Post Game: The Theremin

I ran into Studio One as soon as last night’s show ended, because I couldn’t wait to try my hand at (or, rather, near) this instrument we’d heard for an hour. I grew up playing violin and later viola, and like to think that I have some musical facility, so I thought that I could muddle my way through something. I actually was trying to decide what my first piece would be — something lyrical, of course, but not too serious. Maybe it would be “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” or “Maria?”

The Gods have given serious smackdowns for lesser hubris.

david_theremin_rock

Trying to rock out [Sam Gale Rosen]. See more pictures from last night’s show in our ROS Flickr group.

The theremin is so impossible to play that the entire preceding hour — which had been weird and otherworldly enough — suddenly made absolutely no sense to me. It seems to respond not just to breathing, as Pamelia mentioned, but to thinking about breathing. It reacts wildly not just to a fraction of a millimeter of a pinkie wiggle, but also to your wrist. And your elbow. And your side. I managed a warble, a screech, and a blurp. But no “Maria.”

What’s most interesting, in retrospect, is that Pamelia (and other thereminists as well, although she seems to be in her own class) has a kind of mastery I’ve never even considered. I’m aware of super-tasters (like the ones Malcom Gladwell introduced us to in those labs in New Jersey), and super-smellers (those perfume makers who can detect 20 top and bottom notes). I’ve seen pianists with a sense of touch and pressure that left me speechless. I’ve read about interrogators who can spot micro-facial expressions that barely register on a camera. But I had never thought about a master of abstract space, of invisible fields, of a hand moving with no frame of reference through thin air.

Although, hmm: maybe this is just dance at the nearly nano level?


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