Hands Off 2009 - big news!

Posted: 2/22/2009 6:03:46 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

First of all, a quick introduction to Hands Off for newcomers to Theremin World.

Hands Off is a biennial UK based theremin event.

Two years ago we organised "Hands Off - The Theremin Symposium", a long weekend of talks, master classes and workshops focussing primarily on classical theremin skills and culminating in a three hour concert "Hands Off - The Theremin Concert" showcasing the diversity of British and International theremin playing. We closed the doors for the symposium when we had fifty attendees, and the concert was also sold out.

We all had a brilliant time.

The plan [i]was[/i] to repeat and expand on the symposium this year. (Actually, that was the second plan - the first plan fell at the starting gate.) Over the last few months we have been staring the Credit Crunch hard in the face. It has affected the Charlton family directly, and we are not the only people in the theremin community having a hard time of it. We have come to the conclusion that this is not the right time for a big, costly affair. As a return attendee I would not want to pay more than I did last time for something I had done before. I am also mindful that last time the cost did exclude some UK based thereminists.

Do not fear! I am indefatigable. All this means is that now is the right time to do something different. To offer something not offered by Etherfest in the US or Without Touch in Germany. And to avoid overreaching our ambition and scale down a bit.

I have an idea. The first step is to see if you like it.

Firstly - we need to shift the focus a little, from the theremin as the last great classical instrument, to its other identity as the first great electronic instrument. Let's celebrate that this time around!

I have some experience of great weekends of electronic music, courtesy of my record label "White Label Music" who do a thing they call a "Sonic Weekend" a weekend where a bunch of keen electronic musicians come together and record an album. Just like that. I was dubious at first, but I've been to three of them now, they work and I know how to run one. You can find the results on iTunes. here (http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewArtist?id=253546610).

Notice that there are four albums, from three weekends. The "Kitchen Cuts" album was an impromptu side-project at the second Sonic Weekend, recorded without the assistance of their resident producer and finished off online after the event, and my personal favourite of all four albums.

This is the format I am considering. We find a small hall that doesn't mind a little noise and hire it for a weekend, sharing the cost equally. We'll try and cut a deal with a local hotel to accommodate us all overnight, and during the day we'll lay on big pots of Spaghetti Bolognese and such like. Everyone brings what equipment they can - theremins of course, monitors, mics, laptops, and other instruments - if you've got a musical skill, bring it to the party! We break up into groups, we talk, we plan, we play, we record, we mix as we go along, (we finish off on our computers afterwards) - plenty of busy time for everyone, but also time to chat, to hang out, watch the other groups recording, swap tricks and tips.

And at the end, as if by magic, there's an album. I'll be honest - it's probably not going to make you rich. But it's a great memento of a great weekend just hanging out with like minded musicians, doing what musicians do - making music.

Twenty people recording is about right. There's probably also going to be room for some kibbutzing - if you're not confident about recording live, just come and hang out - we'll be glad of your money. :-)

So this is what I suggest for 2009 - "Hands Off - The Album."

Are you interested?
Posted: 2/22/2009 9:19:40 PM

From: Eastleigh, Hampshire, U.K. ................................... Fred Mundell. ................................... Electronics Engineer. (Primarily Analogue) .. CV Synths 1974-1980 .. Theremin developer 2007 to present .. soon to be Developing / Trading as WaveCrafter.com . ...................................

Joined: 12/7/2007


I personally love the idea of getting together with other musically inclined people and creating something.. For me, this works only with 'experimental' music.. I do not have the required basics to play with 'real' musicians... when they call out a chord change or want someone who can read music or play something complex more than once, I get hopelessly lost.. So I need to play with people of equal incompetence, or at least people who dont get frustrated by my incompetence.. For me, 'experimental' usually fits the bill - and what comes out is not 'incompetent' - impro's can be brilliant, and structure can usually be cleaned up later.

So, For me, this idea works.. As a "hands off" though, I wonder if it will work - "hands off" to me (from reviews of your past event) is more about Theremins than about electronic (experimental) music, and therefore appeals to musicians of all persuasion - classical thru to experimental.. What you are proposing here looks (to me) something like the original "sonic weekend" which was not "instrument" targeted but more "style" targeted.

Your proposal makes me happy - I have often wished that I had known about / been part of "sonic weekend" - it sounds great!

My worry is that this proposed focus will limit this event to experimental Thereminists, may not benefit Theremin novices or be of interest to classically inclined Thereminists, and that it should probably be run as something other than "Hands off" - Perhaps keep "Hands off" similar to its previous form, and run it in 2010 (or as soon as the economy allows or we get used to our new found poverty), and have this event clearly differentiated and less Theremin specific.
Posted: 2/23/2009 4:13:13 AM

From: Colmar, France

Joined: 12/31/2007

Fred is right (this time!), the suggested structure seems to target mainly on experimental musicians with improvisation talent. But...

...why not use the infrastructure also for organizing something in the more classical way? Even if the common situation would not allow to invite super-pros like Lydia Kavina or Carolina Eyck, there are young talents and semi-pros, such as Charlie Draper in the UK, Coralie Ehinger in Switzerland or Nicolas Virani in France who could perhaps share their experience in a less official and more socialist manner in order to cover this part of the spectrum without terrible costs?

I cannot speak for Fred, but only for myself, but I would be glad if he joined in: As long as my practical skills on the Theremin are still very limited, I have though acquired some knowledge in Theremin electronics, tuning, hot rodding etc. and I'm ready to share this. That could even be a third column on which a such event could be set up.

I think if we managed to dissolve the common teacher/pupil categories of such events and everybody would see himself as someone who brings something on one side and will more or less unofficially learn from others on the other side, Hands Off 2009 could be the first workshop in Montessori style...
Posted: 2/23/2009 4:43:40 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Fred. Thierry.

Thank you both for your thoughtful comments. You are quite right, of course. But it seems to me that for the classical thereminist it is unrealistic to expect a solid melodic performance in such a short time-scale. So, yes, this does put it more in the experimental and improvisational arena. But...

This does not exclude classically trained thereminists.

Amongst thereminists some of the best experimental (or avant-garde, or electroacoustic or whatever you want to call it) music comes from classically trained musicians. Lydia Kavina, Barbara Buchholz, Pamelia Kurstin, Kip Rosser, Wilco Botermans, need I continue?

Similarly, Sonic Weekend includes classical musicians, some who do the electronica thing in their spare time, some who were not suited to the classical regime and left the conservatory to do their own thing, and one chap who was stepping right out of his comfort zone to try something different. (In fact he was one of the musical highlights, while we failed to encourage him to blow his flute so hard that it went off pitch (which would have been the right thing for one particular recording) once he determined to let loose and play his heart out on his clarinet he was just awesome. The interplay between electronic and acoustic instruments is a good thing, and the theremin can act as a bridge between these two different domains of music most effectively.

(I recall vividly one of Lydia's performances I attended - a trio providing life accompaniment to early Russian films, one player recreating early Russian electronic music on his laptop and little collection of analogue devices, one playing wicked jazz sax and Lydia acting as an intermediary, moving from electronic to jazz and back again. Perhaps not to everyone's taste, but the audience (who were there for the movies - so not theremin aficionados, but almost certainly drawn from the same demographic as the primary audience for classical music) were most appreciative.)

So yes, focussed on a genre, albeit a very eclectic one (Is an "eclectic genre" an oxymoron?) so perhaps more appealing to a slightly different cross-section of thereminists, but there you go - "you can't please all of the people all of the time..."

And yes, it is placing it the theremin in a musical context other than "all theremin, all of the time" but ha! even I could not manage an entire album of "all theremin, all of the time."

Should it have the Hands Off brand name on it? I think so. I would like Hands Off to be an adaptable thing, that can be whatever suits the prevailing circumstances. One symposium does not make it a tradition.

(Thierry - I like your Montessori analogy, although I am more influenced by the constructionist approach as espoused by Seymour Paper in his brilliant little book, Mindstorms (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindstorms:_Children,_Computers,_and_Powerful_Ideas), which is applicable outside of learning computer programming, and to adults as well as children. There is also an aspect of the "business team-building exercise" to the idea.)
Posted: 2/23/2009 4:43:42 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

[edit] Oops, double post. Omhoge or Jason - interesting - I think this was not caused by a double-click on the post button. I think it happened because I started writing my response to Fred before Thierry had posted his response, and posted my response after Thierry had posted. If it was that that caused the double post I bet it's going to be a nasty thing to debug! [/edit]
Posted: 2/23/2009 10:00:24 AM

From: UK

Joined: 4/15/2008

Hello Gordon!

I'll add my thoughts, although I hesitate to do so as they may not be very helpful.

To me, it sounds as if your new proposal would best suit those who have already attended a Hands Off event previously. It would allow them to try something different, rather than have them attend the same (or similar) H/O workshops as last time.

I'm not sure this alternative proposal would benefit new thereminists so much. I would favour a more structured arrangement with experienced tutors/workshops. While people dividing into groups and sharing their knowledge is a great idea in theory, there's perhaps a danger of a few self-appointed experts muddying the waters in the way an experience tutor wouldn't.

For me personally, in terms of cost/time, this proposal wouldn't be cost-effective, (estimating travel/hotel) if it's for a prolonged improv session with no tutor-lead classical playing workshops, (my apologies for over-simplificiation). I'd want something more educational for the time/money invested.

I DO agree that, for many, things might be financially difficult this year (myself included). Both healthwise and financially I suspect I couldn't manage anything before autumn 2009. Therefore, it's possible I may not be able to attend ANY event ... so you needn't pay too much attention to my preferences!
Posted: 2/23/2009 10:43:45 AM

From: Eastleigh, Hampshire, U.K. ................................... Fred Mundell. ................................... Electronics Engineer. (Primarily Analogue) .. CV Synths 1974-1980 .. Theremin developer 2007 to present .. soon to be Developing / Trading as WaveCrafter.com . ...................................

Joined: 12/7/2007

[i]"Fred is right (this time!)"[/i] [b]LOL![/b]

Thanks Thierry.. ;)

[i]"I cannot speak for Fred, but only for myself, but I would be glad if he joined in: As long as my practical skills on the Theremin are still very limited, I have though acquired some knowledge in Theremin electronics, tuning, hot rodding etc. and I'm ready to share this. That could even be a third column on which a such event could be set up."[/i]

I think that a technical 'workshop' session on the Theremin would be a great idea.. I would be most happy to help with this..
It may be that such an event should be "stand alone" and perhaps not part of the "Hands Off" event - or perhaps the "Hands Off" event could have an extra optional day (or two) tacked on for those wanting to play with oscilloscopes and soldering irons! I could certainly bring 2 'scopes, frequency counters, meters, harmonic analyser etc - and even a box full of prototypes for people to abuse! ;)
Posted: 2/23/2009 6:57:18 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Hi Thereminstrel, - It's a funny thing, in the thing I used to run before I got my theremin, the Lancashire folk were always the most reluctant to cross the Watford Gap. It's OK though, you're blood doesn't really get thinner as you head South - that only happens to Southerners. :-) Still, I do get that it's a bit far to come early Saturday and go back Sunday evening. Nonetheless, I shall proceed to make some gently encouraging noises...

I don't see that it's necessary to have attended HO2007 - part of the fun is going to be finding out what we can do with the skills we have available, and what you're going to get out of it will be something different to a more formal tuition based event.

What you get is to participate in the whole process - to see a piece of music through from conception to finished product. (As I love to quote, "Real artists ship. (http://www.folklore.org/StoryView.py?story=Pirate_Flag.txt)") and to sit on their shoulder while people are doing the parts you're not so strong on. This sort of "learning on the job" gives skills that can be adapted and applied to any genre of music.

(As for "self appointed experts" - from the feedback I've seen here and on levnet and privately we will have actual expertise with people who have experience of this sort of process.)

This is complementary to what, for instance, Wolfgang is offering in Lippstadt and, as there is little overlap, the order that you do them is irrelevant.

Plus of course, there's the people. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, the best part of every theremin festival is the people.

And... I was banking on your wonderful collection of neck-ties to brighten up our lives.

Fred. At the moment I'm waiting on finding out prices, but I'm looking at local schools, for their large assembly halls and plenty of side rooms, so we'll have places for people to do stuff outside of the main thrust of the event, and there will be plenty of opportunity for interacting with the other attendees. If we count five hours per day for two days to devise and record fifty minutes of music and split it over twenty people in groups of four, then each group has to record an average of one minute of music per hour, which is doable with time to spare, but what was the bus driver's name?

Actually, the best part of having builders at the symposium wasn't the formal talks - it was pinning them down over lunch and talking about stuff you wanted to talk about. They were quite in demand for "personal consultations" and a perfect complement to the musical side. This event will be a lot more real-world than the symposium, and I suspect real-world electronics skills might potentially come in handy. Pack your soldering iron!
Posted: 2/24/2009 10:29:41 AM

From: UK

Joined: 4/15/2008

Thanks for those "gently encouraging noises". I agree with pretty much everything you say. I'm not ruling anything out; I'll just have to decide nearer the time, taking my circumstances and priorities into account.

My reluctance to travel isn't a county-based quirk, but down to ongoing health problems. I'm not managing much driving right now; half an hour of gripping the steering wheel would leave me unable to play the theremin for the rest of the day ... so a lengthy trip would rule out any playing at all, which would make it all a bit pointless. That's what I mean when I say it might not be cost-effective; unless something is a major priority or huge benefit, it doesn't make the problems it can create for me worthwhile.

I don't doubt for a moment that there would be plenty of experts for this project. I didn't express that well; I was referring more to the idea of possible classically-based training run along similar lines ... and wasn't convinced that would work so well without one experinced professional tutor.

I think you're right that experimental/improv playing and more classically focussed playing, are two complimentary skills worth learning ... and, if you're wanting to learn both, the order of learning isn't important. I also agree that many experimental players have a classical background. However, the two skills seem very different to me - like learning two different languages, and, like languages, circumstances/priorities are a consideration. Right now, learning Chinese wouldn't be the best option if I was travelling to Sweden; some formal Swedish tuition would be ideal. I can consider Chinese another time if I decide to head that way later.

Likewise, learning something about the internal electronics of the theremin would certainly interest me - but isn't a prioroty right now.

A lot will depend on the date, the cost, and what I feel I can manage. Hopefully, a good summer will perk me up a little. Meanwhile, I'll keep attending to your encouraging noises, and decide nearer the time. If it doesn't work out this time, then I'll have next time to look forward to. The main reason for offering my thoughts was that I guessed any feedback (positive or negative) might help judge an overall response. I'm sorry so few people have commented so far, although I imagine most of last time's attendees will be ready and waiting.
Posted: 2/24/2009 5:14:45 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

No worries. I absolutely welcome any feedback of all forms.

If this is going to be great I need to know what I'm getting right and what I'm getting wrong. It's not personal - it's just business.

Attendance is the make-or-break of it. It's simple - enough people commit to coming and it happens. If I'm losing potential attendees I can't fix it if I don't know why it is happening. And if I know what attendees want and don't want I can tweak the event to suit them. As a group and on a personal level. I now have "a way to get thereminstrel from there to here and back again without undue effort" loaded into my opportunity-detector. I'll let you know if it starts bleeping.

And here's the neat thing. It's not just me thinking about these things. Anyone reading this thread will give it a moment's reflection too.

That's why I like working as publicly as possible - Hands Off is not a one man show - I'm just the noisy one that set the ball rolling. Come the day of the event we'll all be pitching in. Group effort - that's what gets the job done.

For Hands Off I wear my business head and my cheerleader's rah-rah skirt. :-)

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