Enfant terrible (in the best sense of the phrase)

Posted: 6/8/2015 10:50:29 PM

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 7/29/2014

More like enfant unbelievible!



(Webster's Dictionary also defines an enfant terrible as an unusually successful person who is strikingly unorthodox, innovative, and/or avant-garde.)

He is getting some serious theremin chops - and now the musical saw? What's next? Laser harp?

With some more musical exposure and training, he has the potential to wind up being the best of them all.


Posted: 6/9/2015 10:05:46 AM
randy george

From: Los Angeles, California

Joined: 2/5/2006

Grégoire has definitely improved a lot over a short period of time and has indeed crafted a fine performance. Although, I've also been watching the quality of his videos over the years, and they continue to exhibit signs of amateur production skill. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, for a person having fun creating videos on youtube. The only problem is that the performance is not an authentic representation of how Grégoire plays in person. Since this arrangement was intended for video, it doesn't matter as much, but viewers might have developed the wrong idea of his skill level.

There must obviously be editing involved when creating a video of one person playing two instruments, but Grégiore has used this to his advantage. He has put together the best possible video performance by merging only the best possible audio takes (with edits) with the most visually pleasing video takes.  His synchronization is good enough that most people do not notice, but errors do exist, clear to anyone with eagle eyes.

For fun, I thought I would try a bit of the theremin part of the Passacaglia. I was able to learn the repetitive staccato section that occurs at around the 1:00 minute mark.  This section is very difficult to play perfectly in one take. It would be much easier to create multiple takes and edit together a perfect audio take along with the video take that looks the best.

If anyone needs a clear example of what a a sync error looks/sounds like when takes are mixed and matched, watch the video at the 3:49 mark.  Gregoire's audio take includes a re-articulation of the note that leads to the note preceding the resolution. The video take contains no gesture in the volume hand of the re-articulation. 

If you have a look at the saw part at around 1:20, the sync errors are fairly obvious. The phrases of the video take do not match the phrasing of the accompanying audio track. The top of the pitch jumps do not align with the top of the gesture.

Perhaps it is a bit unfair that I point out the inconsistencies. If I didn't, would it be nicer to think Grégoire is great musician? Or would you like to know that you've been fooled? Or perhaps that you are not as aware as you think you are? Maybe Grégoire would like to know there is room for improvement in both his playing and production skill?


When I first began playing, I experimented with editing, but after a while, I realized that there was a noticeable difference in the feeling of a piece that is performed without editing... A level of authenticity that is hard to match. Joining edited audio to edited video, has since then had a really strange feeling to me.

Audio editing is quite prevalent everywhere you look. old Symphony orchestra recordings, solo performances ... Even the Clara Rockmore Albums were edited in spots.  The quest for perfection never ends. Even when the musician is capable of playing perfect, the producers and engineers decide to exercise their creative powers after the fact.  


Posted: 6/9/2015 12:43:25 PM

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 7/29/2014

Hmm. Telling observations. My poor eyes didn't pick up on all of this, though there is no denying he is obtaining a skill level that is getting up there. And his intonation is great (wish I could get even moderately close to that).

A few months ago I wrote a Passacaglia for Strings and Theremin that needs that staccato technique for a few runs. It's just too difficult for me to tackle right now. Any suggestions on how to approach that kind of playing?



Posted: 6/9/2015 1:33:49 PM
randy george

From: Los Angeles, California

Joined: 2/5/2006

Staccato playing is very quirky, challenging territory for theremin. The instrument must be set to a very quick dynamic response (set at a comfortable spacing to facilitate a short travel for the wrist/arm), the amp's dynamic level needs to be just right, the body balance needs to be extremely stable to create an efficient repetition without extraneous movement throwing the pitch precision off, and lastly (most importantly), the theremin pitch should be very precise on it's own.  

The best staccato precision is obtained by isolating the hands.  The Volume hand should be able to be consistent and comfortable while playing repetitions of a single pitch for long periods of time. 

The Pitch hand needs to be able to move through the passage with very fast transitions between notes with as little portamento as possible (ie. playing everything slurred, no volume hand movement). Note- Fast transition time is not to be confused with fast tempo. 

Then only after both hands are moving cleanly independently of each other, the hands can be used together to apply staccato to the passage.

If ever in doubt, the best recommendation is to reduce the variables until you are only working on a single element.

Posted: 6/9/2015 10:59:47 PM

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 7/29/2014

Thanks. Great exercise sequence suggestions! 

Posted: 6/10/2015 6:59:58 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

I have corresponded on and off, privately, with Grégoire Blanc for the last few years. When he was about 14 he wrote me an email asking me what I thought about his theremin playing. Normally, when people do this, they are fishing for compliments so I ignore them but Greg did seem to have something special, so I answered his email (in French, which I speak about as well as I speak English) and told him EXACTLY what I thought of his playing and WHY. 


Basically, my feeling was that he was playing notes - not music. I fully expected never to hear from the kid again!


He was totally open to everything I had said and answered me sincerely and very warmly. He actually followed some of my suggestions - something people NEVER do. 


Yes, the advantage of video is that you can redo a “take” until you are satisfied with it, but don’t underestimate Greg’s skill. He is a natural thereminist, and I think he is still in his teens - or barely out of them.


He will soon make mincemeat of us all! 



Randy, your performance in Martin Ulikhanyan’s “AYG 2015” was excellent. I loved the work and was very moved by it. I am looking forward to a remix of the recording (something Martin has said he intends to do) and I am hoping he will bring your theremin forward so that it can be appreciated as it deserves to be. It is a fine composition and it has that indefinable Armenian-ness about it, a unique blend of oriental and western flavors, which I find very compelling. 

Posted: 6/10/2015 9:27:33 PM

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 7/29/2014

Thanks for the note on "AYG 2015". I also loved the piece. Minimalistic in its own unique way and I soon found myself forgetting about trying to listen for any particular instrument and just got absorbed into the overall sound of the piece looking at the screen - even though there were only a few players.

Was this piece totally notated?

(Link removed for now - in case composer didn't intend to make it global)

Posted: 6/11/2015 2:31:19 PM
randy george

From: Los Angeles, California

Joined: 2/5/2006

Hi Peter,  I hope that Grégoire does eventually post more unedited performances.  Until then, there is no way to know how well he plays.  I do look forward to when he becomes an adult and the musical side of his playing matures. As for being a natural thereminist, I'll wait to see/hear it in an unedited performance before I can decide, or perhaps maybe we'll meet one day. He seems to not want to interact with many people outside of private communications, and I've never gotten a message from him.

Thanks for the note about Martin's piece. I'm wondering though, how did you obtain the link to the video? The video is unlisted.  Maybe Martin already shared it?  I was going to wait until it was public on youtube, but I guess it's out already, so no big deal then.

Rich, the piece was a combination of score and pre-recorded electronics. The theremin part was scored. There are quite a few spots in the piece where there are bird effects that sound like theremin. Those were all prerecorded and many were actual bird samples. The performed theremin part is completely melodic and does not include any effects.  The configuration of the musicians in the hall were specifically set for acoustic effect. The theremin and vocalist where positioned on the left and right balconies (respectively).   The two voices echo each other at different times in the piece.

It was a great composition/production by Martin Ulikhanyan and Alik Barsoumian, but I think the video will never quite be as good as being there in person with the fine acoustics of Zipper Hall.

Posted: 6/18/2015 10:15:38 PM

From: France

Joined: 6/18/2015

Hi Randy ! You wrote : « He seems not to want to interact with many people outside of private communication, and I’ve never gotten a message from him ». Well, here’s a message for you. You’re right, I haven’t been interacting a lot with the theremin community on the web yet, and there are many explanations for that :

  • First of all, « Je parle anglais comme une vache espagnole » as we say in France… I can understand english without any problem, but writing with confidence and being sure to be understood is even today quite difficult for me. The way english is taught in France is not so good, and furthermore, I had to focus more on german than on english for my studies.
  • Then, as a « Side-Hobbyist » of the theremin, I thought that the ideas I had were not worth to be shared on the forums.
  • Moreover, I’ve really been working a lot for the past two years. I don’t know whether you know about the school system in France, I can explain : I’ve chosen to study science, maths and mechanical engineering, so after my « Baccalauréat », I began to study in « Classes préparatoires » when I was 16, and now, two years later, I aim to enter a high school after the final admission test. Those « Classes préparatoires » are known to be difficult, and unfortunately, I really didn’t have enough time for my musical activities.
As you noticed, some of my videos « continue to exhibit signs or amateur production skills ». There are a lot of sync errors, the video quality is poor, etc. OK. Please, consider the fact that I don’t have a huge equipment for my videos : my room is about 12 square meters, and I don’t use a lot of sophisticated material… The aim wasn’t to make professional recordings, it was just for fun when I had some holidays or weekend.
Without a minimum of editing, making a video like the passacaglia would be impossible. To get a better sound quality, and to ensure that the rhythm is ok with all the tracks, I often had to record separately sound and image, with explains the fact that sometimes, the articulations aren’t exactly the same, etc.
If you want to see a live performance, without any kind of editing, there’s one here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6s36h1tEN4
This one is quite old now, since my technique has a lot improved : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjnaciNT-wQ but I can certify that there’s no editing here.
The Messiaen’s Oraison and The Goldberg variation n°25 are made with a very very very very few editing : I just had to record backing tracks after the solo line.
The audio/image of the « Ave Maria » on the saw was recorded separately, and I played the piano myself but besides these necessary processing steps, it’s an authentic representation of my playing !
This phrases you wrote here are quite unfair : « Would it be nicer to think Grégoire is great musician ? Or would you like to know that you’ve been fooled ? Or perhaps that you are not as aware as you think you are ? Maybe Grégoire would like to know there is a room for improvement in both his playing and production skill ?": I don’t want to fool anyone and I’m humble enough to know that there’s a long way before I can consider myself as a musician. 
To conclude, my musical journey is is not limited to YouTube. The few time I have is dedicated to music : I’ve been working on Martinu’s Fantasia with friends from the conservatory for the past half year, and I’ve got a lot of projects with kind people and musicians who know that I’m able to play music, that I’m not grandstanding.
Peter, vous m'avez compris. Les échanges que j’ai pu avoir avec vous ont toujours été très enrichissants. But don’t consider that I’m still in my teens ! I’m a 18-years-old responsible and mature student, even if what you can see on YouTube are tending to show the contrary (especially videos like the Passacaglia, full of innocence and ingenuity…).
For the future, I promise that I’ll post projects without editing, recorded live. I’ve got a lot of ideas, and some projects that I’ll be very happy to share with you.
Kind regards !
L'Enfant terrible
Posted: 6/18/2015 11:53:18 PM

From: 60 Miles North of San Diego, CA

Joined: 10/1/2014

Greg White, I have not chimed in for a while but for you who I respect, here I am. You do not have to justify your approach, you represent what I hope to find in today’s youth. I am so tired of hate music when most of the world has been given so much. Somewhere I mentioned it would be nice if Bastille discovered how talented you are and used some of your work. Likewise there is a classic band here in So. California I tried to bring attention to our North American top Thereminist. There will always be washed up artist who think their criticism is constructive but we know better. You are young with much success in your future…


Thank goodness for the page roll-over.

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