Friday, September 29, 2006

Playing in the Air

Santa hat on E-ProI've been giving some more thought to the whole idea of a public performance on theremin, should I ever be in the position to do so. As I mentioned previously, I don't think a guest spot with the band will work (unless they go somewhere with a big enough stage), which leaves me with 3 options. I could just play solo, with no accompaniment, I could have a pre-recorded accompaniment (or maybe guitar player), or I could use delay loops. I quite like the idea of the last option, having seen how well it can work in practice. I'd probably set up a backing loop on acoustic guitar, then play a theremin bassline over the top, followed by the melody.

So, that's all very well, but what could I play?

Tempting though a freeform improvisation would be, I don't know that it would go down very well with an audience who've paid to see a covers band, so that got me thinking. Our next public gig is December, and there are some festive tunes which should sound pretty good on the theremin. I tried some out today - a mixture of popular Christmas tunes like White Christmas, Rudolph, etc. along with some traditional carols - Silent Night is particularly effective on theremin.

Here's the thing. I tried 'Walking in the Air' - the theme from 'The Snowman' - which is a song that really gets my hackles up. I don't know why, but it always seems to conjure up in my mind the sugary, sickly, commercial worst of what the Christmas season has become. To paraphrase Roy Harper "I've not read the book (or seen the film), so I cannot recite", but it just grates on me for reasons I cannot explain. It may be a lovely, touching story about one boy's love for a talking ice-pop, but that music has put me off it for life. HOWEVER... What a perfect piece of music for theremin. It's in the right register, it's fairly ethereal, it's fun to play, and it's not Aled bloody Jones.

The band do a great version of Squiggle's (or whatever he's calling himself nowadays) 'Kiss'. I have never liked Prince (as was), or any of his musical output - he always seemed like he was trying to be the best bits of Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson and Johnny Guitar Watson and ending up being the worst excesses of all of them. Maybe I'm being unfair, but he had his chance with me and blew it. Maybe I'd like him more if he wasn't so hyped - I do tend to automatically put up barriers to hype, hence my similar dislike of REM, INXS, Simply Red; the list goes on. The point is that despite not liking the song 'Kiss' (including the self-mocking, good-humored Tom Jones version), the first time the band tried it out they completely rocked its socks off. In fact it is one of my favourite songs they do. Somehow or other it just fits, and similarly, somehow or other that awful Snowman tune just comes to life on the theremin.

Or maybe it's just me?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Flux Sake

I've had a fairly hectic few weeks between various gigs, changing jobs and increasing family taxi services.

Another two live sound gigs - one very cool show in a barn as part of a party/barbequeue/dance/shindig event, and another more local gig which was almost a sell-out. We've also almost sold out a gig in December, and may have a slot in a big charity bash in the new year, so keeping busy on that front. Proceeds from a previous gig went to purchase our own PA system which is loud, clear and a significant improvement on the previous system. I've done a couple of multitrack live recordings of the band, with the aim being to put together a demo for future promotion and possibly even a live CD for the punters to buy.

There have been a couple of suggestions that I might join them on-stage for a song, playing theremin, which would be fun. I don't know how practical it would be however, since the venues we've played so far have been too crowded on stage for any sort of theremin playing (which needs a couple of metres space to avoid interference with the antennae). Another problem is monitoring what I'd be playing in the midst of a live-band - unlike any other instrument which can be played to some extent without hearing the outcome, the theremin HAS to be heard by the performer just to keep on pitch. I would need a dedicated monitor for this, preferably at ear-height, so the practicalities may well outweigh the desire to do a guest spot. I've tried to do more practice with a view to maybe doing a piece or two as warm-up for the band, having the stage to myself and possibly using a delay pedal or similar to accompany myself, but I don't think my theremin playing is just quite ready for public performance yet.

I've also been to see Pamelia Kurstin playing live last week, which was inspirational. She is one of the few masters of the theremin, and plays it with a combination of delay pedals and effects to produce densely-layered, almost orchestral sounds. Opening for her were an avant-garde trio of cello, guitar and monosynth which didn't really do much for me, and IME - a solo artist using guitar, location recordings, chimes and various gadgets to build up a very slowly evolving, atmospheric sound on the border between music and sound-sculpture. Not a type of music I normally listen to very often, but it did prompt me to dig out Czukay and Sylvian's 'Flux and Mutability', which is probably the closest thing in my music collection.

Between listening to these ambient pieces and playing around with delay loops on the theremin, I'm feeling the creative juices flowing again, which is good, as we have a Lunacy Board session coming up this weekend. As well as the usual improvised jams we've had in the past, we also have a little project which may or may not bear fruit, but offers us both a specific focus and potential for an instant audience. More details about the success or otherwise of that to follow.