(Interviewed by Dariusz Mazurowski)
Yes, Dariusz, this is true. Before the documentary film came out, I really did not know anything about the history of this musical instrument or the life of the man who invented it. Several different paths within my life converged during that evening when I watched the history unfold before my eyes. I was inspired by the genius and drive of the man, Leon Theremin, and this awoke my sense of invention within my soul. I was also moved by the musical and expressive applications of this instrument, as I had been brought up with a classical musical training (piano) since age 5. This was in Moscow, Russia, which was the other main connection to the story of the theremin. I had a good electronics and hands-on background, and I have been looking for a reason to start my own business, so suddenly the theremin was dropped in my lap, and I got it off the ground.
Are currently produced models Your totally original designs or You follow any classic units (RCA or Moog’s Maestro)?
The two models currently produced are variations of several different designs which are all based on dual-oscillator BFO (beat frequency oscillator) for the pitch generation circuit, and a single-oscillator VCO (voltage control oscillator) for modulating amplitude of the pitch signal (volume).
The theremins are solid-state (transistors and IC’s), and it is recommended that they be played through tube amplifiers for warmth of sound.
How could You define Your potential client, is he / she classical or rather rock musician, or maybe a rich hobbyists – in other You expect, who might need such a kind of instrument?
I expected that all different kinds of people would purchase these instruments, since the theremin is as diverse as it is unique. In other words, different types of people could derive different experiences from the theremin: musical experiences for musicians; “sound effects” results for studio/recording people; “curiosity” for hobbyists. And there really has been representation from all groups in my customer base: from hobbyists to collectors to aspiring musicians; from Rock bands (Fishbone, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Beck) to a member of the LA Philharmonic; from gifts for somebody’s living room to a science/electricity museum to a Japanese musical instrument distributor. Instruments have been sold all over the US, and in many countries in Europe (Holland, France, Finland, Scotland, Japan)
By the way : we live in “virtual everything” age, what do you think about the whole wave of virtual analog machines (personally I’ve nothing against digital technology, I use it also – but I do not think that emulating anything is the right direction, I expect more creativity – let acoustic be acoustic, let analog be analog)? Aren’t You afraid of “virtual theremin” (or, God save us – PC based)?
Personally, I have never believed “The Sampling Theorem” to be true. It states that an analog signal can be exactly reproduced from its digital sample. I am a firm believer in “real” signals as they are produced naturally (resonance, harmony, portamento), and that anything digital is just an approximation to the infinitesimally exact nature of analog (which, by the way, itself can be thought of as digital as dictated by the theories of quantum mechanics, wherein the stuff we are all made of operates by the principle of a series and sequence of discrete quantum states and energy levels.) And theremin is ALL analog: it requires the full and exact dedication of the soul and feeling to play it musically. This pertains to both the intuitive control of pitch, as well as the precise control of volume for expression.
For those interested in using the instrument in a truly musical way (from a classical viewpoint), then this can only be done in the analog dimension.
For those interested in control and emulation through digital and MIDI means, then this can be achieved with the “MIDI-Wave”, our theremin-to-MIDI interface.
To each his own. People can derive whatever result suits them with the theremin, given their motivation.
Theremin is en vogue again – but don’t You think that actually we haven’t too many examples of creative usage in modern music (shame !). I know numerous soloists and bands using theremin, but they treat the instrument rather as a curious addition to standard synth rig.
I agree with you that there is a big lack of “tasteful” use of the instrument, and that is is mainly a curious addition to a set-up. The theremin’s true musical potential is wasted due to most people not having enough patience or skill to learn it musically. Another example of the theremin STILL, in the 90′s, being ahead of its time, like it was in the 20′s.
Do You keep in touch with Your clients, do You listen to their wishes ? What kind of feature do they mostly expect?
I keep in touch with some customers. Occasionally minor warranty repairs need to be made. Sometimes people update me on their musical developments, which is very nice to hear.
I’ve had very few additional requests. I believe that our instruments already have all the features which a player would want and expect in an instrument. There is no common requested feature, but I have had requests for Control Voltage output, different enclosures and cases, and battery-powered theremins (which are under development).
Who is (and why) in Your opinion top thereminist now (after late Clara Rockmore of course)?
From my personal experience, the only other person I have seen play with “top-line” prefessionalism, speed, accuracy and feeling is Lydia Kavina, the grand niece of the inventor.
Your own musical fascinations?
Frank Zappa, Tchaikovsky, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes…progressive jazz, fusion, funk…
NEW QUESTION : – Confession time, tell me how it is to be electronic instrument designer / manufacturer ? You decide to do this job an suddenly You’re King Of the World or it’s a hard day by day labor ? Why creative people are all around the World, but only in limited number of countries they may gain success?
Success is relative. One man’s success is another man’s misery, and vice versa. It is probably very difficult, relatively speaking, to gain any real success as a musical instrument maker. The interest is limited (especially with theremin) to enthusiasts. I have had many people ask me “what is this and why does a person need one?” The truth is, nobody NEEDS a theremin, except for a select few people who see the rewards within the theremin dimension.
If I understand your question correctly, would I rather be King of the World or a laboring instrument builder forever locked in my workshop? I think somewhere in the middle. Being King is too much responsibility, and being poor is too unpleasant. So I would rather live a life of abundance and security with the option to invent and create by choice and not need. This will happen in a nice house in the mountains with a very wonderful wife, and an advanced creative workshop.
The treasury of historical electronic instruments is full of other, partly forgotten machines – how You like the idea of recreating more stuff (Martenot, trautonium, rhytmicon, melochord…). Any plans for the future?
Always many wonderful and exciting plans for the future! I will be entering the world of light, laser, photonics and light waveguides as I begin my Graduate Level education next year. No specific plans right now on more musical instruments. However, once I get the nice house with a big workshop, then there will be room and time to work on the above devices.
And finally – for many beginners theremin looks so simple, just a box with two antennas – but in fact it’s one of the most difficult instruments to play. Could You tell some tips, secrets – just something beginners should know before they start?
Start simple. Have constant output control of your instrument with the volume. You are responsible. Separate control of pitch and volume. Independently work both controls. Then start pitch exercises by sliding up and down by octaves. Then to 5ths, 3rds, half-steps. Next, do the above but with volume on-off between slides. Note on-note off between half-steps, 3rds, 5ths, octaves. Then practice volume swells and decays, putting some feeling into this.
Put on some slow and melodic (legato) music, and just play along. Some old Pink Floyd is good. TRAIN YOUR EAR! Play a note and sing it. Sing a note and play it. LISTEN. FEEL.
After some TIME (time and patience and perserverance are very important), play very simple melodies by ear. Do not disappoint yourself by choosing difficult passages. Simple and slow. Again and again. Every time with more pitch precision and volume modulation control. Really put your heart into it until the music you create makes you cry.
Take this instrument very seriously. It is one of the few and best devices which externalize your soul and feelings. It is so sensitive, that the relationship between your spirit and the instrument is exact. This is something profound, and should be cherished.
Do not try to offend with the instrument, or to cheapen the experience. If you play sour notes, then embrace them too. Use the sound as a reflection of your emotional state. Meditate and focus your musical “muscle”, and allow yourself, without control, to flow with the music. And most important of all, ENJOY and HAVE FUN!!!