Category: theremin

My Setup

Let me introduce you to the gear I have at the moment:

As well as the Etherwave Theremini, I have some Audio Technica monitor headphones, and can connect my iPad to it via a lightning->USB->USB mini dongle collection.

practice setup

The iPad runs the Moog Theremini Editor – something I am beginning to explore – it lets me create “presets” which are combinations of a sound generation technique, properties and in-line effects coupled with antennae sensitivity and other parameters that control how the noise will be played, sound and it’s relationship to the antennae.

theremini editor on iPad

The Theremini has only a few knobs and controls on the front panel, along with an LED screen showing current machine/note state. Initially I thought it would be really easy to watch the notes as the way to play something, but the more I watch, the worse it gets so I think I will try to use my reasonable sense of pitch to play it by ear. It tells you how close to the note you are playing – the slightly sharp or flat is really hard to control, and can be a result of pulse, fingernail or slight postural change – I guess muscle memories will need to be learned to better control this.

slightly flat, on target and slightly sharp

The knobs are relatively straight forward – volume is just that (there is also a “master volume” setting that is in settings, so this knob’s max is governed by that). Beside the volume knob is a “gateway to hell” known as “pitch correction“. Purists will bristle even at the mentioning of this feature – when ramped up it causes the theremini to “snap” to the note, ignoring the glissando. Purists warn that you can create the “stepped” gliss by quick finger movements and strategic use of the volume loop and I agree. I am not using this knob (at the moment) – I do not want to get used to it doing the job of pitch control, I need to learn to control it. We can also choose the “scale” and “root note” – I do not pretend to know what these mean, yet.

highway to hell

On the other side of the LCD screen, we have setup, effect (with amount knob) and preset knob. Effects can be dialed up and down, you get a real sense of the tone colour with it minimalised, but often there are resonances, filters and other spatial distortions that can be added – more on that in posts to come (when I better understand how to control that). The preset knob lets you dial any one of 32 on-board preset “instruments” in the factory default set. These presets can be changed to those on the iPad effortlessly, or an entire preset library can be brought in, making the theremini a really varied and versatile instrument.

preset and effect

I have lots to learn, but am getting my head around the actual instrument.

Introducing my Theremini

As previously mentioned, I splurged and bought a Moog Etherwave Theremini. I ordered it through Manny’s Music in The Valley, they had it delivered via the longest route possible in Brisbane (even though it was literally just up Water St). It was in my wish list for nearly a half a year as it was out of stock, then on back-order for over a month – Covid-19 seems to have played merry hell with supply lines apparently.


It arrived well-packed, the carry bag a week later. I diligently read the literature (well, the quickstart guide at least), plugged it in, calibrated it (more later) and started to make out-of-tune space noises almost immediately.

It earned the “turn that shit off” seal of approval from She Who Must Be Obeyed almost instantly (who then gifted me a set of headphones, a few days later bought some Audio Technica Monitor heaphones).

Basics of noise-making on a theremini are pretty sumple – there are 2 antennae – the upright one is pitch (how high or low the note is) and the horizontal loop is the volume (close is quiet, far away is loud).

The sound it starts with is “classic theremin”, I added a “long delay” effect (a resonant echo) to it and generally waved near the pitch antennae to make these noises:

Delay is fairly non-traditional and classic thereminists would be horrified, but at the time I thought it sounded cool. It does change the latency/responsiveness of the instrument, making pitch control more challenging and increasing note inaccuracy.

Calibration is important. You have to tell the device about the environment it is playing in – given the antennae pick up capacitance, surrounding stuff can effect the sensitivity and precision of human movement detection. You start by telling it what it is like with no one near (1.5m), then calibrate near and far hand positions of pitch and then volume loops. Other settings are passed over (things like MIDI interface etc I just accept the defaults as … I am not using any other gear with it, yet).

Setup also lets you access note range, fine tuning and a bunch of global instrument settings. Currently I have settled on C2 – C6 as the note range, after calibration the notes can be found in the air in a fairly continual “glissando” from far to near all around the pitch antenna. I have settled on about 40cm difference between near and far to fit that gliss into.

Each time it is moved to a new place, it needs to be re-calibrated. I do not have a microphone stand, yet, so am playing it on a timber only table (no metal nearby) and am finding it manageable. MOre experiments to come …