"Physical" note location?

Posted: 1/18/2009 7:40:45 PM

From: Cleveland, Ohio

Joined: 1/18/2009

I noticed at several Brian Wilson concerts that the thereminist playing "Good Vibrations" was sliding his hand/finger on the instrument to marked, specific locations. He hit those notes squarely. How does one modify an etherwave standard to work that way?
(Although I'm a pianist, I'm a rank beginning thereminist!)

Posted: 1/18/2009 10:46:23 PM
Jeff S

From: N.E. Ohio

Joined: 2/14/2005

I can't find any clear videos from his recent concerts, but I have seen the instrument in vintage clips.

It is unlikely that the "thereminist" is using an actual theremin per se (with antennas). They usually use what's commonly referred to as an "electro-theremin". I've never had the opportunity to examine their instrument up close. It is most likely some sort of ribbon controller similar to the Eowave Persephone.

You can approximate this by simply marking the top on the case of your Etherwave at the appropriate locations. Then you can slide your finger from one position to the other.

This may not produce a satisfactorally consistant result for you. The "tuning" will change from day to day depending on the temperature and humidity, the size and position of the player, and how pitch knob is adjusted.
Posted: 1/19/2009 8:26:24 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

Check out Tom Polk's tannerin page. He's the guy who built the tannerin (or "electro-theremin") for Brian Wilson.

By the way, the word "tannerin" was coined by none other than....yes...you got it.. yers trooly ME, back in the late 1990's. It just seemed a bit silly to refer to an "electro-theremin" since the theremin is already "electro". It just seemed logical to call Paul Tanner's instrument a "tannerin". It stuck.

Posted: 1/19/2009 9:08:15 AM

From: UK

Joined: 4/15/2008

Hello, BentJay. Personally, I don't think trying to fix on "physical" note locations on the theremin itself is a good idea. When starting to learn, it might appear a logical method, but it's very limiting and not so reliable.

The first problem is tuning. Tuning the theremin not only alters the position of the notes in the "air", but also widens or narrows the distance between notes, (although, of course, there's no gap between them). As Jeff S has already mentioned, the theremin needs tuning every time you play it, to adjust for any possible alterations in the note field caused by slight changes in the instrument's position, player's position, weather, temperature and several other factors. Therefore, marking the theremin with specific note-positions wouldn't really work; you certainly couldn't rely on notes marked during practice at home to be in the same place once the theremin was moved to a gig or studio.

Having come to the theremin from being a pianist, I can understand that it's easier visualizing the notes from left to right, rather than in and out towards the antenna ... however, learning good aerial-fingering technique is far more reliable in the long-run, than trying to physically fix the note position on the theremin case. Learning a finger-shift that gives you a reliable shift of a third or a fifth etc will, over time as muscle memory develops, become quite reliable, if you always tune the theremin to suit you own particular hand and fingering.

I guess it may just be possible to tune the theremin by moving the hand between two fixed marked points on the case that are, for example, a fifth apart ... then retuning (at a gig or wherever) using the same two notes, the same notational-distance apart, and matching them to the same two marks. That would keep things consistent ... but I still wouldn't recommend getting into such a habit, because of its limitations when playing.

When you develop good aerial-fingering, the notes are easier to hit SWIFTLY with fingering shifts, giving good, clear articulation, whereas when sliding the finger/hand along the surface of the theremin, the "drag" tends to slow note-changes down so that note articulation is much less "defined". I've seen Youtube videos of people resting their finger on either a button or a coin for ease of sliding around, but, in my opinion, it never sounds as nice as "traditional" playing methods, possibly becuase you may not be able to develop such good vibrato technique when the hand is anchored to something solid.

There always seems to be some confusion about which instrument was used in "Good Vibrations". In this Youtube video, Brian Wilson claims it was a theremin, (and is seen with one), but the older footage of the group later in the same video doesn't show a theremin, but what (from a distance) looks more like a slide or ribbon controller.

This Youtube video is the only close up of the instrument I've ever found, and it certainly isn't a traditional theremin (no pitch or volume antenna); is this an "electro-theremin" / Tannerin? It certainly seems to be some kind of slide controller:
Posted: 1/19/2009 11:49:10 AM

From: Escondido, CA

Joined: 2/6/2008

There's a site about the "tannerin" somewhere. The original "instrument" Paul shows is a Heathkit power amp and a slightly-modified Heathkit sinewave generator (Wein Bridge oscillator), controlled by a mechanical ribbon arrangement.

Posted: 9/10/2009 2:20:08 AM
Dave H

From: Sedona AZ

Joined: 7/12/2009

Some links that may be of interest on this topic:

Paul Tanner Electro-Theremin Page (http://www.electrotheremin.com/PTE-TPage.html) Plenty of information and links.

Electro-Theremin photos (http://www.electrotheremin.com/ET.html)

Tannerin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electro-Theremin) Wikipedia entry.

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