New Forum: Composing for theremin

Posted: 10/27/2005 5:47:57 AM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

I absolutely agree. I have a renewed understanding of true pitch relation, which is helping hugely with my piano composition and improvisation.

And my new found ability to know roughly what a note is going to sound like before I play it has improved alomost supernaturally since I started the theremin. It's a very enlightening instrument, and has improved my ear for writing melodic lines too.
Posted: 10/27/2005 11:26:26 PM

From: COWafornia

Joined: 3/23/2005

Point “A”: Writing music for Theremin has the same issues as writing other types of electronic music. There are already “notation” systems that basically take the staff and use broad brush strokes to show general pitch. Some use different “line” ongoing for things like volume, tone color or what have you, others use the thickness of the line to represent volume, still others use color for differing aspects (but is not popular due to publish costs). You cud use different note heads for differing tone color. Other instruments like classical guitar use standardized notations for all sorts of special effect like pitch bends, hammer ons, and pull offs – but is based mostly on standard notation. If singers can read music and bring it off aka Vocalase then we should be able to bring it off as well using standardized notation. Because there is no longer a standard Theremin specific setting information for tone color or what ever is useless. That is one of the difficulties in writing for synth – it is not “an” instrument – You [i]could[/i] I guess write for a specific synth but you music will be short lived as tech changes so fast in a few years your notations will be meaningless unless you use standard notation notated with things like “bright sound” or what ever.

Point “B”: With the exception of keyboards and perhaps harps and percussion you don’t just put your fingers and blow, or bow, or whatever to get a pitch. Some notes on a Bassoon for example you can change the pitch by +/- about an octave with out changing your fingering but by increasing / decreasing lip/jaw pressure. However what other instruments have over Theremin are physical connectivity with the instrument so you have a “home base” (violin) and a physical feedback loop that helps to fine tune the pitch (winds). In the Theremin the twitches the body makes must be compensated for. Perhaps a class in how to be a human statue would be good for Thereminests to take as well.
Posted: 11/22/2005 10:51:36 PM
Brian R

From: Somerville, MA

Joined: 10/7/2005

A post by the gentleman from Waterloo conflates absolute pitch with literacy in conventional notation.

I have the latter, but not the former. So, I find sheet music quite useful--in particular, because I know how to read it, it's a much more efficient way for me to learn a new piece of music. And no, it's not a distraction: As a beginning thereminist, I can play Handel's "Where'er you walk" (from Semele) with reasonably accurate pitch, whether I'm looking at the printed music or performing the tune from memory. (Yes, I need a reference pitch to start--but once I have it, I can get through the whole song.)

This isn't to preach that everyone necessarily ought to learn to read... but if you're going to perform tunes accurately, you need to be able to hear (and reproduce) different melodic intervals, regardless of whether you've learned their official names ("minor second," "major second," etc.) or what they look like on the printed page.

Our friend from California correctly points out the importance of this in playing just about any instrument EXCEPT piano, harp, or any other instrument for which all the pitches are fixed from the get-go... which constitutes an important shortcoming of these latter, even if they do make it easier for beginners to pick out a tune. (Think about it: if you really want to tug the listener's heartstrings, you DON'T assign your big melody to a piano, or harp, or organ, or marimba... nope, you assign it to an oboe, or violin, or 'cello... that is, something that can inflect the pitch for proper intonation and expressive effect.)

Pardon... getting back to the topic...

Of course, laying pages flat atop my Etherwave isn't the most satisfying arrangement... if I can find the time and proper materials, I might construct a lightweight music rack to sit atop the instrument (sorta like what one finds on a harpsichord).

In summary: The question of whether or not to use notation is entirely separate from the issue of ear-training (which you need to do anyway, whether formally or informally, consciously or unconsciously).
Posted: 11/23/2005 1:11:30 AM

From: Waterloo, Ontario

Joined: 10/24/2005

In regards to your summary, I don't see these two isues as being "completely seperate." Far from it. If you do plan to use notation, you absolutely NEED the ear training. If you see a minor sixth interval on the page, you need to know what that is going to sound like to be able to play it on a theremin. On a piano its easy with a bit of training. Even on an oboe or cello you should know which buttons to press or where to press your fingers and you can play the interval reasonably well in tune, but on the theremin there is no rough measurement; other than maybe you know that its about 2 inches rather than 8 inches, but that's not much to work with. You've just gotta have a very good ear, whereas with an oboe or cello you need a good ear, but not necessarily a great ear.
That's not to say that you need to read notation to be a great player; there are lots of classic great guitarists who can't read music.

I agree that the theremin has the advantage of playing the exact pitch, not just a tempered pitch like piano or vibraphone. Plus, there is SO much variablility in vibrato available on the theremin, from narrow and smooth to wide and shaky, which is surely more variety than any other instrument that comes to mind. Therefore it has huge potential as an expressive lead instrument, if only it could have some tonal (texture) variation too.
Posted: 11/23/2005 2:20:22 PM

From: Theremin Motherland

Joined: 11/13/2005

theMetler> [i]...On the theremin, just like the voice, there are no keys or frets or any sort of marker for each note, so to play a sequence you have to know how it is going to sound before you play it,...
but on the theremin there is no rough measurement; other than maybe you know that its about 2 inches rather than 8 inches, but that's not much to work with.

Whether you tried the "space fingerboard" visualizators for theremins?
If yes your impressions?
Posted: 11/28/2005 12:28:20 AM

From: Waterloo, Ontario

Joined: 10/24/2005

If this space fingerboard is simply imagining a fingerboard, then yes, sure, i do that, but it is still invisible, and with drifting oscillators you never really know where the fingerboard begins; its always changing. If this space fingerboard is something else, then i have not heard of it.
Posted: 11/28/2005 12:27:38 PM

From: Theremin Motherland

Joined: 11/13/2005

In other words I meant the device which displays (by some way) the current pitch volume for the musician even if the taken note does not still sound.

I viewed the photos here (presented in gallery) and has found, that the proximate analog of visualizer is the arranged LEDs at Fred Nachbaur's theremin ("Picture of the June 2002"). I don't know how this part displays the small deviations from the standard tones, but the true visualizer must have a resolution better 25 cents.

(according some sources, the error of the first note for violinists is approx. 25 cents)

The pioneer of using the visualizers in Russia is Lev Korolyov. His construction is a standalone device with a piano keyboard mnemonic. Also there are a large bar display, vice-versa mnemonic. Lev declares the precision 25 cents. Unfortunately his design uses the old components and, I guess, it is not progressed any more.
Posted: 11/28/2005 5:02:21 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Ultimately, one must develop one's ear training to play on pitch.

When playing straight tones (no vibrato) with an accompianment most folks wouldn't find a variance of +/- 3cents to be noticeable -- up to 4-6 cents would be noticeable but not objectionable -- beyond that the note will be noticeably out of tune. Without an accompianment, one might have a little greater margin of error however one risks losing pitch (same as an unaccompanied singer or choir).

You could certainly connect a Korg (or other professional tuner) to a preview output on the Theremin however this would likely prove too slow to use in real-time performance (except to hit the first note of a passage after a long rest).
Posted: 2/11/2006 12:54:29 PM

From: Colorado

Joined: 7/5/2005

A small note on reading sheet music: It is certainly useful for a piece one almost knows. The sheet music can be checked for a reminder of where the piece goes next. Singers who can't sightread an unknown piece cold still get plenty of benefit from following music of a piece that has already been somewhat rehearsed. Same for theremin, I'd say.

Posted: 1/18/2007 5:37:43 PM

From: Newburgh NY

Joined: 1/18/2007

I have a theremin that looks like it was made from radio shack parts.

I use effects on it to make it sound different plus I discovered that if you have one of those plasma globes, you can touch it and do wonderful things.
you can hear what I have done with this on the track
So Much Better
on my myspace page.

you can also see the little black box with the boom box antenna, on the video for JFK.

Cheshire Kat


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