Gordon's Progress

Posted: 12/8/2005 4:45:41 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Cheers, hypergalic

Glad it looked that way - in the real world I speak softly and with insufficient articulation and have an unusual habit of thinking about what people say, which makes for rather halting conversations.

The bit you didn't see was me singing raucously and with gusto for ten minutes to loosen up my voice.

With regard to Amazing Grace - I am completely in awe of people who can practice by drill - I would go completely hatstand (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=hatstand&f=1). Me, I am happy if I can hit a note, no matter which one, and even happier if the next one sounds good next to the first. And I didn't think it was all that bad either. A bit of a curate's egg (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curate%27s_egg) perhaps but far more than I could do. Hence my choice of the musique concrete path.


NB Incidentally, Jason, the instructions for embedding URL's are not quite right. (I have substituted curly brackets for square...)

It's not: {url=ThereminWorld}http://www.thereminworld.com{/url}

It's {url=http://www.thereminworld.com}ThereminWorld{/url}
Posted: 12/17/2005 8:06:45 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Christmas is upon me. The kids have finished school and my theremining activities will be curtailed for a while. I'm taking it along when we go visit my father primarily for the benefit of my sister's numerous children and grandchildren. Also I have my fingers crossed for a delay box.

I have been having fun exploring peripheral aspects of theremining and generally avoiding composing a piece of theremin music. Rather I have been involving myself in theremin related creative activities on slightly more familiar grounds, to explore my relationship with the instrument, to add context and to confront my performance jitters by putting them on public display.

I have Theremin World to thank to suggesting writing some poems, and for prompting me to dip my toe in theremin design, and indeed for putting up with the results. Unless I come up with a better idea my next little video will be "How does a theremin sound with an inexpensive delay unit?"

Generally I am substitious (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thief_of_Time) but I have noticed that things have a tendency to come together unexpectedly when I am on the right path. So having found a bunch of rhymes lurking around in my subconscious I think to myself, ok, here is some source material to record and play around with in garageband and some other audio apps as a confidence and familiarity building exercise, when along come Bionic Genius, a podcast apparently about creativity, looking for audio content.

So, as recently appointed Poet Laureate I felt that the responsibilities of my office might well include offering content to needy podcasters who show an interest in the theremin, thereby putting myself in a position to offer up something that was not really intended for public consumption - I hadn't done any warmup exercises or adopted a good speaking position, and I feel my voice needs all the help it can get. So this was a major confrontation for my jitters.

I'm not particularly bothered whether they use it or not - that was not the point - if they don't that will only confirm my opinion that it is a bit sub-standard, but I have to admit it would be nice if they need some padding to bring the show up to length.

Oh, which reminds me - 40 downloads of my first vid, 9 actual subscribers, and 4 1/2 stars for the series. Well if I'm daft enough to make them I can hardly criticise you for being daft enough to watch them!

Seriously, I do hope you are enjoying them. My belief is that being happy and communicating happiness is often underestimated in it's importance. (Pere Ubu - Go (http://www.ubuprojex.net/lyrics/aow.html)) and I like to do my bit.

Oh, if you have inferred from my avatar that I enjoy menacing the gentle folk of suburban England by donning war paint and peering menacingly through their letter boxes, well, shame on you for thinking such a thing. In fact the colouring is intended to be reminiscent of a Hindu avatar - it seemed appropriate - without being too like any particular one.

And I have to add how chuffed I am to have been dubbed TPL. This is now my second proudest unusual honour. The first, that of Honorary Mother, as I was designated by my then local Mother and Toddler Group (mostly in order to avoid changing their letterheads to read Parent and Toddler after I joined as their first male parent and immediately pointed this out to them) will take some beating! I bear that title with immense pride.

Posted: 12/17/2005 10:33:41 PM

From: Hillsborough, NC (USA)

Joined: 2/13/2005

Another great website bug find - thanks Gordon! I've fixed up the link formatting instructions. Can you post a link to that podcast? You might also try contacting David Vessel of the Spellbound podcast - not sure if he's looking for spoken word bits, but being theremin-related, you never know!
Posted: 12/18/2005 4:42:15 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Link to Bionic Genius website:


Feed for their podcast:


It was a little weird that they posted their request to three forums, and failed to give links in all of them. Oh, well.

Ooh. Submit my poems to Spellbound? Gosh. Sending them off to Bionic Genius was one thing - I'd never heard of it. Spellbound is one of the few podcasts I subscribe to, I actively wait for it to arrive and recommend it to people I know. Now that is really confronting my jitters. Not much to hide behind there.

Well, it's done. I hid behind my title and placed the blame squarely on Jason, but I did it.

Now I shall go and sit with my head under a blanket for a while.

Posted: 12/26/2005 5:59:01 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Boxing Day.

Merry Christmas one and all.

Hoorah. It was a delay unit. DaneElectro PB&J. It sounds like I wanted it to. And a bonus, the sound is a little less "eeeeee" and a little more "oooooo," which is nice. It's weird, I listen to some very harsh, abrasive music, and most music has an edge to it somewhere or other, but I don't want to make harsh sounds at all at the moment. I am most pleased by water sounds - deep underwater booming, bubbling, sonar pings and air sounds, twittering birds and ethereal wails.

I think this relates to my reason for buying a theremin, as another form of basket-weaving, in essence, something to occupy me during my extended convalescence (which in many ways is what having ME amounts to) so it is perhaps natural that I should gravitate to something relaxing.

One minor annoyance. Tried it for half an hour, switched it off, came back a few hours later. Battery flat. Tried again with rechargeable battery I conveniently had, the same. Damn nuisance to have to unscrew it and remove every time. Earlier today I happened to notice some very tiny print on the back of it, hidden amongst other tiny print. It is ON when the IN jack is in. Nothing to do with the foot-switch marked ON/OFF at all.

As I'm currently near Leominster, which apparently has three music shops, we're off there in a day or two, theremin and all, to try some power adaptors. Maintaining three rechargeable batteries looks like it will be a damned nuisance. With a bit of luck I'll be able to try out some other effects pedals while I am there. I'm interested in building rich structures, with depth and fullness and plenty of scope for variety.

We listened to Spellbound over our evening meal today, and Maya asked a very pertinent question - how do they do sheet music for theremins? Well, for regular music I guess regular notation does just fine, and for experimental I guess you devise your own notation to act as an aide-memoire to the structure of the music, the placement of motifs during recital, and to enable one to visualise a piece while composing it.

This, it strikes me, is a difference between playing and noodling. Noodling is the precursor to composing, exploring various musical elements and combinations thereof, finding building blocks for a piece before arranging them into a structure, and playing is the realisation of that structure.

Sorry if this is all very obvious, but I have pretty much decided I am in the experimental fold - I have been reading the aerial fingering thread and the sort of rigourous practice that appears to be needed to play proper tunes does not sound in the least bit therapeutic for me - which means I want to think about this stuff.

I feel my first composition coming closer. Now at least I have a couple of ideas about what direction I want to proceed in.

Posted: 12/27/2005 7:19:12 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Jason asked what we got for Christmas, theremin-wise - I already mentioned my delay unit, perhaps I should add, and a bottle of LeMercier Absinthe Amer. While it may not actually improve the quality of my playing, it certainly improves my opinion of it no end!

I hope no-one minds my using this topic as a diary - writing this stuff down helps ideas crystallise for me.

So the question that was left unasked at the end of my last posting was - how do I impart structure to a composition. I know about structure in writing, but I do not want to make music with lyrics, so I cannot build around the lyrics. Music is called a language, but it lacks, other than in sampled real-world sounds, which might be considered onomatopoeic, specific meanings associated with particular sounds or sound combinations - rather they convey general moods and emotional states.

I am also familiar with the use of language stripped to a greater or lesser extent of meaning, mostly by virtue of reading everything William Burroughs wrote many times over, and have devised my own techniques following his ideas, and mixing in a few of my own, and of Brian Eno, he being the other person I would describe as a significant influence.

I haven't done this stuff for a while, but having done that comic verse I kind of recoiled from it by writing something very different. As it happened another forum I frequent occasionally had opened up a poetry section, so I did something appropriate for there...

I snarl audio dirt to id's arid urinal,
android ritual is lurid radiations.
I disdain oral rut and rural idiots, I
roar until I did as I trod rail unsaid.
I sold radar unit, I do unlit air raids,
nail druid ratios, I ail, add iron rust.
I said turn dial or I add nitrous lair,
aural sin did riot in adult radio, sir.

I mention this because the technique used to produce it need not be specific to writing. (In case you hadn't guessed, it is sixteen anagrams of "Industrial Radio" one after another) I search through possible permutations settling on those that catch my eye - when one leaps out at me I take that as a sign from my subconscious and go with it - I occupy my rational side with syntactic and rhythmic considerations, leaving content to the simple, visceral rule of; if I like the sound of it, use it. The end result often surprises me when I read it, and - as this is a process of discovery rather than invention I feel I am allowed to say it succeeds 100% in its aim - which is to please and puzzle me! (If anyone else likes it, that is a bonus, but the first rule of the dedicated amateur is - Please Yourself!)

So now I have a more specific metaphor for composing, based on an observation - Every sequence tells a story.

It is not about inventing a story, it is about finding the story you want to tell from all the possible stories. Limiting ones options encourages more imaginative discoveries. Hence my liking for haiku by the way, and these semi-mechanical poems that provide equally restrictive limits.

I wonder what I will discover. I am over my performance jitters - now I want to find what is out there and report my discovery.
Posted: 12/27/2005 9:49:19 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005


Regarding musical form, there are many different "standard" forms, that started out as simple dance forms. One of the reasons advanced musical form developed was because composers were looking for ways to write works of extended length that would hold the listeners' interest and maintain unity thoughout. (btw -- Beethoven's 3rd Symphony represents a breakthrough in advanced musical form).

Without going into "Form and Analysis 101" suffice to say that most music, regardless of the style, has a recurring theme. A theme holds the music together -- without a theme the music tends to meander and can become boring. (Of course, the same theme over and over can become boring, too!).

Your poem above is very much like a short musical theme that is subject to various transformations.

You might want to come up with a theme that you can play on the Theremin... just a few notes, perhaps. You can vary it by playing it at different pitches or by rearranging it somehow.

You may want to consider reciting your poetry with Theremin music as an accompianment.

I enjoy reading your posts.

-- Kevin
Posted: 12/28/2005 11:55:39 AM

From: Ypsilanti, MI, USA

Joined: 9/29/2005

First, let me say that I personally enjoy reading your posts. Keep them coming!

Now to impart a bit of my experience. Hopefully, this can help out more than just you, Gordon. Effects pedals can eat batteries like a fat man at a smorgasbord, but not always. My rule of thumb (more a guideline than a rule) is: if the effect is a) digital b) complex (applies more than one type of effect) or c) creates any type of delay, buy an adapter. The first two effects pedals I bought were a Rat distortion pedal and a Boss chorus pedal. I rarely need to change the batteries in these. The third pedal bought was a Digitech digital delay pedal with a 2 second sampler. It perplexed me how quickly it ate thru batteries so I got rid of it. I regret this now, but I learned something out of it.

Also, all pedals are still on when the input is plugged in. This is not indicitive to one brand. Everyone I've come across that runs off batteries does this. It's a habit I had to get used too after I started playing with some regularity that I don't even think about now.

And lastly, if you're looking for a suggestion for your next pedal look no further than a volume pedal. It's nice to be able to walk away from the theremin for a short period of time without having to turn off the instrument or amp. I would suggest getting Morley's Little Alligator. It's optical instead of potentiometer based, like the Vox and Ernie Ball ones. No moving parts means less breaking. I paid the same price for mine as the other two and I'm much more satisfied.


Posted: 12/28/2005 8:57:42 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

First of all thank you for your comments. I shall attend to them further down.

Well, we made it to the shop. Or rather the dusty warehouse full of music stuff, with a brilliant proprietor who knew what a theremin was, talked about the sound of the RCAs and had previously run a recording studio. And stuff that I knew the prices of from Watford was a lot cheaper. We went for three power adaptors and a cable, and came away with a cable, a power adaptor, a Fender amplifier with built in reverb and a handful of sensible advice. Let's see if I can remember it, at least in paraphrased form.

Go for amps and pedals designed for acoustic equipment. Marshall amps and electric guitar pedals don't maintain a pure tone.

8 inches is the smallest speaker that can reproduce the full range of a theremin.

Power adaptors for pedals are a damn nuisance. Live with rechargeable batteries. This I was told at least six times, until I relented.

A sensible choice for my next purchase would be a multi-effect pedal for an acoustic guitar.

Recording by putting a microphone in front of the amp is preferable because the amplifier is a part of the instrument - amplifiers are not neutral, they impart tone to the instrument. A signal taken out of the amplifier directly will not have the same sound as you hear from the speaker - and isn't that why you chose that particular amplifier in the first place?

Certainly the speaker advice is true. My Kees now has bass. Good bass. Apparently if I crank it up too high I could damage the speaker so I shall be restrained. And it all sounds fine to me. Although where I currently have it set up, in a corner of the hallway at my dad's house it is, I think, finding the resonant frequencies of the corridor so a couple of pitches are unexpectedly boomy, which I didn't hear at the warehouse.

Hmm. I don't have anywhere at home to create an acoustically neutral studio. Apart from outside. I hope it won't be a problem - I guess corridors are the worst for that, what with being pipe shaped.

I can live with one rechargeable quite easily. I have three batteries and can charge two at a time which is more than I need, given that I don't often play for hours on end.

Edweird, so that's how pedals work. OK. This I ascribe to "the usual reason" and thus I can live with it. (Oh - the usual reason for pretty much everything is, as far as I can tell, stupidity. This is not a problem - is is one of the defining characteristics of humanity, and I exhibit more than my share at times so who am I to complain. :-)

kkissinger - yes. Thank you for that. I shall not aim to write a symphony. Short and simple - that's a good place to start. Nursery rhymes - Ha! Just had a thought. Frere Jacque - with a long delay I could play a round with myself. (Perhaps I should have rephrased that!) Advertising jingles. I used to have an album by The Residents - The Commercial Album - forty songs, all sixty seconds long. Most of them were good and the one or two I didn't like were soon finished!

Accompany a poem. Interesting idea. I could take a tip from Mr Eno and use that as a starting point, a temporary platform to build a musical structure on top of, and then remove the speaking afterwards.

I seem to be making a meal of this - what I should do is just set to and do it, but it is now going to be a while before I have opportunity to devote a good few hours all at once. Ah well. Next year. :-)
Posted: 12/28/2005 9:32:32 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005


The "Frere Jacque" idea is a good one.

If you have the chance, listen to Ninki V's version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" -- she turns it into a round by playing thru a delay with a long time-delay.

btw -- she is based in the UK -- have you ever seen her perform?

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