An overview for composers and music lovers | Carolina talks Theremin


Hi! I am Carolina, I play the theremin and
I am answering your questions. In this video, I would like to give you an
overview about the things you need to know when you are composing for the theremin. As
the theremin is a young instrument, the repertoire is still a little bit limited.
My theremin colleagues and I are always happy about new compositions for the theremin.
So, let’s get started! The theremin is one of the first electronic
musical instruments. It was invented in 1919 by the Russian physicist Leon Theremin. It
is the only instrument that is played without being touched. It has two antennas.
The upright antenna controls the pitch. When the right hand approaches the antenna, the
pitch gets higher. The loop antenna controls the volume. Approaching
the antenna makes the volume softer. The left hand is responsible for dynamics and articulation. There are a lot of different types of theremins
on the market. I play on two different instruments by the company MoogMusic. I am mainly playing
on my Etherwave Pro theremin, because it is the most advanced one.
Most thereminists use the Etherwave Standard at the moment, because this is the one
currently in production. You can improve it a lot by installing a module by Thierry Frenkel. The range of the theremin is very big and
usually spans up to 7 octaves or more. When you touch the antenna you get the highest pitch, which is different on each different theremin model. The lowest note is only limited by the capabilities of your speaker system. Most theremins can play the whole range at once. In contrast, the Etherwave Pro needs
to switch between three registers. You might need to know that most theremins
have a non-linear pitch field. This means, like on a violin string, the higher the pitch
gets the smaller the distances between the notes become. By leaning forward with your
body you can compensate this matter and the distances will expand.
Because of the register switch the Etherwave Pro does have a linear pitch field, so the
distances between the notes stay the same through the whole range. To tune the theremin, you need to adjust a
knob called “pitch” on the instrument. On the theremin you don’t tune to any specific
note like the standard “A”. Instead you need to adjust the electromagnetic field to your
body. Nobody else then the player himself can do it, because every body influences the
field differently. So basically imagine there is an invisible
string coming from the antenna towards your body. This string might end in front of your
body or behind you. You want to change the field, so the string stops right behind you,
that means you have the lowest possible note just behind your body. There are different ways to play the theremin.
Because we are moving our hands in the air there is a lot of freedom.
However, there has been a development of a certain finger techniques to hit the correct
pitches. In 2006 I wrote a book about the 8 finger
position technique which I developed and which I am still teaching to my students.
It is based on minimal movements. Because every motion changes a note, you want to move
your fingers and hand in a very precise way. With the 8 finger position technique, I can
play a scale without moving my arm, only by using my hand and fingers. So, for every note in the scale, I have a certain finger position which I can recall. To play notes which are not within one octave, I move my arm. To play a vibrato I move my arm in a diagonal
way to the pitch field. I only move my arm – *not* my wrist or fingers – so I won’t change
my finger position. Please remember: because we are moving in
the air and because there is no mechanical guidance, there is a certain limitation in
how fast you can hit a remote note precisely. By the way, to find a right starting tone
in the air, you either need perfect pitch, a tuning device or take your starting note
from another instrument. So you may think as if you would write for
a singer and write a note into the music which helps the thereminist to find his or her starting
note. All the phrasing, dynamics and articulation
is done by the left hand. To create a crescendo or decrescendo I just
move my arm up and down. For small articulation I mainly use my hand.
So, I can play short staccato notes, but I can also use my hand to phrase a single note. I use my fingers to slightly interrupt the
sound between two notes, so I won’t hear a glissando between them. On my theremin I can select between different
timbres. Again, the selection differs a little bit on different theremin models. Usually
the player selects his timbre himself to fit the style of the music. But you can also write
a description in the score, whether you want a more sinus wave like sound or a more open
sound. I’ll show you some of the sounds now. I often get the question: How do you notate
a theremin part or how does your score look like? Well, I wish I could tell you something
sensational, but usually my score just looks like any other score.Usually a violin clef
or bass clef I used. Remember: The theremin is a monophonic instrument and it cannot play
more than one note at the same time by itself. But, of course, depending on the music, you
can also use graphical notation. Especially because you can just draw anything into the
air. You could paint something in your score and the player would just imitate it. It could
sound something like this: Also there is the option to write normal notes
and mention that the pitches do not have to be taken too seriously. Especially when you
want to write some faster passages. The player then can decide how precisely he or she wants
to play the notes without going out of character. There are some cool effects you can only do
on the theremin. I will give you some examples: Use the register switch to jump between octaves: Use other electrically conductive materials
to create sounds: Or you can just touch the antenna like I did in this recording: And you can even make
bird sounds: Which leads me to the next topic… At the moment I’m working with four different
effect units. I’m always looking for new possibilities and sounds, but this is what I’ve been using
for quite a while now. Let me show you! Using a delay is nothing really new, so I’ll
just show you two different things I can do with it. 1. Having set the delay to a moderate setting I can build some nice atmospheric chords. 2. With a short delay with only one rebound I get a cool effect which gives the theremin a chorus
effect. This basically gives you an extra octave in
the bass. With the Harmonizer I can add certain notes
to my original note. So for example a forth or fifth. I can also select the setting to play certain chords. With my loop station I can record a sequence,
replay it and record even more layers on top of it. So that’s my current setup. I’m not so much
into distortion effects, but if you know any additional devices you think I should try
out, please let me know! I hope this covers all the basics you need to create a classical composition for the theremin. Let me know in the comments, if
I forgot to mention anything or if you have any questions. You can also contact me directly on Facebook or write me an e-mail. Thank you for watching, see you next time and bye, bye!