"Original" theremin sound?

Posted: 10/23/2009 5:40:28 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]"My personal "ideal theremin" would (I think) have one parameter of the timbre controllable via left-right movements of the volume hand." - GordonC [/i]

This is implemented (as I think you know) on one version of my Theremins.. in fact, I have left-right-forward-backwards on the volume antenna to control 2 parameters.. but one does not need to assign any axis to anything.

But this is not planned for the first release - the interface will be there (this is the reason my antennas have a multi-pin connector) -

What I hope to have is an option for the volume antenna to do analogue vocal formant synthesis with vowels mapped on the x-y sensing field.. the idea came from the Practical Electronics "Chatterbox" I built many years ago, which used a joystick to control the vowels and a seperate knob to control pitch.. The Theremin is ideally suited to implement this as a musical instrument, having x-y and z (volume) on the volume antenna, and pitch ftom the pitch antenna.. But this is a seperate additional function I have only messed about with on the breadboard for proof-of-concept.
Posted: 10/25/2009 11:37:45 AM
Thomas Grillo

From: Jackson Mississippi

Joined: 8/13/2006

Sorry for being so late responding here.

Also, forgive me if I echo something I may have overlooked here. I'm in a bit of a hurry responding between rehearsals.

So. My thoughts on this. I've noticed from listenning to recordings of older theremins like the 91 series, Ethervox, and even the RCAs, there seems to be a difference in tone when one executes a glis from one end of the field to the other.

How much of this effect is caused by the speaker, vs the electronics is something worth exploring.

I'm certain this could be emulated, but just how to go about such an emulation is a challenge. Do you do it via sampling? The technology certainly exists, and the cost of chips needed to emulate with sampling that transitions with a cross-fade method from one charactor to another on glis certainly would seem to be doable to me. The resolution of chip based sampling has improved over the last 20 years.

Or, do you go to the trouble of back-engineering existing artifacts, and reproducing their circuitry? Tubes certainly sound different than transistors, or chips.

I know that modern theremins, like the Etherwaves, and even the burns theremins do this to some extent, but still fall short of reproducing the original sound of the pioneering theremins.

I would personally enjoy having access to a theremin which provided faithfully emulated reproductions of the original instruments.

Allthough it would be fun to explore a theremin that emulated conventional instruments, the whole point of playing a theremin, is that it does not, in fact, sound like any conventional instrument. It has it's own place in the world of instruments.

I have made a modification to one of my B3s, which now sounds a bit more classic. However, I have also noticed that one can simply adjust the equalizer on an amp, or mixer, and get some really interesting tonal charactors this way.

Anyway, that's my view on the topic. :)

Posted: 2/15/2010 1:53:24 PM
Jari Jokinen

Joined: 11/8/2006

Discussion at Muff's (http://www.muffwiggler.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=12603)

The oscillope shots linked above show 6 zero-crossings per cycle at 125Hz and. Yet there are only 2 zero-crossings per cycle at 750Hz. I guess this is important characteristic of the Original theremin and Ondes Martenot sound. It is not just skewing of the waveform.
Posted: 2/15/2010 2:04:32 PM
Jari Jokinen

Joined: 11/8/2006

Commercially available heterodyning 1V/oct VCO would be great! I have no theremin, but I will get Persephone MkII. However, normal synth sounds don't really satisfy me...

You can listen me playing Persephone Mk1 (which I sold) connected to Eurorack modular at the links below (It is a copy paste job of an old for-sale announcement). These would have sounded more satisfying and organic with heterodyning VCO...


I made more audio clips. The files are at Esnips, which can be slow.

Eurorack modular is controlled with two control voltages from Persephone. Except for example 1, 8, 9 and 10, same patch is used without tweaking.

Pitch is controlled by the Ribbon Position in 10 octave range (5 cm / octave). Either the Button (Mode A) or the Ribbon Pressure (Mode B) is routed to control amplitude. The routing is done without repatching by using the Play Mode Switch of Persephone. If desired, it would be possible to use all 3 CV:s simultaneously.

1. One module patch. Cwejman MMF-1 self-resonance (amplitude) is controlled with the Button:

2. The range. Amplitude controlled with the Button:

3. The obligatory Theremin imitation. Could have more dynamics. Amplitude controlled with the Button:

4. Slightly edited free session. Amplitude controlled with the Button:

5. No vibrato. Amplitude controlled with the Button, but at max all the time:

6. Here amplitude is controlled with the Ribbon Pressure:

7. Staccato. Amplitude controlled with the Ribbon Pressure:

8. Envelope added to the patch. Amplitude is controlled with the envelope, which is triggered with the Ribbon Pressure:

9. New patch. Here the Ribbon Position controls filter cutoff. Amplitude is controlled with the Ribbon Pressure. Also, at certain Ribbon Pressure threshold the oscillator pitch jumps up:

10. New patch. Amplitude is controlled with the Ribbon Pressure. Simple playing technique.

EDIT: The site may not work for all. Here is a zip containing all clips:
Posted: 2/15/2010 2:11:15 PM
Jari Jokinen

Joined: 11/8/2006


Have you finished the heterodyning VCO project?
Posted: 2/15/2010 5:38:06 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

Don't forget that the custom theremin that Lev Sergeievitch built for Clara Rockmore (like the identical one he built for Lucie Rosen) had several different timbres. Clara preferred one of them and never used any of the others.

I agree with FredM, I WANT IT ALL!

As several people have pointed out, much of what we think of as the "sound" of a theremin is not the timbre of the instrument itself, but what the thereminist does with it.

It is the touch of a master's hand - except with the theremin it is the DON'T touch of a master's hand.

Give Clara's instrument to an unskilled player and it will sound like a Gakken mini!

Posted: 2/16/2010 2:43:04 AM
Jari Jokinen

Joined: 11/8/2006

[quote]As several people have pointed out, much of what we think of as the "sound" of a theremin is not the timbre of the instrument itself, but what the thereminist does with it.[/quote]

Yet theremin timbre can be isolated from playing technique, which isn't possible for all instruments.
Posted: 2/16/2010 2:52:33 AM
Jari Jokinen

Joined: 11/8/2006

By the way, I have owned Moog Etherwave standard theremin. Theremin was not my thing anyway, but I thought the timbre was somewhat synth-like. Not organically transforming between high and low register.
Posted: 2/16/2010 2:50:08 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

Jari wrote:

"Yet theremin timbre can be isolated from playing technique, which isn't possible for all instruments."


That's true, Jari, but with the theremin I think we tend to over emphasize the importance of the timbre of the instrument when it comes to players whose music we like.

I play Samuel Hoffman's RCA but many people have remarked that it doesn't sound like it did when Hoffman himself played it. The thing is, it does sound like his theremin when I imitate his playing style and technique (which is quite different from my own).
Posted: 2/19/2010 8:47:30 PM

From: Toledo, Ohio United States of America

Joined: 2/22/2006

CoalPort knows his Theremin stuff.
Do not doubt him.
Join the net of Lev...
Good Luck!

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