Tag: Looper

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:


So I have begun to think about the actual playing of this instrument.

Sitting at a table, with it on that table places the antennae too high, making the angles for attenuation uncomfortable and inaccurate, so I decided to buy a microphone stand to support it. On the underneath of the chassis there is a 3/8″ mike stand screw socket (female) designed just for this purpose.

I returned to Manny’s and purchased a Konig-Meyer heavy round-based black stand – the manufacturers website said it had the correct thread size head, but the ones in-store had 5/8″ screw head. I had to buy a converter (even after being assured by the salesman that it was 3/8″, until he actually looked – a bit annoying given the multiple contacts to determine this).

Theremini on Konig-Meyer stand, with DITTO+ Looper

The height is now comfortable – a side effect is that my pitch control is MUCH more controlled when standing, and when using a slightly split stance, the approach to both pitch and volume antennae work much better.

I began researching LOOPER pedals (like those guitarists use so they can self-accompany), decided on a DITTO+Looper, returned to Manny’s and purchased it, along with a compatible power supply (it seems guitar pedals do not routinely ship with them), and cable to connect it to the Theremini, and a converter to allow me to plug my headphones into the pedal OUT so I can hear the results.

Ditto+ Looper pedal

In a brief hiatus from marking, I hooked it all up to test it out. The Pedal IN and therefore Theremini OUT needs to be MONO (interestingly, the Theremini has a stereo output – most of it’s presets are “spacial” sounding, but plugging the looper into either the L or R channel makes it output balanced MONO to the pedal. I did not realise guitars output MONO – you live and learn.

DITTO+ Looper pedal

The pedal has nearly no controls – it’s simplicity is legendary. I managed to record a loop using one instrument, then overdub with another, then play live over the top of all this – this is HUGELY exciting, particularly when I get a chance to actually get musical. The looper uses solid-state storage also, so I will keep loops I like. Conventional pedals lose everything when powered down apparently, so this should be fun.

Lots to look forward to playing with.