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.


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