Wiki "Thereminist" article draft Part 2

Posted: 8/3/2009 9:05:02 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Thread continued from here (
Posted: 8/3/2009 10:06:30 PM
Joe Max

From: Oakland, California

Joined: 1/2/2009

Fred: [i]"If the subject matter was some area of electronics I was an expert on, I would find it extremely difficult to walk away from argument here - it is only because I have little knowledge that I am able to "let go".." [/i]

Fred, you might be the right person to contribute to editing the "Theremin" article, after all the biographical data is stripped out (and moved to the "Thereminst" sub-article.)

Is there a way to explain in layman's terms the concept of body capacitance and how it makes the pitch and volume change in a paragraph or two? A lot of people who might visit the article will be looking for an explanation of "how does the damn thing [i]work!?![/i]", because unlike hitting a surface, plucking a string or blowing through a tube, how a theremin is controlled is quite "magical", and non-intuitive. One can wax eloquent about "interruptions of an electro-magnetic field changing the capacitance of hetrodyning oscillators tuned to a difference within the audio frequency range..." to which the layman says, "wha...???"
Posted: 8/3/2009 10:24:16 PM
Joe Max

From: Oakland, California

Joined: 1/2/2009


I've never liked that opening paragraph, so I went ahead and re-wrote it.

New version:

[i]A thereminist is a musician that plays the electronic musical instrument called a theremin.

Main Article: Theremin (link)

The theremin is utilized as a solo instrument in classical music, and is occasionally used in jazz improvisation. Theremins are popular instruments among avant-garde and new music artists, as well as rock musicians, due to the continuous gliding pitch, which allows freedom from traditional compositional structures. It has also been extensively used to generate sound effects and "atmospheric" incidental music for flim and video soundtracks.

Due to the untempered nature of the instrument's tuning, it is seldom used in ensemble performance with multiple theremins.[/i]

This is keeping with your idea of using the structure of the opening as a sub-framework within the chronological framework. That paragraph should cover all those variations.

Posted: 8/3/2009 10:31:51 PM
Joe Max

From: Oakland, California

Joined: 1/2/2009

I just changed "untempered nature" to "non-interval nature", which I think is nore accurate.
Posted: 8/3/2009 11:51:58 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

[i]"Is there a way to explain in layman's terms the concept of body capacitance and how it makes the pitch and volume change in a paragraph or two?"[/i]

ROFLMAO!!! ;-)

Me? A paragraph or two?? I couldnt describe how a resistor works in a paragraph or two!

No - I am MUCH too longwinded and pedantic! I probably hold the record here for the most elaborate, lengthy and needlessly longwinded postings .. (just look at my most recent on Topic: Modifying the tone of the Etherwave Standard)

I am not cut out for this particular role.. thanks for the vote of confidence - but I think this is one of the funniest things anyone has suggested to me in a long time!

Posted: 8/4/2009 4:34:15 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

I think the first paragraph is an improvement on the old version.

I think the second, shorter paragraph could be omitted. I suggest instead changing the first paragraph from "is utilized" - "is utilized predominantly".

My reasoning being the difficulties associated with multiple theremins are not just restricted to achieving consonance between instruments. The two most notable ensemble performances are of ten thereminists, the first assembled by Leon Theremin, and the second a recent recreation of the first. I have heard it said that the primary problem with the first was the close proximity of the instruments causing interference with each other, and seen in unpublished video footage of the second one of the participants attribute problems (side note - this was BEFORE the performance - they knew it was going to be rough but I guess "the show must go on") to insufficient rehearsal time. It is hard enough to find enough available thereminists to make an ensemble, let alone to fund masses of rehearsal time for them. Nonetheless there are a few pieces scored for multiple theremins. For example, I believe (but have not checked) that The Day The Earth Stood Still was scored for two theremins, and in the experimental domain, Grainger's Free Music #1 for four theremins is a popular choice whenever thereminist gather together. (I note that the recording of Free Music #1 by Lydia Kavina was achieved by multitracking, which is reminiscent of Pamelia Kurstin's use of a looper to create what she calls a one person "theremin orchestra.)"


On the subject of how a theremin works, one of the simplest explanations around is the one I penned for The Beat Frequency Method. (You can't use it, because it is self-published (so not citeable) under a Creative Commons licence requiring attribution, but it might provide a starting point.) I also note that it slightly reflects my bias of thinking of the theremin as an electronic instrument and hence best suited for electronic music.

[i]The theremin is a very simple synthesizer, consisting of two parts; an oscillator and an amplifier; the first to generate an audible frequency and the second to adjust its amplitude. Each of these is controlled via a variable capacitor, each consisting of two conductors, one fixed and one variable. The fixed conductors are the pitch rod and the volume loop, and the variable conductors are the corresponding hands of the player, the pitch hand and the volume hand.[/i]

A second paragraph would be required to explain that traditionally, and in the majority of professional quality theremins, the pitch oscillator is a Beat Frequency Oscillator (you could link to the wikipedia article for that rather than give an explanation - BTW & IMO the BFO article needs fixing to mention this usage.) as this gives a field with the appropriate properties for playing (i.e. field size and pitch range) and generates an audible tone directly, keeping the circuit relatively simple. I'm a bit fuzzy about how the volume works precisely, but it also uses an oscillator, sometimes a Beat Frequency Oscillator, and I have the idea that higher frequencies equate to higher energy and this is used to control a VCA via a crude pitch to voltage conversion.

Theremins also often include wave shaping elements to permit variation in timbre.


Finally, on a general note, I point out that while the use of the word antennas to describe the rod and loop (*) is almost universal, it is technically incorrect. In Theremin's patents he calls them conductors, and the only time the word antenna is used is when he emphasises that they are [i]not[/i] antennas. You might like to take this into consideration.

(*) And to add to the naming dilemma, the rod and loop are not always either a rod or a loop. They can be, for instance, plates.
Posted: 8/4/2009 7:54:17 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

Gordon wrote:

"The theremin is a very simple synthesizer......"


I asked Bob Moog if a theremin was a synthesizer, and his rather cryptic reply was "Not really."

Maurice Martenot's biographer, Jean Laurendeau, most emphatically insists in his book, MAURICE MARTENOT, LUTHIER DE L'ELECTRONIQUE that the ondes Martenot is definitely NOT a synthesizer.

In spite of the assertions of Moog and Laurendeau (which may be exercises in hair-splitting) I suppose it could be argued that the theremin and its heterodyne sister, the ondes, are synthesizers.

The word "synthesizer" was coined decades after the invention of the theremin and the ondes, in order to define quite a different class of musical instruments. I see, however, that the author of the "synthesizer" article on Wikipedia maintains that all electrical musical instruments are synthesizers, including Elisha Gray's 1876 "musical telegraph".

Is the theremin a synthesizer? I don't know. Laurendeau's reason for claiming that the ondes is not a synthesizer had to do with what synthesizers were in the 1980's when he wrote his book. Synthesizers have evolved considerably since then and perhaps they can now do things that would put them in the same category as the ondes.

What is a THEREMIN?

The traditional definitions all state that a theremin is a "heterodyne" instrument. The Moog SERIES 91 theremins are not based on the heterodyne principle, so they are technically not theremins.

On the other hand, we are now in an era when, if something doesn't fit the definition you think ought to apply to it, you are perfectly free to change the definition.

The mind boggles!

Posted: 8/4/2009 11:26:58 AM
Joe Max

From: Oakland, California

Joined: 1/2/2009


Thanks for the input and the feedback (wow, electronic musicians sure use a lot of technical metaphors!)

That second sentence was kind of an afterthought, and if I can't source it, it'll have to come out anyway. So it can go away for now.

I personally like your definition, but what I'm looking for is an explanation of "How can just waving your hands in the air make a pitch change?" The last time I played in public, someone asked me afterward if my B3 Deluxe was a "motion sensor". That got me thinking about this issue - it [i]is[/i] a "motion sensor" after a fashion (that is what Lev was working on when the breakthrough occurred) but it doesn't work on the same principle as what we call a motion sensor [i]today[/i], which is more like sonar.

But that's for the "main article", and it's a side-show to the thing I'm concentrated on at the moment - that can be dealt with later.

Coalport: I met Bob Moog once, at the 1984 AES convention in Los Angeles. He was working with Synton and had developed the Syrinx monosynth for them. I was playing around with one of the Synton modulars in their booth and heard a voice say, "would you like me to show you how some of those modules work?" I turned around and it was Bob. Soon he and I were plugging cables in and I'm just standing there thinking, "I'm patching a modular synth with Bob Moog! Cool!!!" What a nice man he was.

I'd agree with Bob in that the theremin is NOT a synthesizer, in the sense that a synthesizer is supposed to "synthesize" the sounds of acoustically vibrating instruments - at least, that was what the guys at RCA were after in developing the Mark IV.
Posted: 8/4/2009 11:29:41 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

[i]"In spite of the assertions of Moog and Laurendeau (which may be exercises in hair-splitting) I suppose it could be argued that the theremin and its heterodyne sister, the ondes, are synthesizers." - Coalport [/i]

Yo ho ho.. Here we go! We hardly said goodbye, and were back! LOL! ;-)

"Hair splitting" can often be a self-serving excersise.. I think (particularly with regard to Theremins) an example of this is how the difference between "Digital" and "Analogue" can be blurred (deliberately) by manufacturers so as to con people into believing that their product is "superior" and not just a "signal generator" or "synthesiser"... The temptation to comply with this nonsense is almost overwhelming.. I have been tempted to put a couple of inductors (coils) in my designs just to satisfy the bogus idea that a "REAL Theremin" must have coils..

The Theremin IS a Synthesiser - Regardless of what Bob or the Pope has to say on the matter!

The same kind of problem occurs with antennas - These are NOT "antennas" as is usually understood.. They are capacitive sensors... Simply capacitive sensors, and LITTLE** MORE than capacitive sensors.. **As with every conductive entity, there are other effects more related to RF etc, but the actual influence of these effects on the sensing function of the "antenna" is utterly miniscule.

But making the above statement will put me in direct conflict and argument with those who have a 'mystical' view on the matter.. People love mystery, and often do not want some pedantic git like me laying the hard facts* on the table.. Also, many have businesses and reputations are built on gobbeldy gook, some of whom are well respected - They will fight tooth and nail to defend their beliefs.. At the end of the day, it is often not scientific fact* which wins the argument, the argument will swing to whatever people WANT to believe, regardless of the *truth.

[b]Edit ->[/b] An example of the above is how many people still believe in literal interpretation of the creation story in Genesis - despite the fact that this has been shown to be utterly and completely and absolutely false
[b]<- End of edit [/b]

*fact/truth - There probably is no such thing as absolute fact or truth - I am aware of this.

And this is another reason why [b]I[/b] will not get involved with Wiki - even if I could contain explanations to a few paragraphs.. Those with a vested interest in promoting bull will find sources to back their case up, and I will be involved in edit warring - I just cant be bothered!

Please Joe, and everyone else.. I am NOT going to be part of this venture - It is probably best if you do not post anything directed at me which makes me feel like I must reply.
Posted: 8/4/2009 11:41:31 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

The Wikipedia article on synthesizers seems a bit confused on the subject too.

[i]A synthesizer (or synthesiser) is an electronic instrument that is capable of producing a variety of sounds by generating and combining signals of different frequencies. Synthesizers create electrical signals, rather than direct acoustic sounds, which are then played through a loudspeaker or set of headphones.[/i]

By that definition the theremin is a synthesizer. So is an Ondes Martenot.

And the Ondes Martenot is mentioned in the article as an example of a fingerboard synthesizer, along with the electro-theremin and some others.

But later on we find...

[i]Although synthesizers had many examples in the early 20th century, other electrical instruments such as electric guitar and Theremin had much less complex designs than synthesizers.[/i]

Both the theremin and the ondes martenot articles currently use the uncontroversial phrase "an early electronic musical instrument" to describe their respective instruments.

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