Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The theremin, the swan and the gig at the British Library

A diversion from all things watery to post about an evening spent with things silvery, namely an event at the British Library part of their SF themed Out of this World exhibition. I say event as that's what it was described as though to be honest wasn't sure what to expect, and came in good time straight from work thinking it would be a bit like a concert, sitting down in silence. Wrong, wrong, wrong....

The first sign was the costumes - tin foil and Star Wars helmets came into it, plus there were some performance artists from the Immaculative Extremists who did it professionally. Then no one really sat down - ok there weren't that many seats, but there was lots of mingling, chatting even, trips to the bar and it was all held in the British Library's main antrium, which is a pretty impressive space.

The program can be seen below.

Apart from two DJ sets the first of the two main events was the Radio Science Orchestra playing a number of well known themes (think Doctor Who) plus versions of classics like The Swan by Saint-Saens played upon a theremin.

What's that you might ask? Well you can see it in action above played by Charlie Draper who basically waves his hands in the air very carefully (shaking definitely not a good idea) in a way that alters the radio system's resonant frequency via his capacitance - full and more accurate description on Wikipedia here. Note the use of that great word "heterodyne" which I first read in those classic pulp SF books by E.E. "Doc" Smith.

Anyhow, bravo to Charlie!

More here and they have an album on iTunes so click here for an uncut version.

After a break and another DJ it was on to the second part, the return of the legendary Global Communication, the ambient music group from the 1990s, performing their classic 76:14, one of the Guardian top 1,000 albums. Hmmm.... not exactly a short list, but then again it is a laid back piece.... a very laid back piece.

It did eventually get going and people started dancing.

I get the feeling that would never have happened in the old British Library reading room. Maybe things would have been better if they had - Karl Marx so busy dancing with George Eliot he never gets round to writing his up his big idea (what is known to SF buffs as an alternative history).

An enjoyable evening; all very cutting edge in a retro way.

Two big thumbs up - or should that be six waving tentacles up?

Updated: at the request of the Radio Science Orchestra have taken down the video - sorry!


Tillerman said...

You don't often come across the word "theremin" on sailing blogs.

I had to look it up and have just been reading the life story of Mr. Theremin on the Wikipedia. Extraordinary!

Apparently he also invented interlace technology and "The Thing." I had always wondered who invented that.

JP said...

New word to me too - and yes an interesting James Bond like history with super spy inventions like "the thing"

Tillerman said...

Strange coincidence. I also, purely by chance, happened to discover yesterday that the Beach Boys used a version of a theremin on Good Vibrations!

JP said...

Very appropriate ;)

O Docker said...

Thanks for this post.

I've been hearing this peculiar instrument in various works of music over the years without ever knowing what it was until now.

I was fascinated, but not entirely surprised, to learn it led to the development of the original Moog synthesizer. But the most curious Wikipedia factoid I stumbled across is that the original Star Trek theme - that I thought all along included a part for this instrument - was actually done with a human voice imitating the theremin.

Does art imitate life or...

Carol Anne said...

Pat, Gerald, and I once visited a natural history museum (I think it was in Arkansas, but it might have been in Oklahoma) that had a theremin that visitors could play -- way cool.

Meanwhile, if you want to hear some great theremin playing, Check out Mark Doyle. "Out of the Past," from the album of the same name, is brilliant, pairing the ancient (sitar) with the modern (theremin).

JP said...

O'Docker - well I never: "to boldly go where no vocalist has gone before"

Carol Anne - sitar and theremin: now that I'd like to hear.