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 …

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.