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Robert Moog about the Theremin (1992) - from the Theremin.info Archives

Robert Moog about the Theremin

Robert Moog 1992

The theremin itself is housed in a wooden cabinet approximately eighteen inches wide and a foot deep. With its legs, it stands about three and a half feet high. The front is slanted to form a convenient music stand. A vertical pitch antenna rod is located in the upper right hand corner of the cabinet. A tubular loop for controlling volume emerges from the cabinet's left hand side. Tuning knobs and control switches are located on the lower part of the front of the cabinet.

To play the theremin, the performer stands in front of the instrument, a little left of center. The feet are spread slightly to keep the body as motionless as possible. To determine the pitch of the instrument's tone, the player varies the distance between her right hand and the pitch antenna. When the instrument is properly tuned, the pitch goes from lower than two octaves below middle C when the player's right hand is back at her shoulder, to approximately 2 1/2 octaves above middle C when the player's hand barely touches the pitch antenna. To determine the loudness of the instrument's tone, the player varies the distance between her left hand and the middle of the volume antenna. Maximum loudness occurs when the hand is removed from the antenna; complete silence occurs when the hand is an inch or so from the loop.

The two antennas actually respond to all body movements. Therefore, it is necessary for the player to exert firm control over her body and head motions as well as her hand motions. The ability to stand motionless is absolutely essential. Concert-goers have remarked on Ms. Rockmore's controlled stance. One reviewer even wrote: "Miss Rockmore's seance-like management of this slightly supernatural instrument is quite amazing. Of course, the purpose of remaining still is not theatrical or hypnotic at all, but strictly musical."

The thereminist must move her hands with incredible precision as well as speed if she wishes to play distinct notes with corrent intonation. Ms. Rockmore actually uses fingering patterns to play the most rapid passages. (...) No other theremin player has ever mastered this difficult and intricate technique for playing rapid successions of precise pitches "aerial fingering" as one reviewer termed it.

The theremin performer plays without the benefit of any tactile reference whatever. Unlike the violinist, who is in constant contact with the instrument's fingerboard, (...) the thereminist feels no shape or force as she moves from one pitch to another. She is constantly moving her hands, listening to the resulting pitch changes, then "trimming" the precise position of her hands to home in on the desired pitch and volume. The process is one of continous aural feedback. For this reason, placement of the theremin loudspeaker is extremely important. Ms. Rockmore uses a large open-backed speaker which she places behind and slightly above her head, pointing out toward her audience. With such an arrangement, she is able to hear the effect of her hand motions soon enough so that her audience is rarely, if ever, aware of the aural feedback corrections that she intuitively applies.

Robert Moog



From the booklet of Clara Rockmore's CD 'The Art of the Theremin'


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Robert Moog about the Theremin (1992)
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Clara Rockmore

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