Touch and go

EoIpso: Bob Moog appears not to be a very good businessman, or is he? When he sold his company to Norlin and left to start a new venture, he wasn't allowed to sell products under his monicker for a very long time...

Pamelia: Bob Moog is like an artist. It seems he had a passion to make instruments for people to play, and it was theremins that he originally was making before his other synthesizers. Because he knows how to play the theremin, he knows how it should be built. With a theremin that hasn't been well made, you might only have a range of one octave, or even less. There might not be enough volume control. He knew what was required, how it should be calibrated so that it's more playable. If my first theremin hadn't been made well, I would probably have given up and thought: "This is impossible to master!". Moog has the most experience out of anyone in theremins. Lots of people make them as science projects, but they usually don't have in mind the idea of playing it.

EoIpso: There's other people who just use a theremin because it looks cool on stage, and most people in the audience won't know what it is anyway and how it's supposed to be played.

Pamelia: There's nothing wrong with that. The average person knows how a violin sounds when it sounds good (or bad). If someone's playing on the streets, and it's completely out of tune, everyone will shout: "Stop that whining noise, it's horrible!". Maybe, twenty years from now, people will hear a theremin and expect it should sound a certain way. Maybe it won't be a novelty any more, because people know what it is. I'm sure it will change the more that people see and hear it.

EoIpso: But the theremin has been around since the 1920ies...

Pamelia: It's been around, it was used in SciFi- and horror movies, but nobody saw it. They've heard the sound, but they've never seen it being done. I'd heard the sound before and didn't know what a theremin was. I think the more people are performing out with it, the more exposure it gets in a live setting, where people actually see and hear it, I'm sure that it's only a matter of time. It's a slow growth with the theremin, as more people see the documentary or listen to recordings with it being used. Eventually, I think that it will be taken seriously as a real instrument. Hopefully, there will be programs for teaching theremin technique for people who want to make a study out of it and use it as their primary instrument. People go to vocal departments or study piano. The theremin could be an instrument that's specifically studied, and it's something that could be taught.

EoIpso: The theremin has the most natural interface of all instruments, you directly communicate with it, just as if it were a part of yourself.

Pamelia: But that's only true if you can really play a melody on it in tune, something recognizable and expressive. It's a merit-based instrument. Some people might have a doctor's degree in music and play the flute incredibly, but they'll walk up to a theremin and they'll never play the theremin as well as the flute. It's as specific as any other instrument. When you find the instrument that really works for you, it's obvious. You can't fake a melody on a theremin, you really have to know what you're doing. Not just with your ears.

Some people have really good ears and find the pitches, but then it takes time to get the physical control and to figure out the best way to go about. If someone plays something, and it sounds really beautiful coming out of the theremin, that in itself tells you this person is really observant or really listening or paying so much attention and focus to little details to make something that seems so simple come out. You can walk up to a keyboard, and someone can show you which keys to push to create a melody, but you can't do that with a theremin. It's something you really have to develop with, just like a voice.

EoIpso: Also, you can easily play microtonal or Indian music on the theremin, which you couldn't on the piano.

Pamelia: Exactly! It's like a voice. People have different ranges with their voice, some might have scratchier voices and harmonics, so when they try to sing a higher note, other notes come out. You learn to manipulate what you have and make something musical out of it. It doesn't have to be something complicated. If you just can express on it, that's really what matters in the end. At most music institutes, it's not about music at all, it's about technique and competition and trying to do something better than somebody else. It's not about expressing anymore, which is a shame really.

(rh 07/MMV, pictures rh, kurstin and line6)

Read a story on the theremin here.

>> Pamelia's website

One half of Pamelia's virtual orchestra, the "green pedals".

< Attack of the green pedals
< A sonic Madagascar
< Earnings and yearnings
< Electronic odyssey
= Touch and go