Parlando: The COC Blog

10/27/2010

Clara Venice at Midnight (and what's a theremin?)

Broken Social Scene isn't the only genre-bending musical guest at Operanation. When the clock strikes midnight, Operanation guests will be treated to a special performance by Canadian artist Clara Venice, who is an electric violinist, theremin artist, and singer. Her style has been described as "electro-pop-meets-cabaret-show," and she'll be outfitted by former Project Runway Canada winner Evan Biddell. Clara is keeping tight-lipped about some details of her performance: "I’ve created something extra-special and never-yet-performed, so expect a few surprises."

One particular item on Clara Venice's list of talents deserves special attention: the theremin is an instrument not everyone is familiar with (my in-browser spell check is, even at this moment, underlining it with a red squiggly line and suggesting I might want to type "therein" instead). Even if you can't picture a theremin, its sound will be instantly recognizable to you if you're interested in mid-century science fiction movies, or indeed, any of the numerous parodies of same. Heavily featured in the score for The Day the Earth Stood Still, its sound has become closely associated with alien invaders and flying saucers, and not without reason. Patented in 1928 by a Russian physicist, its sound is completely electronic and it can be played without being touched. It uses two antennae—one controlling pitch and one controlling volume—to sense the position of the musician's hands and adjust the sound accordingly. Vladimir Lenin found its innovations so impressive that he began taking lessons in theremin technique and became one of the instrument's first advocates.

Despite the apparent simplicity of manipulating it, the theremin is difficult to play well. There are no markings or guides delineating which pitch belongs to which hand position, only a single continuous pitch spectrum. Playing the correct notes, for beginners, can be a matter of frustrating trial and error.

In the video below from a 2009 performance, Clara Venice plays the theremin to great effect. Look for the two antennae and the way she uses her hand position to control the sound.    

Cool Son: Clara Venice live @ the Box Salon from Clara Venice on Vimeo.

Clara Venice performs as BarbieWire live at the Rivoli in Toronto, October 2009. Cinematography by Mark Ellam.

Posted by Cecily Carver / in Operanation / comments (2) / permalink

Andy Clarke (OA volunteer). (11/4/2010 10:51:00 PM)
Hi Cecily, after seeing you at the Elgin last night, Monique told me about your blog, and it's great to see that you've achieved the highly desirable objective of combining gainful employment and a personal passion. Arguably the most high profile exponent of a theremin in recent times (at least in my recent times back in the seventies!) was Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin who I saw use it live on stage to segue to the middle blues medley section of "Whole Lotta Love." There's a clip on YouTube in which he "duets" with Robert Plant: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5H7lcmdxWc
Cecily (11/5/2010 12:00:00 AM)
Hi Andy, glad to see you found the blog, and thanks for the theremin clip! It's fun to watch theremin performers—it seems like the instrument really lends itself to a theatrical performance style (lots of arm swinging, etc.). I very much enjoyed Acis & Galatea by the way, and it was good to see you and the OA crew!

Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001