Volume Hand

Posted: 3/14/2007 5:15:29 PM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

I'm intrigued by what you said about 'bowing' Kevin - I too had noticed the unusual technique employed by Mrs. Rockmore when she plays staccato. I thought it might also have something to do with the fact that by moving towards the metal, you have something of a reference point at which to 'aim' (in much the same way that the pitch antenna serves as an 'anchor' in space at which you play). This may have allowed Clara to gain more accurate control over the nuances of her undoubtedly unrivaled dynamic expression. Flicking *up* as she does, rather than down as I once used to (think playing a piano) also eliminates sounding before the beat. I think that for all but very controlled diminuendos, the primary focus should be on the raising up rather than the lowering of the hand, in order to promote this as the 'strong' action which comes upon the beat.

In response to 'wanting to sound like Clara' (I don't think anyone said it, but it gives me an excuse to talk about her mannerisms), there are a few things I've picked out that could be used:

1) Violin style glissandi jumps, simulating the slide and then sudden finger extension that occurs on necked, frettless stringed instruments. You can hear Clara do this all the time when she descends, sliding then jumping in a split second (it goes without saying that this is a fiendishly difficult maneouvre!)

2) Use of an agitated, incredibly fast, but shallow vibrato which rarely (if ever) ceases. Clara's earlier vibrato was much faster than her later, and it seems she's trying once again to imitate the violin vibrato.

3) Continuous attention to dynamic range. Clara doesn't just pump each note up and down. She moulds each phrase, sometimes 'pumping' getting succesively louder or quieter. If I were to be critical, I think this is the thing that seems most lacking in the work of 21st-century thereminists.

Number 3 is the thing I aim to focus on most heavily. Whilst I love Clara's playing, I don't wish to try to walk in her shoes - just to be inspired by her to develop my own style.
Posted: 5/17/2007 5:58:16 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

[i]"Continuous attention to dynamic range. Clara doesn't just pump each note up and down. She moulds each phrase, sometimes 'pumping' getting succesively louder or quieter. If I were to be critical, I think this is the thing that seems most lacking in the work of 21st-century thereminists."[/i]

I personally like a little bit of a bowed attack on each note. Thus, I tend to "pump". As Charlie points out, this motion can be utilized in the course of a crescendo or diminuendo -- not to seperate each note, but to give the notes' attacks a little shape.

Occasionally I play passages without any articulation (pumping) between notes when:

. I want audible glisses. I also must slow down my pitch hand motions to assure that glisses are audible.

. When I am intentionally slurring a passage with lots of vibrato.

I rarely mute the space between notes -- commonly I play the glisses a touch softer than the notes themselves. The goal is to get a clean legato.

Also, there are two "modes" with regards to pumping. When playing solo, excessive pumping can kill the legato. However, transient glisses that are no problem in a solo texture can become annoying when looped repeatedly.

Last fall, a colleague suggested that I was laboring too hard to avoid "skating" (the sound produced by glissing between every note). Thus, I relaxed my technique a bit (this was right before I recorded "Mummies and Unholy Ghosts"). My friend gave me sound advice. (thank you, omhoge)

Indeed, we thereminists must "thread the needle" -- finding that sweet legato that lies somewhere between "skating" and excessive "pumping".

I agree, too, with Charlie's comment about dynamics. This situation isn't limited to theremins, though. I think much music today is simply "loud all the time" without much thought given to dynamics.

Incidentally, when it comes to dynamics, I really admire the work of Masami Takeuchi.

Well, by golly... guess I'll wrap up this post and "pump out" some more music. :)
Posted: 5/18/2007 2:22:09 AM

From: Kansas City MO USA

Joined: 11/26/2006

good read.
Posted: 6/18/2007 1:44:47 PM

From: Kingston, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

>>"little bit of a bowed attack on each note"

Masami Takeuchi, from what I can tell on line, uses a really long "bow" in the volume hand technique. Quick dips of the fingers seem to add accents between much higher, sustained motions of the entire arm.

Posted: 7/1/2007 10:37:58 AM
Thomas Grillo

From: Jackson Mississippi

Joined: 8/13/2006

Am I late finding this, or what?

I've found my self using the wrist, and relaxed, slightly curled fingers with my index finger pointed slightly for moderately fast to slow passages, but when it comes to fast, but not quite rapid fire stacatas, I use all of my fingers, and a bit of wrist action, as if squeezing a blood-pressure pump. But for really fast rappid fire stacatas, like what Clara Rockmore did going up, and down scales, I have to streghten my fingers, tense the hand, and use total wrist action. As soon as I let my guard down, and allow the fingers to relax, and curl again, I lose the rapid fire functionality for some reason. I had the hardest time figuring out how to do rapid stacatas when I started playing. I also seldom if ever raise my volume aarm at the elbow, or shoulder, mainly due to neuropathy problems in my left shoulder.
Posted: 7/7/2007 10:18:22 AM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

[i]A fellow thereminist and I were discussing some volume hand techniques and he suggested that I post some of the information to this thread. This post discusses some adaptations I had to make to play looping works.[/i]

[b]The Dip-the-fingertips-into-the-dish technique[/b]

In general, I hold my volume hand in a relaxed manner with fingers curved in a natural position. This position is pretty much the standard "dipping fingers into a water dish" technique.

Additionally, I make no attempt to avoid wrist motion by holding the wrist in a tight or stiff position. All movement comes from the arm and the wrist just kind of flows with it.

(Note: when I say "motion from the arm" I am referring to the elbow -- little motion comes from the shoulder joint.)

I have found that this relaxed approach is good for endurance.

There are times, though, when one must adapt one's technique to overcome obstacles.

[b]Wrist snaps, anyone?[/b]

When I started working with loops and attempting to create punchy rhythmic patterns with the theremin, I found it difficult to avoid playing behind the beat. The solution to this was three-fold.

First, I had to hold my fingers out straight. The fingertips of curved fingers dip beyond the line at which the theremin's sound is audible. The result was a delay between the beginning of the upward arm motion and the point at which the fingertips cleared the line of audibility. To straighten the fingers is to clear the line as soon as the upward motion begins.

Second, to achieve a brisk attack to the note, I turned to Lydia Kavina's instructional video wherein she snaps the wrist upward to produce a rapid attack. This motion, from the wrist, is the opposite of the motion-from-the-arm technique in that the arm follows the wrist motion rather than the other way around.

Third, I increased the volume sensitivity (on the Epro, this is done by turning the Volume knob to the right). That is, on songs that require this kind of articulation, I turn the volume knob about 1/6 of a turn (i.e., say from 11 o'clock to 1 o'clock).

Note that this technique addresses the "attack" of the notes and is not to be confused with rapid scales, etc.

[b]Rapid attacks vs. rapid passages[/b]

Incidentally, on rapid, articulated, passages I initiate all motion from the arm while allowing my wrist to move naturally. To a viewer, it may appear that I am using wrist motion to articulate the notes. The reason for this is that I get more control from my arm. A given passage when played in a controlled manner will sound faster than the same passage played at a higher tempo without good control.

[b]Fitting it all together[/b]

I tend to view the wrist snap technique in the way that one might view pizzicato technique -- a once-in-a-while technique that adds color and variety to a composition. Thus, I reserve the wrist-snap technique for those times when the music demands a note that attacks quickly and precisely.
Posted: 7/7/2007 11:16:14 AM
Thomas Grillo

From: Jackson Mississippi

Joined: 8/13/2006

You just saved me a lot of typing there, Kevin. I covered a simalar description of these techniques in theremin lesson four, and there's a fairly good example of my volume hand work on the JHS Mods video on youtube, where I have a side view of the Pro with my volume hand in view. (not as much as I wanted it to be).
Posted: 9/27/2007 9:36:08 AM

From: Kingston, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

"How does he do that small Neapolitan gliss?"
"How does she control that slur in the second phrase?"
"How does he swoop up to that note without sounding the entire range in-between?"

After a few years of playing, some real life experience and several hard ware modifications,
I think the design of the volume circuit, modifications to it, and individual adjustments and tuning of it has as big an impact on the volume aspect of expressive playing as the actual hand technique.

All my theremins have been modified and tweaked and adjusted a lot. (I've detailed them all here before and on my web site so won't repeat here.) I find I can adjust quickly to any other well calibrated theremin, but always miss tiny nuances I can execute on mine.

Besides working on all of these great techniques and tricks to emulate a sound or style you're working towards, don't under estimate the physical adjustments to the player's instrument. Customizing your theremin to your style and musical goals can help you find a subtle and individual voice.
Posted: 9/29/2007 7:24:43 AM

From: Leicester, UK

Joined: 9/23/2005

I've noticed that changing my mental mindset can alter improve my playing - left and right hand.

One thing I find helps with the left hand in this way is to "think violin".
Kind of change the attack and decay to imitate a violin.
"Think vocalist" can produce a slightly different result.

Another one is "playing large" or being bold. I think a lot of playing in the home makes one be a bit small in movement or presentation. Sometimes hamming it up a bit improves things. I tend to have more confident sound and acheive better results when playing bold than when being timid and worrying about pitch.

Sounds like mumbo jumbo I guess, but when I'm having a "bad theremin day", sounding like a drunk swanny whistle player, I find these changes in mindset and approach can help a lot.

You must be logged in to post a reply. Please log in or register for a new account.