: 8/10/2013 3:11:01 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

"and can double as a meditative exercise. " - Jason

Works best for this if you are facing east...  (LOL - Only joking! ;-). I do think the closed eyes excercise is a good one - not sure about the word "bonding" - but its something like that - When I had a synth + effects + mixer etc setup, I would spend time playing with my eyes closed, and repeated this whenever I added or moved or took any equipment off the the keyboard stand or rack - For me, building a mental "map" of where the keys and knobs etc were.. And yes, once one has this "map" (and while aquiring it) playing (or even just sustaining a note and changing its volume or timbre) was something I found amazingly meditative.

I have no idea if the above actually helps "bonding" with the theremin or is a good way to get into playing one or to bond with one - I think that for me, "bonding" and designing/building merge - As with synths I have designed / built - even when utter rubbish, the extra familiarity one has with the instrument makes your creation supreme - but only for you!

Fred. 

Posted: 8/10/2013 1:37:07 PM
coalport

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

PBO, I have some suggestions for "bonding" with your theremin. 

 

First of all, I think it is a help for newcomers to the instrument to build their own theremins from a kit. This gives you some knowledge of the "guts" of the device and how it all works. You have purchased your instrument already assembled, so what you need to do now is to make it your own by customizing the box.

 

Paint it with motifs that mean something to you personally. If you're into the Celtic tradition, cover your Etherwave with intricate knotwork designs. If yoga is your thing, cover it with bright illustrations of the gods & goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. THE SKY'S THE LIMIT! Put your own distinctive stamp on it, and take your time and do a really good job. Even if all you do is enamel the instrument in your favorite shade of yellow, or dark forest green, this will make it distinctively YOURS.

 

What I usually do whenever I get a new theremin.....or a new anything.....is to take the thing apart. I don't recommend this unless you are really good at remembering exactly how to put it all back together again. Lots of people have taken their Etherwaves apart and put the innards into brand new housings of their own design. I've seen Etherwave theremins transformed into everything from raccoons to flying saucers.

 

My advice is CUSTOMIZE!

 

(Sorry, there is no "ritual", no prayer to Saraswati or Baby Jesus, no ceremony or supplication to your animal guide to the great god Apollo, that will bring you closer to your theremin or make you a better thereminist.) 

Posted: 8/10/2013 5:14:22 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

" You have purchased your instrument already assembled, so what you need to do now is to make it your own by customizing the box." - Coalport

IMO, Customising is best only done after you have played a bit with your instrument and got some feel for it - And I think this is particularly true for the theremin. Assuming your theremin is working reasonably well (is correctly tuned etc) I think it is useful to first establish what is "normal" operation before you mess with anything - because otherwise you wont know if your customisation has had any detrimental (or positive) effect on playability or sound.

With most electronic musical instruments (synths etc) it is quite simple to take the guts and transfer them to a upgraded enclosure - you can take a Yamaha mini keyboard synth for example, and fit a full size keyboard and change the switches and actuators and sockets, and create a full size monster, without much likelyhood of getting weird problems..

But with a theremin, just moving anything or  changing the track of one wire, or adding a couple of screws, or painting the box with the 'wrong' paint, can completely change its behaviour and at least require re-tuning of the inductors.

In the end, I think it all comes down to how you are "tuned" -

If you are technical and understand the processes (particularly capacitance) involved, you should not have too much trouble..

If you are "instinctively technical" or have loads of patience and are systematic and rational, and can follow instructions given on-line regarding tuning the EW - and can gain the "understanding" to allow you to re-tune the instrument, you should be ok.

But if you dont have the above qualities and plough into building a box and customising your instrument, then you do risk ending up with inferior operation.

Looking at Coalports wonderful creations and customisations, it is clear to me that he is HIGHLY skilled in these arts - Skilled in the crafting and integration of mechanical and electronic parts to create something truly beautiful and functional...

But all of us are different -

The above is not meant to be discouraging - I think Coalport's idea is great and certainly believe that familiarising yourself with the stuff that makes your instrument and learning / understanding / customising it is by far the best way to "bond" with it and get the best interaction with it.

But I also advise caution - I would avise small steps, starting by getting familiar with it in an unmodified state.

Fred.

Posted: 8/10/2013 10:53:03 PM
Thierry

From: Colmar, France

Joined: 12/31/2007

Since the theremin should not be one's first instrument as Clara Rockmore, the grande dame of the theremin said, because it is very difficult to master, you should make sure to master another music instrument, preferrably the violin, first and to refresh your knowledge in music theory and history.

The next step would be taking lessons and study the instrument methodically (as you would do with any other music instrument if you have serious intentions).

Taking the instrument apart or customizing it is a complete idiotism IMHO. Only fools would do that with a violin, a bassoon or a grand piano. Why then treat the theremin less respectful?

I'm really frustrated to see such advice given here (also from people who often mention their "inner Clara"), as if the theremin was only a toy for freaks and geeks. That was for sure neither the intention of its inventor Lev Theremin, nor was it the point of view of the world's best player up to now, Clara Rockmore.

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