Clara Rockmore: The Swan (on the theremin)

May 23, 2007

One of my favorite 20th century artists has been the virtuosa theremin player, Clara Rockmore. I first got to know her on an LP (now on CD) called “The Art of Clara Rockmore.” I always play her performance of the Rachmaninov “Vocalese” for my young electronic composers as an example of EXPRESSIVE electronic playing. Too many synthesizer players, especially in pop music, play one dynamic: loud. Clara’s sound is somewhere between a soprano operatic voice and a violin. The style of vibrato she uses was typical in both violin and operatic singing in the early 20th century. The effect of her performance to me is somewhere between a seance and slo-mo Tai chi. I feel her singing intensely, inwardly, as she plays. Notice how she “breathes” with her instrument. And that’s Dame Edna playing piano.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Brad Wood May 24, 2007 at 12:19 pm

I do love what she does with her fingers. It is by no means necessary—pitch and loudness are just a matter of the distance of the hands from the antennae—but makes the performance seem so much more expressive.

Brad Wood May 24, 2007 at 12:29 pm

Apparently I never mentioned it in here, but my late father spent about a year developing a more complicated theremin in hopes it could be manufactured and marketed to customers who had embraced home music products like the Hammond chord organ. Alas, his project came to nought and he referred to it in later years as Wood’s Folly.

He included various “stops” and packaged the beast in a furniture-like cabinet. I lugged it around and played on it from time to time with my jazzoid and experimental musical associates. I added a tremolo circuit at one point to the chassis, which up until then had been exclusively tube electronics, including a lovely voltage regulator tube with a gorgeous purple glow (ionized Argon gas).

After various plans to further modify it lost momentum, I finally discarded the electronics, although I still have the schematic and the wooden case.

Roger Bourland May 24, 2007 at 12:46 pm

How interesting! I had no idea. well, I have zero electronics abilities so I can be of no help…

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