Tag Archives: Theremini

It’s all about the pitch

I’m still not a grandmaster on the theremin.

Okay, let’s face it: the chances of me becoming one are probably as large as anything coming from Mars, but I’ll keep trying.

Kip Rosser told me that it’s a good practice to try following random tones and play those on the theremin. I tried several ways but with only two arms and one theremin, that’s tricky. So I got creative:

tone generator

It doesn’t get more random than using a tone generator app and a happy finger. Try the video, it’s not long and might even be educational.

Using this nifty tool I had a powerful ally to go for random tones and pitches. Here’s how it looks. And sounds.

Word of warning: it’s hit and lots of miss.

If you dare, hit play and suffer this ‘performance’ of little over a minute. There’s no music, just beeping and my attempts to catch the tone generator beep on the theremin. It’s a lot harder than you might think.

Does that sound like progress to you?

No worries, I’ll beep the bad words out of any reply.

Theremin, continued.

Maybe you notice that there’s “Theremin” in the title, not “theremini”, just like in my previous post.

Even though I own a Moog Theremini, I don’t intend to use it as that, but as a practice-theremin.

Something I discovered on the fifth day of owning the device is that I despise the pitch correction.

This is one of the biggest sales pitches (pun intended) for the theremini. It makes it nearly impossible to miss a correct note.

Automatic pitch correction at work.

This is how automatic pitch correction sounds and works. Go ahead, click it. It doesn’t sound bad at all.

And still I plan on not using it. This amazing feature makes it not sound like a theremin. A theremin needs the sweeping sound, as if it’s a human voice.

Okay, okay, after only a week of owning and attempting to use it, I probably am having too much of an opinion already, but this is how it feels to me. After having seen hours of theremin videos (there’s more than you might think) and hearing many hours of the sound, the pitch correction is not theremin. Unfortunately (for me), most of the Theremini’s presets are loaded with that pitch correction built in. Enter the sound librarian/editor.

With this nifty program I will be able to change everything I think could be improved. But before that happens, I will make myself master the Theremini some more.

Here is a short clip I made after owning the instrument almost a week.

All the usual warnings (own risk, etc) apply.

I’m amazed by the sensitivity of the pitch antenna. I read somewhere that you play the theremin with your whole body, and it’s true. Move a foot and it affects the tone. Sway with your upper body just a bit and it affects the tone. Impressive and intriguing.

Challenge, again, accepted.

A theremin.

Theremin

What is a theremin?

It’s, as far as I found, the oldest electronic musical instrument.

Invented around 1920 by the Russian Leon Theremin as he was trying to find a way to audible detect the changes in gas density (which was his actual work around that time).

A theremin is the only instrument that’s played without touching it. It’s sound is generated through 2 electro-magnetic antennae on either side: 1 controlling the pitch and one controlling the volume.

Playing the theremin

I own one. A very ‘simple’ one, it’s the Moog Theremini.

Moog Theremini

I can tell from experience that a theremin is hard to play. Having no point of reference, as in keys, frets or even simple dots anywhere, you have to rely on your body and hands relative to the theremin. This basically makes you part of the instrument: if you’re in the wrong spot, things go wrong. But even worse: even if your hands are in the right spot but you move your body a little bit, things go wrong as well. And the theremin is unforgiving: it will tell you when you’re off by sounding terrible.

Position

It’s important to have a stable place for the theremin. I had it on the coffee table and tried to play it sitting on the couch. Bad move. Sitting on the couch makes me lean forward – and move. No way I can sit still that way, so I put it on the dining room table. I can stand there and that’s a lot better. Now I need to learn to stand still.

More when there is more.

Here is how it works when you know what you do.