Electromagnetism, it’s in the Ether
The music is entitled “Icelandic Volcano”.
The players were an improvised ‘orchestra’ comprised of twenty-one theremins, including two theremin cellos, played by Jonathan Golove and Natasha Farny
Their conductor-guru and celebrity guest: Lydia Kavina, a great-niece of the quirky instrument’s inventor, Lev S Theremin. Having created the theremin in 1919, Theremin instructed Kavina in how to play it during his eighties, and she remains the instrument’s ultimate practitioner). Lev, whose life embraced great success, then imprisonment in both a gulag and a “scientists’ work camp” under Stalin, lived to be 97.
The venue was “Hands Off”, a free all-day tribute to the theremin held by London’s Royal Festival Hall on Saturday 17 April as part of its 2010 Ether Festival. Outside, the skies remained cloudless and blue skies – and silent, due to the ash cloud produced by Icelandic volcano.
The sound was especially singular because one does not touch a theremin to play it, one gestures within the electromagnetic fields of its two antennae. As Kavina says, “you become part of the instrument through your ears, through listening, and through your movements – by swimming in the sound”.
Most people know theremins through science fiction and horror films or via avant-garde music. Kavina (who scored the Tim Burton movie ‘Ed Wood’) performs in both genres, participating in classical conferences, composing her own pieces for theremin and as a valued part of improvised events such as French piantist Jean-François Zygel’s annual nuit de l’improvisation. Every year, this event fills each room of the Theatre de Chatelet with very different musicians whose on-the-fly work together creates a unrepeatably unique experience.
The art is not outside anyone’s reach as the day’s “theremin masterclasses” proved. Claims Kavina, “It was only really difficult at the time of invention. Then, because electricity had just been discovered, people had to learn to move beyond the idea of controlling it through knobs and touch. They needed to realize you can use it a different way by learning to send it places. Even if you have not a good ear, you can play it.”
The proof lies in Kavina’s popular how-to-learn videos, which are available through her web site.