Theremin and Tuning Plugins

Posted: 9/24/2014 11:50:18 AM
rkram53

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 7/29/2014

Fred,

Your comments are absolutely on target with my thinking as well. Pitch Correction and manipulation plug-ins (there are plug-ins that just transpose for example) are invaluable aids in the studio for all instrumentalists and singers.

However, real-time pitch correction for performance is of little value for a beginner as they will be so far off correct pitch that they will encounter many problems with the tuning programs throwing them off to notes they don't want or even expect.

A professional will have the same issues for the reverse reason. Yes perhaps the real-time tuners can tighten up their tuning, but with an instrument like the theremin, where pitch manipulation and vibrato can be used to great expressive effect by the thereminist, the real-time tuners can become their enemy as well (of course these things can be controlled externally or maybe by a foot pedal so a performer might want to turn them on when they want it in operation).

That leaves using pitch correction as a true effect - and there is a lot of value there for experimentalists...

And using it as a training-aid, kind of like a game trying to play without having the pitch correction kick in starting with a slow quantization kick point and moving it faster to practice. I see great value here too and this is where I am going to try using it for a bit.

But the bottom line on real-time pitch correction for the theremin is: Whether you are a beginner who is on the edge of correct pitch due to inability to stay in tune or a professional who is on the edge of correct pitch at times because that is what is needed for expression due to a wide vibrato or slow glide or other effect, pitch correction has just as much the chance to pull you off-track to an unwanted note as it does to gravitate you to the desired tone. It's a dangerous mine field to tread.

Anyway that's my view on the subject.

Rich

 

Posted: 11/5/2015 3:06:11 PM
dewster

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 2/17/2012

I ran across this today while killing time at Sweetwater:

It's a presentation of a Boss VE-20 vocal pedal, with a brief Theremin demo at the end (which starts around 8:00).  Pitch quantization ala the Theremini is shown first, then pitch correction.  I wish he'd spent more time demonstrating the latter, but it's interesting nonetheless.  The pitch correction telltales are quite subtle.

And pitch quantization really demonstrates to all who are watching how linear the playing field is.

Posted: 11/7/2015 6:10:03 AM
Jason

From: Sammamish, Washington

Joined: 2/13/2005

Interesting. I like the subtle pitch correction demo at the very end, though my untrained ear couldn't quite tell that it was truly in tune.  I think I'll "buy/borrow" one of these from the local Guitar Center to try it out first hand. (I really dig their 30 day return policy)

Posted: 11/8/2015 2:44:38 AM
dewster

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 2/17/2012

Jason, please do report back on the experience.  Never really thought of using a vocal processor with a Theremin, but it kind of makes sense. The absolute best way to do pitch correction is between the antenna and the sound source, rather than after the fact, though I suppose we "hear" pitch correction all over modern recordings and the resampling doesn't seem to jump out in any way (other than just about every singer suddenly possessing freakishly perfect intonation).

Posted: 11/8/2015 11:11:32 AM
coalport

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

Recording artists have been using pitch correction devices for years. When they first started to come into common use in the studio, the units were manual and the producer or engineer would adjust each note that needed correction by hand. Back in the mid 70’s, when I lived in L.A., I was overdubbing on an album for one of the most successful female vocalists of the day. The artist herself was not in the studio that night, and I watched her producer “tweak” the vocal track in order to fine tune it. When he finished, he turned to me and said, “Whatever you do, don’t tell XXX you saw me do this. Just let her go on thinking she’s perfect.” 😃

 

There are lots of ways to correct the pitch of a theremin performance, either in real time or in post production. The problem is, all of them interfere with the unique qualities of the instrument. Moog Music claims that the THEREMINI has taken the guesswork out of playing the theremin on pitch. The operation was a terrific success but unfortunately the patient died.

 

Posted: 11/8/2015 4:10:06 PM
rkram53

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 7/29/2014

Frankly applying pitch correction in a theremin should not be any more difficult than for the voice - in fact it should be a lot simpler. The voice is a heck of a lot more complex instrument. The theremin is simply a static oscillator that has ultra-dynamic pitch control. So the uniqueness of the theremin is all about that dynamic pitch field - but the voice also resides in a fluid pitch field. The difference is that the human brain is directly connected to the vocal cords so it has a lot more (and quicker) control over that dynamic pitch field than a hand in the air disconnected from the sound source. But the base theremin waveform itself is ultra simple compared with all other non-fixed pitch instruments where there are complex stochastic things going on all the time (like lips vibrating in a mouthpiece, a bow constantly slipping on a string, or a vibrating membrane or vibrating vocal chords, etc). These small random changes create much more complex waveforms than a theremin (or any other synth that does not apply random control elements of some sort).

I've done a lot of experimenting with pitch correction on my theremins and Theremini and with today's programs that let you finely adjust pitch on the microtonal level while also maintaining vibrato all on just about any time-slice you like, I can guarantee that no one would be able to tell if a theremin performance had a bit of pitch correction applied here and there. Just as no one can tell these days if a vocal line has a bit of pitch correction on it. The key phrase here is "a bit".

Of course if you keep pitch correction constantly on and try and correct everything then yes you will likely be able to tell pitch correction is applied - if the original performance is way out of tune. In that case you will be able to hear pitch correction artifacts. Same goes for the voice. Pitch correction is ideally meant to correct a good performance, not fix a miserable one.

Now the Theremini does do a good job of applying its pitch correction algorithm when you look at it on a scope. The Boss pedal seems to do something very similar. And as I've stated before, if you put too much pitch correction on something it becomes an effect - which may be nice but not what is intended. So if you apply a bit of pitch correction on the theremin, I've found it doesn't really make it that much easier to play musically. What it does do is make it easier to hold tones for short periods which might be going way out of tune otherwise for a beginner. When you apply pitch correction you should try and hold your hand perfectly still. On a non-pitch adjusted theremin this will still wobble as it's impossible to hold perfectly still. But with a bit of pitch correction you can set it to a point where a single note comes out for a position your mind thinks is perfectly still and as you try and move your hand slightly you will hear pitch move. That's where I try and set it. You still get all the portamento you want as you are not really correcting to a fixed scale system, just trying to minimize very small motion changes. You still have complete vibrato control in a microtonal field (it's just slightly degraded).

From my experience, this can and does make it easier to play in tune - though not that much easier to play musically. And yes, it comes at the expense of a light degradation in the dynamic pitch field - but I contend not enough to distract the listener from thinking its a real theremin performance (assuming its a good performance). Maybe 10 people in the world might be able to tell a difference - and if there is an accompaniment likely few would hear it or care.

So I don't think the issue here is: should pitch correction be used? I'm sure any thereminist releasing an album for sale would be more than happy to correct a note here or there that is so out of tune as to be distracting - and we all know this can happen to any performer, no matter how good. I also think SLIGHT pitch correction is a great aid in learning how to play and as you get better you can pull back that correction. This was the goal of the Theremini and frankly I think that function of the Theremini does what it was meant to (but of course the marketing lingo may well mislead  - as the Theremini is still very difficult to play with partial pitch correction on - and impossible to play with full pitch correction other than for stepwise melodies matching the scale you have set).

Frankly, I'm waiting expectantly for Dewster's creation - as from all the posts it promises to be a very exciting development - especially adding that formant function. But from the pitch perspective on the musical end, I want to see a theremin with dynamically changing waveforms (yes they change slightly on some instruments now but not enough in my mind). This is now done on synths all the time with wavetables - an area the Theremini tried to delve into but did not put in enough functions or flexibility (including dynamic ADSR control and dynamic wavetable adjustment and ability to load your own wavetables). Those functions would make pitch correction a lot more complex.

By the way, this is going to create a bit of controversy, but there are some thereminists out there that play so well in tune, to my ears it takes away from the performance of certain kinds of music (unless it's modern or very old music that sounds better without a lot of vibrato). I like playing that is expressive and just on the verge of being in tune for certain types of music (i.e. romantic music). So there is also a need for a device that will throw a performance slightly out of tune forcing the thereminist to use more vibrato.

Posted: 11/8/2015 8:10:33 PM
coalport

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

What would concern me about THEREMINI realtime pitch correction is that what you are hearing in your monitor is not necessarily what you are playing. If you are either slightly too close, or too far away, from your pitch antenna to accurately play the note you are trying to hit, your monitor is still telling you that you are precisely where you should be. 

 

This could get tricky for theremin muscle memory because if your ear is telling you that you are on pitch when you are not, your next note could be compromised as a result. The brain, in order to play a connected interval of a fourth, presumably calculates and remembers the exact distance between the two notes, but it presumes your jumping off point is correct. If you leap from the wrong starting position, even if your leap is accurate, you will end up in the wrong landing position. You will never know it because that pitch will get corrected too, and you will snowball into some very bad theremin playing!

 

Moog Music says that the pitch correction capability of its THEREMINI is an aid to learning to play accurately. Unfortunately, that is not true. It is a hindrance.

 

The THEREMINI is lots of fun, and it has some great sounds, but as a classic theremin it is an inferior instrument. Sadly, no one with any real experience wants to say that because everybody wants to appear supportive and welcoming to newcomers who believe the Moog Music hype. Noobs will ask you for you opinion, but they don't want to hear anything negative. They want to hear confirmation of what they already believe. 

Posted: 11/9/2015 2:50:26 AM
rkram53

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 7/29/2014

It's not really the Theremini pitch correction per se I'm talking about. This Boss box does very much the same kind of thing from what I can see. I am not talking about pitch correction so much as slight pitch gravitation which I feel can be beneficial and this all centers on theremin response. From my experience, no two theremins have the same response. My Etherwave is very much more responsive to slight hand motions than my Burns Pro for example. It actually feels like the Burns has a slight bit of pitch correction on it compared to the Etherwave.

So a pitch correction box like the Boss may very well be used to finely adjust pitch response so that all your theremins play very much like each other and thus make practicing more productive as your technique stays more consistent from instrument to instrument. I can't speed up response on the Burns, but I can slow down response on the Etherwave with very slight pitch correction. Maybe this idea is nutty. But as a beginner, I want all my theremins to play as close to each other as possible right now in terms of response.

Pitch correction is perhaps not even the right word for the function I try and achieve. I'm not trying to correct pitch. I'm more trying to even out and in some cases slow down response - which very slight pitch correction appears to let you do. But I do see the point if pitch preview is not matching output. That could be a nuisance. But then again pitch preview is more to try and get a note to come in on so perhaps having a bit different response there is not untenable (though I don't use it anymore).

This all came about in my mind because the Burns Pro just seemed easier to play in tune, and I realized that was all about response. 

However, the more I listen to the theremin, the more I wrestle with the static nature of the sound source itself (which I think is its biggest problem - one that modern theremins should all address by letting you vary that sound more than just sweeping a tone or simple fixed filter knob). This is the great theremin conundrum. As one gets better, less vibrato is needed to stay in tune, especially if you have perfect pitch. Less portamento is also needed to get around notes. However, remove too much vibrato and portamento on a theremin, especially one not set up with long enough delay and reverb and I get tired of the sound very fast. How long can anyone listen to the theremin in one sitting without getting saturated - assuming its played in tune of course? My gut feel is 10-15 minutes.

As a composer, I'm still grappling with how to best use this instrument in a varied instrumental setting. And I must say that with the skills I have right now, pitch correction is absolutely essential in creating performances of some of my pieces using the real instrument and not samples to get a good feel for how they would sound played by a professional. 

 

 

 

Posted: 11/10/2015 11:05:45 PM
dewster

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 2/17/2012

The more I watch videos of the VE-20 the less I desire it.  The pitch correction seems to have four basic settings (soft, hard, electric, robot) and that's it (other than gender, octave, key, etc.).  I'd probably want to play around with the various parameters behind the four settings and not have such hard presets.  They sure dumb down musical electronics these days.

Posted: 11/12/2015 12:02:21 AM
rkram53

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 7/29/2014

I kind of agree. I only think very fine and subtle pitch correction is of much value with a theremin. It's only of true value if you can't tell its being used, but seems to let you hit notes with greater ease.

If you want the harder corrections, there are lots of boxes around that can do that.

 

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