Bonding with the theremin

Posted: 8/11/2013 6:42:49 PM

From: Bowling Green, Ohio

Joined: 7/29/2013

but also one thing I've learned, is that what you feel ~ will show through your theremin playing. The theremin is totally translating your feelings. There is no hiding!


Well, I guess that would explain why mine always sounds so excited and curious so far! :)

Posted: 8/11/2013 9:01:51 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Hi Ben,

The first step of bonding with pretty much any instrument other than a theremin is tactile. You feel the weight of the keys beneath your fingers or the strings pressing against them, or the reed tremble against your lip, the pressure required of digits or breath to make different sounds, the disposition of your hands, your embouchure etc. etc. etc.

This is because, with most instruments, your relationship to them is primarily mechanical.

Your relationship with the theremin is capacitive - the playing fields are intangible and invisible. They can only be perceived with the ear. Explore them - discover the shapes of them - how the pitch changes with a movement of a finger, a hand, your whole body, near the pitch rod and far from it, how the side of the volume loop differs from the top. You want to build up hand/ear coordination - when you learn to ride a bicycle you lack the appropriate hand/balance coordination; you have to think about it consciously and that is too slow; the latency involved makes the bicycle hard to control - it needs to become instinctive. Similarly with theremin - the time between hearing a sound and correcting it with the hand needs to be as short as possible - no time to consider your actions - the audience will hear your uncertainty when you should be exuding confidence. 

Your relationship with the theremin is capacitive - your hands are capacitor plates, corresponding to the rod and loop shaped capacitor plates on the instrument. Between them they amount to two capacitors and you are a part of the theremin circuit. Electrically speaking, there is no distinction between you and the instrument. There is no physical contact, but the electrostatic connection between you and the rest of the theremin is far more intimate, more direct than with any other instrument. That, for me, is the beauty of it.

Posted: 8/12/2013 12:41:20 AM

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

"Your relationship with the theremin is capacitive " - GordonC

Absolutely! - IMO, this is what makes the theremin "magical" - And what makes it so different from every other instrument.

I remember my "playing" before I studied how precision thereminists played, before I watched Thomas Grillo's tutorials, and most important, before I attended some of Lydia Kavina's workshops and lessons... Although I understood the principles well on a technical level, the subtleties of how finely one could control pitch by slight finger movement, or how one could shift the register by moving the body, had not been obvious to me.

Prior to these "lessons" I had used my arm as the primary controller of pitch - But when playing "correctly" it becomes a whole different expierience - Everything - breathing (particularly at the bass end) body position, hand / finger movements - it all comes into play.

At a "metaphysical" (LOL) level, the "closed eyes" approach works well for me for tactile instruments, and leads to a "meditative" state - With the theremin, I find (or found - I rarely play these days) the whole non-tactile nature "meditative" even with my eyes open - and I think I need the visual feedback to compensate for the lack of tactile feedback.

To me, the idea of  "bonding" with the theremin is perhaps more about seeing oneself and the capacitive enviromnent (which includes ones position in relation to grounded objects including wires, amplifiers, speakers, walls, furniture) as a composite "enclosed" musical instrument.. In a way, there is no individual "theremin" - you are literaly a "component" in the environment - there is NO seperation between "you" and the instrument - more, I think, than any other instrument, "bonding" is not only important or essential, it is utterly and completely inescapable! You and the theremin are ONE - if this was not the case, the theremin cant work!

Re: Thierry's comments:

I dont completely agree with Thierry with regard to the idea that one MUST be proficient with another musical instrument or be musically trained in order to master the theremin - But in 2010 when I introduced the theremin to thousands of people who had never encountered this instrument before, it was obvious that the majority who took to it quickly were musicians who had mastered other instruments - And that Cello and violin players were those who were quickest.. but also those who were least impressed by what the theremin had to offer! (at the time I thought that they "just didnt get it" - But I now realise that it was probably me who "didnt get it" - Really, the theremin is so limited and requires so much effort even to exploit its limited sonic potential, that I can now fully apreciate that a skilled cellist or violinist would deem this awkward limited monophonic instrument a waste of effort - ok.. the "theremins" I introduced them to were pitch-only, and I suspect they may have been slightly more positive if they had encountered a real theremin - but I still think most would have been unimpressed)

However there were some who had no formal musical training and only dabbled with other instruments, who took to the theremin like ducks to water.

I do think that taking the words of any person as "gospel" is always folly - Clara was a mortal, with her own personality and matrix of causal determinants.. Yes, she was the greatest thereminist who has ever lived, but IMO this does not mean that everything she said about the theremin MUST be true for everyone! (just as I dont believe everything said by Lev Therermin or Bob Moog or Albert E can be regarded as absolute truth) In my mind, this becomes a "blind faith" devotional type of relationship and gets really silly if carried too far....

There are a few thereminists who have musical knowlege and can play one of the "required" instruments, but who's theremin playing is IMO greatly "inferior" to other thereminists who have no formal musical theory training and cannot play any other musical instruments - and sometimes these "superior" thereminists have played the theremin a fraction of the time that their trained "competitors" have been playing..... I am particularly thinking about one thereminist here at TW whos only instruments are the voice and the theremin....

I would really like to see an end to this Clara nonsense - I think it does her a disservice for her words to be taken out of context - Sure, quote her.. but dont turn her into some high-priestess whose words are imbued with ultimate truth.. We even get crackpots and fraudsters claiming to have been given spiritual insights into the voice of her theremin.. Dont let her words be used to bar the "disqualified" from the "upper ranks" of the self appointed theremin elite!

I agree with Thierry about "customisation" but would not go as far as calling it idiotic.. I would just say that I feel it would be an unwise action to start with, for reasons given in my last... A lot depends on the degree of customisation - painting or varnishing your theremin after checking your coating is ok should be fine.. putting your theremin in a new box though probably aint such a good idea (at least, not until you have gained some familiarity with the instrument first)  - I remember recently an extremely expierienced thereminist here at TW having problems moving an EW into a portable case.. This was someone who had probably read every TW post since they first started, and he got it badly wrong! ... Someone who has only been into theremins for a few weeks is at higher risk!


Technical.. Not about "Bonding":

"but the electromagnetic connection between you .." - GordonC

Alas, I must be pedantic here - The field which causes the theremin to operate is not electromagnetic - its primarily (exclusively or almost exclusively) electrostatic.. You (the player) are a ground-coupled plate of a capacitor linked to all the other grounds in the theremins vicinity - As you move, you change the coupling of the composite ground plate to the other plate (the pitch or volume antenna) ..

Shock and awe:

One of the profound things about the theremin (to me) is that it demonstrates our interconectedness to the hidden physical world - gives "substance" to the unseen interactions we are not normally aware of - Every day, as we get in and out of our cars, walk under power lines or even change our clothes, we are moving through or generating electrostatic fields far greater than what we encounter when we become part of a theremin circuit - but (apart from when we get so highly charged we get a painful static discharge) we are not aware of how our environment is influencing us, or how we are affecting our environment... We arent aware that we live inside a capacitor (our atmosphere, with -ve plate at ground, and +ve plate at about 300,000 Volts at/above the ionosphere) except when we see the dielectric break down during thunder storms.. We are not aware of the huge electrostatic potentials caused by triboelectric effects across clouds, or that as we ascend towards the ionosphere (in aircraft or whatever) the voltage of our environment increases by 100V/m decreasing to about 10V/m at 3km where it is 200kV! - We live in a the dielectric of a massive, highly charged capacitor! - Our activity with theremins is like playing with tuned ripples between rocks on the ocean floor whilst entirely unaware of the currents in the ocean above and around us.

There is a whole world of energy we are mostly utterly unaware of, and have no control over - but "swim" in all our lives.. The theremin gives us access to a teeny bit of this, and allows us to use these fields to make music! Much as I have come to doubt the theremins viability as a really useful musical instrument, the above still makes it an awesome invention IMO!


Ps - I will be away for a while - possibly an extremely long while (but I hope not).. But my name will drop off the "recent posts" page probably for the first time since I signed into this madhouse! ;-|)

One other thing Ben - (and welcome to the TW madhouse BTW! ;-)  --- I have heard it said that you dont choose your theremin - it chooses you.. I thought this was just nonsense when I first heard it..

But I am no longer so sure...

Posted: 8/12/2013 10:01:42 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Fred wrote: Alas, I must be pedantic here - The field which causes the theremin to operate is not electromagnetic - its primarily (exclusively or almost exclusively) electrostatic

Thank you for the correction, I have amended my post accordingly. I was groping for "electrostatic", but could not bring it to mind. Possibly I settled on "-magnetic" because I am attracted to the theremin (in a non-literal sense) and because "-static" feels inappropriate for such a dynamic relationship.

Posted: 8/12/2013 10:38:12 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

Fred wrote:  I have heard it said that you dont choose your theremin - it chooses you.. I thought this was just nonsense when I first heard it..



Fred, I think this is a misquote of something I wrote a number of years ago. What I said was, "You don't choose the theremin. It chooses you." (PLEASE NOTE: I did not say "your" theremin).


This was not an attempt to anthropomorphize the instrument and give it a conscious will! It was purely a reference to the way the theremin has an immediate and lasting fascination for some people (such as myself) while others, although they may be briefly amused by it, are unable to take it seriously and consider it nothing more than a useless, vintage musical gimmick.


Thought you might get a kick out of the following new video I posted to YT last night. It is a comparison between the sound of the the Moog Ethervox, the Etherwave Pro, and two RCA's.


Your up-coming absence from TW sounds a bit mysterious. Don't stay away too long. You will be missed.




Posted: 8/12/2013 10:50:53 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

And I thought you were riffing on the Russian Reversal meme.

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