Furthering my home studio resources, I did a whole bunch of research regarding DAW components. A Digital Audio Workstation is something I have sort of messed around the peripherals of, producing audio on my laptop for decades, but hardware was limited to a good stereo microphone and mini-disk recorder.
After much research I determined I needed 2 channels input, 2 out, and wanted something that would essentially extend my laptop “soundcard” given nearly every laptop has a poor excuse for a soundcard that pretends to be more than it is – this is annoying. For example, although it provides a single 3.5mm STEREO plug out, there is no plug for an INPUT. I (foolishly) bought a USB C “SoundBlaster” external “soundcard” only to discover that it’s INPUT only captures MONO, even though the packaging and advertising material says different.
The soundblaster thingy is however useful for Zoom meetings etc as I can plug my wired headset into it and nicely separate microphone from speakers, but as a music capture device it is useless. I was using my wife’s gaming PC soundcard to capture samples form my MiniDisk as stereo digital files to use on my laptop – a clearly ludicrous and inconvenient solution.
When I was forced to buy my own laptop (as I recently retired and no longer have a school-provided laptop), I could not find a cost-effective solution built in to a laptop so looked for other options.
I settled on an Arturia MiniFuse 2 (2-in, 2-out), a lovely little USB C thingy that gives me external mixing capacity, allowing me to plug in both Theremins, or a Theremin and another device. When plugged in to my laptop it becomes the soundcard, and with it came some wonderful software to manage the DAW – including Ableton Live and the Arturia suite which I am learning to drive.
I also decided I needed some new cables, I had 2 “guitar leads” but needed more to connect things, integrate my loop pedal and also connect to the speaker, so bought some new TRS cables, and a quality Audio adapter to manage the 3.5 to 6.35mm plug issue. I also purchased a Music stand (for my iPad, which provides sound editors for both Claravox and Theremini), along with a quality USB C connector cable for the Vox.
Along the way I also decided that the microphone stand the Claravox was using (bought previously for the Theremini) was too high to play comfortably, so I bit the bullet and bought the stand designed for the Claravox (a beautiful art object in itself) – completing my Clara, finally.
I … think … I now have all the bits I need to support what I want to do. We shall see.
For both my Claravox and Theremini I usually use headphones, reasoning the god-awful din I am generally making should not be shared.
Annoyingly, the headphone socket on the Theremini is a 3.5mm plug, whereas the Claravox has a 6.35mm (1/4 inch), so I learned quickly that a QUALITY dongle that converts pays in the long run. I had some little one-piece converters that are microscopically loose so crackle, whereas the extender cable I bought is flush and positive.
While I was working at my last school I used to borrow a powered keyboard speaker from the Music department over the holidays because hearing the instrument in the room rather than through headphones is different, and sometimes I like it. This speaker cost a fortune (well, beyond that which I was prepared to pay) because it had so many features – I actively had to dial the gain down to near ZERO else the feed from the theremins were too loud.
Eventually I figured I would have a mixer feeding the speaker, and a laptop controlling that, so did not need all those inputs or advanced speaker control on the actual speaker.
Having a gig experience further drove my desire to be able to make noise that can fill a space, so set about looking for a powered speaker that had the dynamic range for both Clara and Theremini. I settled, after much agonising, discussion and comparison of published specifications on a relatively cost-effective Behringer:
It has a 10 inch speaker and a smaller tweeter, nice solid construction, handles and so on – a terrific (in my opinion) value package from StoreDJ, which I had delivered.
Connecting it to both theremins produces a lovely warm sound and fills the room even on low volumes. In tests I triggered all the dogs in my suburb by using high frequencies at high volumes – and boy is it loud without distortion at high levels.
The unit is nice and portable and, should I ever decide to gig again this will be a terrific tool. It is nice to see my home studio expanding.
When you think about the word “cover” in the context of a musical instrument, you often jump to a “cover version” – this post is about a physical cover.
The Claravox does not come with a travel case, or any means of storage except the beautiful original packaging (which I will certainly use for transportation). Storing it when not being played, I decided it needed a dust cover, and my talented wife came to my assistance.
Essentially a rectangular “bag”, hemmed and double-seamed cotton-blend, the solution also contains an antenna sleeve for the volume antenna (the stickey-uppey one) to prevent it from eventually punching through the corner of the cover, and a headphone sleeve that allows me to hang my headphones over the pitch arm without leaving marks.
I like the simple black utilitarian style, just perfect. One corner folds over and hitches slightly on the volume antenna to make it sit square. I am hoping it will keep the instrument safe and dust-free for years to come.
When browsing the Moog website, quite naturally I was drawn to the Claravox Centennial Theremin as my “if I could have anything, I would want that” choice, only to be disappointed to learn that it was discontinued as an actively produced instrument. Mike, my best friend, now deceased, and I had discussed for many years getting a Theremin, what made a good one, whether we would buy a kit and build it or whether we would buy a pre-made one, but his declining health made such discussions merely academic towards the end.
I was not really interested in buying one second-hand: call me pretentious but I do not want to buy an electronic instrument that someone else wanted to get rid of, my experience is that they want to get rid of it for a reason. I was new to me, it had to be new new.
I bought a Etherwave Theremini because of the extra synthesiser/editor functions, and still love it for being a gentle “in” to the highly opinionated and secular field of Theremin playing. It’s digital re-creation of the Theremin experience is fascinating, yet widely reviled in the same community for whatever vapid reasons.
After a few rehearsals, and a bunch of play-list alterations, and heaps of experimentation, we were ready to go.
Our resident tech manager hooked up the Theremini in stereo (using guitar leads from both L and R outputs into an equaliser box, then via 2 microphone leads into 2 channels of the mixing desk, allocating them hard L and R ) to the PA system, flanking guitars had their own amps and the drummer…well…drummed unaided (I am guessing in a bigger venue, with a fancier sound system he would have his drums miked also?).
I found a space (the Theremin does not like to share air, so a physical distance around the instrument is necessary to calibrate it so it can be played) in the middle of the band and set up. It felt awesome to play like that – some songs worked really well with the Theremin, others I sat out, but it looked like the audience enjoyed it, and there was LOTS of interest in what that weird instrument was, and why I was waving around, and how that waving around controlled the instrument. That said, noodling was loads of fun – Theremini and Bass is a groovy combination that I would love to explore some more.
Note to self: monitoring what I am playing is _really_ important. Going through a PA usually means I am behind the speakers, so when the band is loud I cannot hear myself, making pitching problematic (or is that just avant-garde? I guess it depends how confidently I play awful notes). I must investigate either a splitter or fold-back speaker, should such a thing happen again.
The “out” maximum device volume when plugged into the guitar-jack L-R sockets is fixed by the device settings. The “volume” knob on the Theremini ceases to do anything when plugged in to anything but the headphones socket. In a revelation, I accidentally discovered that I can control the overall device volume level (not the volume antenna volume) of a preset by pressing the “setup” button, which switches between status and edit modes, then twiddling the “effect” knob raises and lowers the device volume. I am assuming edit mode also lets me tweak other parameters live, and must explore this in less time-critical moments. This was SO handy as previously I was tweaking the gain and volume on my channel on the mixing desk to equalise levels (as no 2 presets seem to be as loud as each other).
I love it that I am learning heaps by making mistakes.