Category: wtf

Amped Up

I decided, as it is school holidays, to borrow an amplifier from work to try it on my setup.

Amp for the holidays - note the "gain" is nearly off

I must admit to knowing nearly nothing about such things, but was offered a QSC K10 PA box – it has a plethora of inputs at the back and I figured I could find something that let me jack in the theremini.

I borrowed an additional guitar lead so I could also inline my Ditto+ looper pedal.

Initially I came out of the L channel of the Theremini, directly into the “Line In” of input A on the Amp. Being careful to turn on the Theremini FIRST then the amp, immediately the wall of sound was deafening – I had to dial “Gain” to one click above off to make the noise controllable and tolerable.

I then calibrated the Theremini (it seemed to lose it’s settings after the initial connection to the amp), and I noticed after calibration the knobs on the Theremini did different jobs, which was odd. After unplugging and re-calibrating, I suspected it had trashed my Firmware, but checked and it is running 1.111 as it supposed to.

I then headed online to do some research, and discovered the the signal OUT of a Theremini is really HOT – waaay higher than a guitar (note to self: remember this if you ever consider jacking into an amp at a gig or anything similarly ludicrous), and it was likely messing with the amp and the electrical feedback was messing with the Theremini. So…

I found my 3.5 to guitar adapter, plugged that into the HEADPHONE socket of the Theremini and connected the amp lead to that and … problem solved.

amplified setup - note input from headphone jack

The sound is lush, LOUD and controllable. I think my neighbours are not going to enjoy the next little while, it is like a whole different instrument. The amp brings out out sonic nuances and a richness of tone that is what had originally drawn me to the instrument, so I am a happy chappy.

I am also noticing the RCA stereo input, and might try that out also (as I have a cable from my minidisk recorder that does this particular gender bend, will report back it it is any better.

LV-426 Autumn

The Theremin is different to conventional instruments in that making precise musical notes is one of many challenges you face when playing it. I am a reluctant practiser – I would much rather skip the whole skills acquisition phase and jump straight to the part where I am awesome at it… but that is not how life works sadly.

I have been reluctant to post recordings of my playing because I do not feel I am good enough at pitch control yet, but I decided to commit some time to ‘composing’ and recording an ambient spacescape that showcases the varied synthesiser voices that are available on the Theremini.

For the uninitiated, a Theremini differs from a classic Theremin in that it is a DIGITAL re-work of the original interface – the whole antennae thing on the original is ANALOG – the resulting analog distance from the antenna creates a smooth glissando, and generally only plays one type of noise (or voice), with variations in tone and waveform. A Theremini on the other hand is a full synthesiser (you can create totally new sounds) but uses the antennae to control pitch and volume/effect in a similar way to it’s analog ancestor. The distance from the antennae is sampled digitally, so the glissando can be much more granular.

For this piece, I wanted to get better at using my Ditto+ looping pedal – a foot-driven mono guitar pedal that lets me record and overdub over recordings live. I have been working my way through the Alien movies, and the ambient soundscape interests me greatly – it is a mood setter, so I decided to have a go at making one.

I selected the “lost in fog” preset on my Theremini, and dialed the preset effect back to about 1/4 strength (it is a stereo drift effect, lost on mono capture anyways) and tuned it to Phrygian mode (a “dark” scale). I played with the almost sub-sonic sound until I got a progression I liked and then recorded using it for about a minute, fading volume in, up and down then out at the end.

Next I chose the “Futurewarz” voice (think opening credits to the original Bladerunner movie), also tuned to Phrygian mode, and bumped the effect (a spatial delay) up to about half. This voice is really loud and harsh, so precise volume and pitch control was the aim – a restrained and minimal solo track was laid over the bass hum after much experimentation and pitch-control practise. I did NO post-processing or mixing here. The sound you hear is how it was made on the Theremin.

The result is about a minute of the sort of sound that (to me) resembles Bladerunner on LV-426 (the planet we originally met the Xenomorph in the first and best Alien movie).

Enjoy, tolerate, ignore – your choice:

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 …

What’s the BUZZ?

Jeskola BUZZ, coded by Oskari Tammelin, is a modular software music studio, there is nothing like it in my experience, and it is free.

I recently found Buzz 1.2, with builds as recent as 2016 – I thought this was a lost project as I have been using a buggy unstable version since the mid 90’s when Oskari lost ALL his source code (in a file system catastrophe). The old version “sort of works” on windows 10, but is not stable, crashes a lot. I am delighted to say this new version seems slick and pretty stable, and most of the most aggravating GUI issues have been solved with style and class.

This tool is like no other – it starts with a bewildering and esoteric collection of MACHINES. Machines are either GENERATORS (they make noise through a variety of synthesis techniques, or play/manipulate samples, used as leaves to sound branches), EFFECTS (these change sounds and are used in-line, on the way to the master desk), or CONTROLLERS (these modify machines live):

BUZZ Machines
Buzz noise making apparatus assembled from MACHINES

Once you have assembled a noise making apparatus (ie. picked your machines and effects, and wired them together to end at the MASTER, you then need to define PATTERNS for your noisemakers:

Buzz Machine Pattern

Once you have defined patterns (either series of pitched notes, parameter lists and/or triggers), you plug these patterns into a sequencer to play them alongside other patterns:


This program allows me to make noise I find musical – as synthesisers go it seems pretty nerdy, I am hampered by the fact that I have little musical notation I understand (I cannot easily read sheet music), but have a fairly good ear for pitch and tone, can understad C5, D3 etc, and am not afraid of HEXADECIMAL which is used for level settings (00-FF), so have been winging it fairly successfully. There are LOTS of machines I can drive, even more I have no idea how to use, yet – what an adventure.

I look forward to combining this with noises from my Theremini – could be a hoopy mix, we shall see.


I have been interested in music synthesis for as long as I can remember – indeed as a kid I used to “collect” music cassettes of music artists that pioneered the new toys that were synthesisers: Walter Carlos (Switched on Bach), Jean Michelle Jarre (Oxygene), Vangelis (Spiral), Kraftwerk (everything), Gary Numan (Pleasure Principle) … the list became endless as the music industry embraced this new instrument.

Not feeling like I had a musical bone in my body, I had never imagined making music was for me, until I came across a program called Buzz, and, encouraged by a stellar group of students (Max, Anthony and Sam) started making noises under a collective called UoD.

I had dreamed of owning a Theremin ever since I had heard one in the mid 80’s in a vintage recording of Clara Rockmore playing “The Swan” accompanied by piano. My best mate, Michael, and I talked about this obsession and many times hatched plans to get one. Originally we were going to buy a kit and solder it together, then we were going to get a classic Moog theremin, then we dithered, re-invented the conversation and took it through another 4 rinse cycles all talk, no action.

Sadly, this year (25th January 2021), Mike passed on, and I am not sure I have yet come to terms with the fact that I now live in a world where he is not. After careful consideration, I decided fuck it, let’s finally do this thing, dedicating the musical (?) exploration to him (or rather his favourite non de plume: Dr Winston O’Boogie). My only hope is that the noises I make using it do not cause him to spin in his grave.

The Theremin was invented around 1920 by Russian physicist Lev Sergeyevich Termen – commonly known later as Léon Theremin. This blog premiered around the 100th birthday of this spectacularly bizarre instrument. It is widely thought that synthesizers are a relatively modern invention – certainly easy to use ones are, but the genesis of FM synthesis and related generative electronics contain a plethora of noise-making apparatus that eventually coalesced into playable instruments. The Theremin is a fairly rare beast – nothing like it existed before, little compares to it now, but it recedes into musical obscurity only if no one uses it – I intend to try.

DISCLAIMER: After a LOT of research, I decided to purchase a Moog Etherwave Theremini. Purists will immediately bristle, arguing the Theremini is not a “real” theremin, because it is a digital re-work of an analogue instrument. Fair enough. Operationally, you play it the same, the noise it makes (after firmware updates) are (to my ears) identical, you play it without touching it and is universally considered “weird”.

I chose the Theremini because of the extra things it can do beside sound like a classic Theremin. I will not apologise for this decision, but as I learn to use it, I may regret the choice – we shall see. I am currently learning pitch control, classic theremin, no effects. It is difficult. That is the appeal. Anything worthwhile is often peppered with difficulty.