Thursday, 11 September 2008

Those Theremin Blues

Tuesday night I went to an experimental/noise gig at Oto Cafe in Dalston, PAMELIA KURSTIN + JOHN BUTCHER. Pamelia Kurstin (the headline act) plays the theremin, one of the earliest electronic instruments, and the first instrument ever to be played without being touched. It was designed by Russian scientist Leon Theremin in 1919.

Theremin demonstrated the theremin shortly thereafter to Lenin (that's Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov, not John...Lennon); the latter was so impressed that he started taking lessons on it, and later commissioned hundreds of them to be built and distributed around the Soviet Union - and the world, to demonstrate Russian technology and promote electronic music.

A modern-day theremin; the rod controls the pitch/modulation, while the loop controls the volume/texture, which is done simply by adjusting the position of your hands in the air.

Anyway, Kurstin is apparently one of only a very few people who play this instrument as a real instrument, and as a trained musician (rather than a geek fooling around with a sci-fi gadget); and she is bloody good, in spite of being very drunk from the start. Watching someone play it, especially in a particular kind of setting, with dim lighting and in total silence, was a bit surreal. It inspired me to make an eerie horror/mystery film using only her music. Something to think about.

John Butcher was good too, and way more experimental. Tapping on the saxophone keys, on the reed, without blowing, passing air through the holes, squeaking, grinding, twisting, turning - at one point stuffing the microphone into the hole of the sax...

Both acts, but especially John Butcher, made me think of Heidegger and 'tools'. How things emerge in consciousness only when they break down/cease to function as they should; how any instrument, even when played 'normally' makes a whole range of sounds that we never hear or associate with it - a whole world of sonic exertion that in 'normal' circumstances remains hidden from our ears.

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