Is it possible?

Posted: 6/3/2012 5:06:19 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Here are all four youtube videos of me playing. Basically I look like a morose, bored, pudgy, balding, grey haired, middle aged bloke pretending to play the theremin. It's funny how playing the theremin affects one's appearance. In reality I am something of an Adonis.

I'm happy to answer any questions about peripherals etc. The setup for the first track is: the signal from the theremin goes into a ping-pong digital delay, then both channels of the delay are ring-modded against each other and given a touch of low-pass, and then I mix back in some of the un-ringmodded outputs from the delay. 

The others just have a straight forward digital delay in the effects chain.

In the last one I am wielding a lobster knife and a carving knife. The carving knife had gaffer tape around the handle to isolate some exposed metal.

(On a historical note, I extracted the audio from the first one, processed it a bit on my computer and put it on my second album, Psilocyren as the track Point Of Collapse.)


Posted: 6/3/2012 5:25:20 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

What I meant was a video in which what you are doing is explained or perhaps discussed in some way. Watching someone play precision theremin is interesting because, if the player is skilled, your eyes don't believe your ears.

Watching someone playing FX, aleatoric improvisations or noise music is liable to be much less "magical", and the effectiveness of what we hear often depends on visuals that are unrelated to the performance itself. 


Posted: 6/3/2012 6:14:55 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Playing with an echo breaks the visual magic because it takes away the simple direct relationship between what you see and what you here. It's still better than watching someone operate a laptop. (I do suspect that sometimes they play an mp3 and check their twitter account.)


An instructional video is not part of my plans at the moment. Perhaps if I acquire a decent video camera and some presentation skills in the future...

Posted: 6/3/2012 8:37:54 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 . ...................................

Joined: 12/7/2007


Back to the screwdriver.. You could have multiple sleeves over the screwdriver giving progressively thickening dielectric.

With such a 'wand' you may even be able to play 'tunes' controlled by where you touch the 'wand'.


Posted: 6/3/2012 9:53:39 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Good idea, Fred. :-)


Peter, no video, but a lot of what I do is really quite obvious - much of it is delay based arpeggios and chords. Here's something that anyone with a handy echo pedal might find fun - I showed Lydia Kavina this and it sounded really great when she did it:

Set your echo pedal to, say, two second repeats, and with feedback set so that you get to about half volume after five repeats. It's not critical.

Now decide on a pretty little four note arpeggio and play one note of it, staccato, every two and a half seconds, each note lasting a half of a second. (i.e. play the first note, play the second note immediately after the first one is repeated for the first time, then play the third note immediately after the second note is repeated for the first time, and the fourth note immediately after the third note is repeated for the first time.) After ten seconds you will have constructed your arpeggio in the delay loop of the echo pedal. At this point you can either keep it going the same way by repeating what you just did, or introduce a variation and let the arpeggio evolve.

As you can imagine there are a great many ways that you can vary this simple scheme. Lengthening the notes and playing them more legato will result in the arpeggio blurring into a drone chord with a varying texture as different notes in the chord become louder and softer.

It also means you are only actually playing for a percentage of the time, so you have some space where you can decide on a variation, find the next pitch on your pitch preview and maybe even devote a little brain power to operating an expression treadle to add some character and interest to the mechanically exact repeats that the echo box provides. Sweeping the treadle at a rate that is a ratio of the speed of the echo repeats (say every four seconds in this instance) works well and doesn't require too much thinking about.

It would be interesting to hear it tried by someone with strong rhythm skills. Personally I am thinking of ways to automate parts of the process to get some complex rhythmic patterns that I couldn't do unaided. (Unaided at the moment. Maybe after hearing a machine do it I'll try to imitate it by hand and learn that way.)

Previously you have described the echo pedal as a kaleidoscope, making pretty much anything sound good, but I find it more useful to think of it as a metronome and a sequencer and a means to pseudo-polyphony.

What you heard on Steely Dan III was variations on that technique (but not "in tune") and with some old fashioned woo-woo playing - you know, that stuff that bands with a theremin and no idea do - thrown in to add a little interest.

Posted: 6/4/2012 1:37:29 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 . ...................................

Joined: 12/7/2007

"In other words, it's a theremin if it sounds like a theremin.."

If one chose to catogorise an instrument based on what it sounds like as the only criterion, well - who am I to argue?

We would not have advanced much if we catogorised other things so simplistically - all the twinkly "stars" look the same, so theyre all "stars" - forget about the fact that some wander through the skies at a different rate to others....

But likewise, my primary criterion (proximity changing pitch) could be seen as simplistic.. ..and.. Theremins might just be a figment of my sick imagination!


Posted: 6/4/2012 3:07:14 AM
RS Theremin

From: 60 mi. N of San Diego CA

Joined: 2/15/2005

My optical theremin is still one of my most popular webpages even though there has been no link to it from my webpages in years.

If a proximity changing pitch is a theremin then this would have to be considered.

Proximity of photons, shadows and your hand sounds good to me. For me it is not a theremin because it makes use of the unnatural square wave.

Posted: 6/4/2012 5:02:51 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

In a futile attempt to drag this thread to something vaguely approximate being on topic, I'm going to mention the theremin keyboard. There, I did it.

And now I'm going to post an interesting link and then ask a question...

Is anything known about the theremin keyboard, or is it completely lost to history?

Posted: 6/4/2012 5:05:25 PM

From: Theremin Motherland

Joined: 11/13/2005

Zomniac: Is it possible to control the pitch through a keyboard attatchment?

Satisfied with the Fred's 1b, 1d and any of 3a...3e it is possible with model of hand (metal plate) drived by a servo and controlled in any way (midi-to-position engine, for example).

Developing this idea you can provide the audio feedback to escape the R & D of note-to-position tabulation.


Posted: 6/4/2012 5:14:37 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 . ...................................

Joined: 12/7/2007

"For me it is not a theremin because it makes use of the unnatural square wave." - RS


The word "unnatural" bothers me a bit - how do you define what is "natural" or "unnatural" ? (I have had this debate on a different forum, relating to human behaviour - but I wont go into that here - even though the arguments could be quite similar.. ;-)

Perhaps we could say that the only "natural" waveform is the sine (I am not saying this!) - well, in that case all waveforms are natural - they can all be created from sines.

Square waves do exist in nature - they are the basic waveform of many wind instruments.. It is only the filtering which is applied through the construction of the resonator which removes the higher harmonics to give a more 'sine like' sound.

What we have in electronics is the ability to produce square waves with much faster edges (ns and even ps) rather than the far slower edges found in nature - but this is only due to the mechanical limitations of the exciter.. And these rapid edges create higher harmonics (beyond our perception).. But these higher harmonics are filtered by a simple RC LPF.. In fact, it is difficult to keep these higher harmonics if you wanted to - nature has its way of rounding off the edges!

I do not actually believe there is such a thing as an "unnatural" waveform - unlikely, unusual, yes.. unnatural, no!

Most of the sounds which have grabbed my attention since Bob invented his VCO's and VCF's (and EG's + VCA's) have been "unnatural" (and wonderful) because of the dynamic changes to the harmonic content of the sound - It is possible to create a waveform which changes in a way which is extremely difficult (possibly impossible) to do without electronics.

IMO, its not the waveform which is of primary importance, it is dynamic changes to the waveform. Waveforms (certainly simple ones like square, triangle, ramp and sine) in themselves cannot be "unnatural" - perhaps when (for example) put through a VCF+VCA with the VCF swept inversely, one can create an "unnatural" sound -

In which case, I love many unnatural sounds!


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