Theremin and Irish Jig

Posted: 10/30/2013 7:01:59 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

Clara Reisenberg (later Rockmore), was about 20 years younger than Mrs. Rosen and bent over backwards to appear supportive and respectful toward someone whom she knew to be a very important sponsor of the work of Lev Termen. 


Everyone, with the possible exception of Mrs. Rosen herself, knew the woman was a stinko thereminist, but young Clara had devised a number of clever congratulatory post-concert greetings that she could use on Lucie that would sound complimentary without being an out-and-out lie. She affectionately joked about this in her later years, long after the death of Mrs. R.


"Oh, Mrs. Rosen! When you began playing your theremin, I just couldn't believe my ears!"


"Clara darling! How sweet of you. Thank you soooo much. And please call me 'Lucie'. When you call me 'Mrs. Rosen' it makes me feel OLD." [laughs]


"Well, Lucie, all I can say is that from the beginning to the end of your recital I was just amazed at your theremin playing. I think I can honestly say I have never heard anything like it."


"Clara, you are a lamb."

Posted: 10/30/2013 11:24:49 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

"No disrespect, but something seeming to correlate closely doesn't mean it's actually related." -Explorer

I think this is accepted in scientific and engineering circles, so no "disrespect" is possible - in fact, possibly the only "disrespectful" thing you could do to a scientist is to declare that what they hypothesize is absolute truth! ;-)

All I said was:

"the  Schumann fundamental does seem to correlate quite closely to the frequency of Alpha waves in the brain"

and then effectively proposed an experiment:

 "I would be really interested is seeing whether perfect pitch related to the stability of Alpha waves - whether these people are perhaps phase locked to the Schumann fundamental... or something like that ;-)" -

The above steps are (IMO) the essential prerequisites for EXPLORING INTELEGENTLY - Make an observation, then create an experiment or find a source of other data, and test any hypothesis or idea against new data.. But NEVER be absolutely sure about anything…

LOL - It gets real boring being accused of saying or inferring something you haven't, and having to repeatedly explain the basics of scientific method.


"There is also something called "tonal memory", which is the ability to accurately recall a particular note. If you have a favorite piece of music and are able to hear it in your musical imagination sung or played in the key in which it was originally performed when you first heard the piece, then you have "tonal memory" (sometimes called "aural recall").
That does not mean that if a truck honks its horn in the street you will instantly know that it honked 35 cents flat of 'G'. To do that you need perfect pitch." - Coalport

I am having some difficulty accepting the above -

First, I would think that, if one has "perfect" "tonal memory" AND you are able to bring this "out of your head" into the physical world - as in, you can remember a song starting at A440, and, at any time, without hearing any other tonal references, you are able to hum A440, Then you have perfect pitch FOR A440..

If, from this "perfect" pitch you are able to produce other perfect intervals, then, to me, one (surely?) must have perfect pitch ??? -

But here I start having a problem - in fact, several problems.. I do not see any basis for the idea that:

"  if a truck honks its horn in the street you will instantly know that it honked 35 cents flat of 'G'. "

- To me, I see no way that this can be anything other than just plain nonsense..

What is a cent? - It’s a division of some arbitrary ratio by 100..

So are people with "perfect pitch" tuned to the (unnatural) 12 interval Equally tempered scale? - why not to a 19, 24,31,43 or 48 interval ETS ? .. And why not to some other older and more musical scale where intervals are not equally tempered ?

We have only had this ETS for an extremely short time in human history, and it is badly out of tune (if one is talking about cents) with the "natural" just scales at the Major 3rd and Major 6th intervals, and out on others (by less).

Look, I may well be wrong on some of the above - I come at this from the background of designing and building instruments, not as a musician..

But this "perfect pitch" stuff seems to have a lot of ambiguity and I am really starting to wonder if its really worth bothering about at all - There are an infinite number of intervals between every interval, there are a few basic musical ratios, but these are flouted by the ETS in order to standardize on the 12 ETS "required" for "industrializing" music..

Perfect Pitch ?? Perfect with reference to what??


Ps.. The theremin is, by its nature, able to play in any scale or tuning.. Unlike most other instruments, where the designer / builder must decide the tuning intervals, and the musician is stuck with these..
Is it possible (?) that there is a natural tendency to play in just temperament (unequal interval spacing) - and that without being 'locked' to the ETS some players "drift" towards "natural" just tuning .. The 5-limit Just scale has 12 intervals per octave, just like the 12-ETS.. but is quite a number of "ETS cents" out against the ETS.

Posted: 10/31/2013 12:07:28 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008



The difference between someone with "tonal memory" and someone with "perfect pitch" has to do with the calculation that the possessor of TM would have to do to determine a particular note. A person with TM would have to figure out what note he was listening to based on aural recall, whereas someone with PP does not need to figure anything out. He/she would know instantly.


We are also told by people who study such things that those with TM need to have that memory reinforced at regular intervals because it degrades over time.


As for those with PP, yes, specific values are a cultural thing and are acquired and "locked in" at an early age. If someone possesses PP and is taught that A is 440 Hz, and imprints on that, then that will be the way it is for the rest of the life of that individual. I was brought up to spell the word "through" with an "ough". Whenever I see "thru", which I do constantly, I do a slight adjustment but I am aware that it is not the way I was taught to spell the word as a child. 


The word "perfect pitch" does not relate to the pitch itself. It relates only to the rare natural ability of certain people to instantly recognize whether or not a particular sound they are hearing is what they have been taught is the currently accepted frequency for a specific note. 


In India, "doh" is not the note we call "C". It is roughly the equivalent of C#. For years, classical Indian musicians have been lamenting the disappearance of the art of the microtone, as Indian music becomes increasingly westernized. Bollywood no longer uses the traditional quarter tone system and has opted for a sort of east/west hybrid. 


As I have said before, I have always been surprised by the readiness of ancient and highly developed cultures to reject the best of their own traditions, replacing it with the worst of ours. 

Posted: 10/31/2013 12:48:37 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

Hi Peter,

Oh - I still dont get it.. ;-)  ... Or, perhaps more to the point, I dont see the relevance of any difference between TM and PP..  If anything, I imagine that PP could be a musical disadvantage, as it may restrict the musician to some arbitrary tuning scheme they are "tuned" to in absolute terms..

From a theremin playing perspective, if the musician is able to recognise intervals and play on key with these, surely this is enough? If the band is playing A at 443Hz ("out" by say 40 cents) and playing 12nETS, then surely the thereminist will play just fine if their A is 443Hz, and each interval has the required 1.059463 multiple to the nearest other? - this is relative pitch - but if the band was playing A as 440Hz, and the thereminist could play on key with this and on other notes played solo, then surely they would be as good as someone alledgedly having "perfect pitch" ?

I know you dont advocate that thereminist need "perfect pitch" - but this topic comes up quite frequently in theremin discussions - I personally see no reason that "perfect pitch perception" should be any more required or even desirable for thereminists than for any other instrument..

The only time I could see it being useful would be if a lone thereminist somewhere without any tone source or tuner, was required to produce a recording that would be played back to acompany an orchestra tuned to concert pitch.. IMO, a somewhat unlikely scenario!



Posted: 10/31/2013 3:48:56 AM

Joined: 10/23/2013

Once I was sitting in on a friend's traditional music tune teaching class, and one student kept complaining about how the music was a bit flat. She couldn't follow when they would just modulate based on moving one course/string over. I absolutely agree that I'd hate to be unable to adjust or relate to something being in a different key. More than once, I've seen someone with perfect pitch be unable to see the note relationships in melody and chord, because those relationships were drowned out by the "C"-ness of a C, and the "F"-ness of an F.

I know that people who really work a language as adults might eventually become close to fluent, to where others might think of them as fluent, but those who study second language acquisition recognize the difference between one's native language and a second non-native language. I imagine that if one doesn't have something one can relate to regarding the difference between perfect pitch and tonal memory, one might believe they're the same thing.

I'm glad that tonal memory was named in this discussion, as I hadn't heard that particular term, and it's spot on. With that term on the table, I would probably agree that perfect pitch can't be learned, any more than being subject to synesthesia, but tonal memory can be.

Posted: 10/31/2013 11:15:11 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

The only time perfect pitch might be an advantage is when a singer or a thereminist is performing "a cappella", or has to start a performance "cold" without any reference to pitch and then be joined by other instruments.


Fred is right, PP can be a disadvantage because once someone is locked into a certain set of accepted frequencies everything else sounds wrong. Waaaay back in the early 1960's I had a friend with PP who was unable to listen to the music on the record player at our house because it did not rotate at exactly 33 & a third rpm, and it wasn't user adjustable.


Coincidentally, that friend went on to study piano for several years with Nadia Reisenberg in New York City.

Posted: 10/31/2013 10:45:15 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

"Waaaay back in the early 1960's I had a friend with PP who was unable to listen to the music on the record player at our house because it did not rotate at exactly 33 & a third rpm, and it wasn't user adjustable." - Coalport

I have this problem with my TM - Some music (particularly the Beatles Sgnt Pepper's and some early ELP and Jethro Tull) - I absolutely saturated myself with back in the '60s - I had a tube based stereogram I paid a fortune for, but later discovered that the turntable was (or must have been) out..

Later, hearing these albums on other (better) systems, I could not understand why none ever sounded as good to me as they did when played on my old hi-fi..

Many years later I got an adjustable direct-drive turntable and I was able to adjust the pitch - and they sounded great - the way I remembered them! ...Oh, the turntables strobe was moving like hell, but that didnt matter - When the strobe was stationary, the music never sounded as good to me! LOL ;-)  I suppose if I had had PP I would have recognised the problem far sooner (or recognised the problem with my old Hi-Fi before I "imprinted" on the "wrong" pitches)

I only ever had this issue with some music - I played lots of early Santana and Return to Forever on my old Hi-Fi and never found "correctly" pitched versions bothersome - But Seargant Pepper and Tull's "Aqualung" albums in particularly were a real bother.

Also, I think it came down to the length of exposure to the "wrong" pitch - I used to audition prospective albums to purchase at the record store, and never noticed any difference when I brought these albums home and played them on my faulty Hi-Fi.

Posted: 10/31/2013 11:34:22 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008



In regard to "Tonal Memory", as I pointed out above, the experts tell us that those who like you have this particular knack, have to have it reinforced frequently or it begins to fade. Sampling a song one or twice at the record store would probably not have been enough exposure to imprint the pitch on your brain. 


I have very good TM but I would probably have to live with a piece of music for several days, hearing it play over and over in my mind (an "earworm"), before I could accurately and consistently recall the pitch. 

Posted: 11/2/2013 7:59:10 PM

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 2/17/2012

From what I've read about absolute and perfect pitch (admittedly little) I'm not 100% convinced the phenomenon exists as imagined / described by most people.  In the study I linked to earlier it seems as though it is highly dependent on what has been heard recently, which seems reasonable.  In this study ( those with AP do better than average for key of C note recognition, but have poorer than average octave sense.

Not picking on anyone here, but I've run into loads of people on the web who claim to have golden ears in one way or another.  Like being able to hear 16 bit quantization (something sufficiently disproven IMO via ABX testing), MP3 and similar lossy compression artifacting even at very high bit rates, subtle differences between fairly standard power amplifiers, soundstage variation due to green markers on CDs, cable oxygen content, etc.  The audiophile community has so polluted these subjects for fun and profit that it's kind of hard to know who / what to believe, so my initial approach is to think it's at least partially a sham or in some way either an active or unconscious (or some crazy mix thereof) fundamental misrepresentation of what's really going on.

The need to feel special (self esteem) is a general ego defense / coping mechanism, one that can very much get in the way of objective assessment.  But there is obviously no way to walk a mile in someone else's sensory system (something ABX testing cleverly skirts) which is, in a way, the perfect offense / defense.

Posted: 11/2/2013 8:38:04 PM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

I disagree that the gift of "perfect pitch" can be written off as nothing but an ego booster for those with a need to feel exceptional. Probably a lot more people claim to have it than actually DO have it, but that does not mean PP is simply the figment of over-inflated, needy imaginations. 


I sense that the existence of PP does not fit into your musical world view and, like the need to feel special, this may be getting in the way of any real objective assessment. What seems to be clouding the issue is that PP is not like typhoid - something you either HAVE or DO NOT HAVE. It is a matter of degrees, and this makes it rather hard to pin down. 


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