Some tips and tricks for theremin

Recently I modded my Moog Etherwave Plus theremin and started seriously learning beginning theremin. I’ve run into a few surprises along the way, so I just thought I’d compile it all here in one place. I hope this helps!

Exponential or linear pitch field

The theremin has historically had an exponential pitch field, where each octave distance is smaller then the previous one. This means that you have to learn different hand positions for every single octave and, by extension, every note.

Carolina Eyck makes a strong case for modding your theremin so that it has a more linear pitch field. It’s not perfect, but it becomes much more linear when you do that, so that your hand positions are mostly the same for every octave.  If you are just doing sound effects, then this won’t have as much value for you–but if you are playing melodies then seriously consider doing this. Keep in mind, you’ll void your warranty.

I successfully modified my theremin with the ESPE01, as recommended by Carolina Eyck. It was a bit tense for an inexperienced solderer as myself, but it paid off! More info at the end of this post!

Tuning your theremin

Unless you mod your theremin, you shouldn’t need to tune it–the pitch knob is all you need. But if you do need to tune it, then check out this post on the topic. The key point here is that you have to open the cover to tune it, but the cover changes the tuning. So they recommend setting the zero beat to be about 3 inches from the antenna.  And on a side note, changing L5 seemed to do nothing by the time I got L6 to where I wanted it–so there does seem to be a very specific octave range for the theremin that I was not able to change.  This is a bummer for me because I play a lot in the top octave.

I experimented a little with the cover and screws, and the screws seemed to alter things very little. It’s really the cover that alters the pitch field. So, if you want to do some trial and error, you’ll get pretty close by putting the cover in place without the screws. That makes it easier to go back and forth while tuning, if you really want to. Then you can install the screws and they will alter the field very little.

Setting the zero beat

The way the zero beat works, is that the pitch decreases as you move away from the antenna toward the zero beat, and then it starts to increase again as you continue to move away. Turning the pitch knob to the left decreases the pitch field, and to the right increases the pitch field. If you’re moving your hand toward the antenna and the pitch is decreasing, then the zero beat is somewhere between your hand and the antenna.

A quick way to mute the theremin

The volume knob doesn’t turn your theremin off, it just adjusts the sensitivity of the volume antenna. And you don’t want to turn your theremin off either, because it takes a while to warm up again. You could get a volume pedal if you have extra money to spend. But the quick way to mute your theremin is to just loop the audio cable over the volume antenna. Done.

Warming up your theremin

The theremin really does take about 15 mins to warm up, so you want to turn it on early and leave it on. With  my theremin, the pitch field expands over time, reducing the number of octaves. I have to keep adjusting the pitch knob to the left to compensate–until it warms up.

Modding your theremin

I have very little soldering experience, but I’m so happy I went ahead and modified my theremin to be more linear with the ESPE01. There’s a cool demo by  Carolina Eyck that shows you why this is so useful.  Here are some tips when installing the ESPE01. NOTE: This is at your own risk–do not do this unless you understand the risks and will take them on yourself.  Please also note that I am not giving you instructions here, but rather tips and tricks to enhance the instructions they give you. Follow their instructions and, when in doubt, ignore me. Lastly, this is my own experience–I am not an expert.

Learn how to remove solder. Typically you use a tool with some kind of suction that sucks up the melted solder. I can’t emphasize enough learning to use the tool . You can get super cheap soldering kits that include this tool, so get it.

You will also need some tweezers or tiny needle nose pliers or both. These are useful for removing or inserting wires and pins.

And a wire cutting tool where the blades are close to the tip. Those all-in-one plyers/cutters/strippers aren’t going to work. You might need to strip one wire, so have some wire stripper handy.

I found that a mounted magnifying glass was really useful because you’re working with such tiny spaces surrounded by a lot of circuitry that you don’t want to mess up. My magnifying glass comes with a stand that also has clips that you can attach to the circuit board–super useful.

First you remove two capacitors. If you are like me, you completely eviscerate them as you get used to the heat of your soldering iron. For the newby like me, you’ll be very glad that Ethermagic is kind enough to include two new capacitors. But if you want to feel like a pro, then practice how long it takes to melt solder with your soldering iron. You need to touch the iron to the connection between the wire and the circuit board, and leave your iron there only long enough to melt the solder. Then they will pull out. The video makes it look easy, but it’s not. Wires conduct heat very well, so the longer you hold the soldering iron against the wire, the hotter it gets.

When you remove the capacitors, you will want to also remove the remaining solder using the tool I mentioned. It’s far easier to insert the new capacitors if you’re not trying to also melt some existing solder. It’s far easier to insert one end of the capacitor and solder that with fresh solder.

For installing the new capacitors, just follow the instructions. It’s a weird hack, but it totally works and looks just like the pictures and videos.

The same goes for removing the audio wire if you have an etherwave plus. There are also some additional connections on the board where you are inserting the ESPE01 that are unused but do have solder on them. Remove the solder from those, because you are sticking a bunch of pins into connections all at once. You can’t keep a bunch of solder melted all at once. Instead, suck up all that pre-existing solder so that you can very easily slide the pins into the connections. Then solder each connection. Make sure the ESPE01 is directly perpendicular, because it will be right up against the cover.

When you remove the audio wire, try not to mess with the end of the wire. You will have to stick that wire into a new connection on the ESPE01 and, if it is frayed even a little, it will be extremely difficult to insert the wire on the ESPE01 board. I had to cut the wire just a little to get a fresh end, and strip it a tiny bit so that it would properly insert into the connection. You can’t mess this up. You have very little wire to work with in the first place, so really be careful that you have a pristine wire.

And then lastly, remember that the cover changes the pitch field. Not only will you need to retune the theremin, due to your modification, but you’ll have to more or less guess. As I said above, the recommendation that worked for me was to get the zero beat around 3 inches from the antenna. Then put the cover back on and tweak the pitch knob a little bit more as needed.

Have fun!

That’s all I got for now. It seems like there are a lot of videos out there that teach everything beyond this point. Let me know if you think of any other basics that you wish you had known.  Thanks for reading, and have fun!

Music recommendations, August 10, 2013

Well, I wasn’t able to articulate any deep thoughts this week. So instead, it’s time for some new music recommendations!

Skies Below -This is a metal band from here in Seattle, that includes the drummer from the late Consulate. They are in the studio right now at Magnets Large & Small, so keep an eye out for their debut album. I think this is a new band to watch. Maybe check out their next show? I couldn’t find anything about them online yet, other than facebook. But their description, “heavy mellow”, is apt.

Thine — The duo just finished mixing their first album, but it’s not quite out yet. You can find some previews on soundcloud. This is another project involving the prodigious Stuart Dahlquist. If you’re aware of his other projects, Burning Witch, Asva, Sun O))), etc, then you might find this to be a little more accessible. I think fans of Kao Dot would be interested, as well as Asva fans. Thine has that signature Dahlquist organ sound–so hypnotically minimal and so stunningly colorful. Then add the lush voice of Joel RL Phelps. I don’t know how to categorize this, but perhaps you could include the Norwegian group, Ulver. The dynamics are all over the map, and often kicking into a groove at rare and distinct moments of resolution. But more often than not, the music is rubato and full of suspense.

Asva — this isn’t a new band, but I’m pretty excited that they are releasing a live album soon. Go and try to preorder it.

Free Salamander Exhibit — Members of Sleeptime Gorilla Museum have started afresh. I just caught them tonight in Seattle at the Mix. They are prog, but with heavy influences of funk, wicker, and burlap. It’s very heavy, very abstract and modern, and very entertaining to see live. I caught their 3rd show ever, so you still have a chance to hook up with their tour somewhere.

Update: How could I leave this out?? Kao Dot is coming out with a new album, Hubardo. You can pre-order it, so go do that. I pretty much agree with the NPR review, so I won’t be reinventing the wheel. Suffice to say, this is a group that plays with dynamics, concepts of time, textures, and colors. Expect pleasant surprises.


Prince is brave

Last week I went to see Prince. I expected him to play all the hits. He didn’t. Well, there were a few, but they were re-arranged and slowed down. He had a full on fro, and he played a lot of Hendrix. Was it a coincidence that he was playing in Seattle? Or is he just that good that he can switch up his set like that?

His band rocked. An all girl band, up until the second half when a dude walked on stage with a cowbell and played it the rest of the night.

So here’s the thing. He’s good. And he knows it. Everyone was completely entertained and blown away. Girls were screaming. And he didn’t play any hits. In fact, he ended the night with a few covers. And we loved it anyway.

That takes guts. That takes talent.

Lessons from Louis

So Louis CK is one of the great comedians of our time, and probably other times, too. I just ran across this recent interview with him, that you should definitely check out.

Some things that stood out to me…

This guy is wise. He’s put in his time, he’s learned a lot, and now he’s finally doing well.

Young musicians believe they should be able to throw a band together and be famous, and anything that’s in their way is unfair and evil. What are you, in your 20s, you picked up a guitar? Give it a minute.

He’s not so much in it for the money. I mean, I’m sure he knows exactly how he’ll spend it. But he’s fine with selling specials on his own website. Times have changed. TV doesn’t really matter so much if you have a bunch of fans who know about your website. So he doesn’t need to sell out, to cash in.

At first HBO was like, “We can’t do that.” And I said, “Well, let’s not do it then.”

And he worked with David Lynch?? Okay, now I’m going to have to find that episode immediately.

Then he becomes a zen master about dealing with press.

I don’t think you should ever say anything that you’re going to have to apologize for later. If the heat gets hot, just let them get mad. How did somebody make you apologize? Did they literally hit you on your body? Let them be upset.

Of course that’s easy for him to say. The rest of us say things we regret later. But on the other hand he’s saying to just be yourself. Say what you believe. If  people don’t like your authenticity, then maybe it’s too much work for you to be what you’re not anyway.

That’s the thing about these famous people. They’re super human. Really, they were born that way, and then they put in a bunch of time and hard work to seal the deal. For the rest of us, we’re just happy to make a living. Even Louis is happy to do that–except then he was destined for much more.

Some good news about lyrics

While driving to the airport, getting ready to leave the big island of Hawaii after an amaaazing trip, I was dreading the inevitable long wait at an ugly airport (being in Hawaii does not do much to improve it) (As Douglas Adams once said, and I am paraphrasing, “In no human language can you find the phrase, ‘As pretty as an airport'”) and so I was already in a critical mood when I heard “One More Night” on the car radio for the zillionth time. That’s when it occurred to me just how really bad the lyrics are.

Like a river to the sea,

I will always be with you

And if you ever sail away,

I will follow you

These are not good lyrics. He rhymed “you” with “you”. And the metaphor is confusing, yet also cliche.  But seeing as I am no longer in the hating mood, let’s look at the good news: It did reach #1 in the US.

So maybe we shouldn’t worry so much about writing good lyrics.

In the meantime, Turn it On is a good song with a good message. And so is Land of Confusion. Good video, too. Really captures the height of the Cold War. Watch it to the end. Hopefully these two songs are how he’s remembered.

Top 10 Songs from Spotify in 2012

Here are 10 songs I discovered on Spotify in 2012

Listen Now:  2012: Top 10 (NSFW: explicit lyrics)

This was the year of Spotify for me. The ability to legally listen to virtually any song for free was intoxicating. I used to use GrooveShark, but audio quality is all over the map and it’s annoying to find the right version of the song you are looking for. Youtube is great, but the ads are so intrusive, if you can find a non-live version. So Spotify it is!

In no particular order:

U R So F’d – Infected Mushroom

 Dubstep hit the mainstream two years ago or so. Love it or hate it, it’s still going strong. This is actually the first song that I heard that was released in 2013, and I just like the obnoxiousness.

Amanaemonesia – Chairlift

This song has actually been around for years. I think I saw a link to the youtube video years ago, but the song is officially released in 2012–whatever that means. Maybe that’s just when it showed up in Spotify. At any rate, a great example of pop music that still pushes the boundaries. Chairlift artfully takes the retro 80s keyboard thing, and then pushes the boundaries of pop music. Their songs are almost non-catchy, more a certain sound than a specific melody. And yet, they don’t quite go so deep into it, so that it’s still accessible. This is some well balanced pop.

Ashes in the Air – The Flaming Lips

Another dose of blatant lyrics, in an extremely lush, yet minimal, Flaming Lips package. It’s a beautiful example of that feeling that you’re listening to music beamed from a satellite in orbit around Mars. And the words are that compelling feeling that you’re hearing something autobiographical and relatable.

Esther – Grand Duchy

With Frank Black, it’s now all about his voice. No one sounds like him. And the sparse, digital background arpeggio is a contrast that brings out his low, hypnotic crooning even more.

Holy Barbarian – Melvins Lite

I like everything Trevor Dunn has ever contributed to. He’s the bassist that every drummer dreams of playing with. In this edition, he tosses in his bow into the Melvins mix to create something that sounds foreboding and epic and creepy all at once. I love it. I got to see them play live last year, and Trevor was a complete rock star. At some point he deftly dodged a stage diver, almost dropping his massive standup bass to the floor but not quite–and kept on rocking without any distraction. Another time he was so amped up that he literally swung the bass vertically up in the air and balanced it there for several seconds with one arm. Metal.

Sever – Iamamiwhoami

Another track that was released years ago on youtube, but finally made it onto Spotify. Seems like a common pattern now. Upload for free on youtube, then submit a batch to Spotify. Anyway, this band was a mystery for quite a long time, due to their ongoing series of videos that seemed to tell a story while revealing very little about the musicians involved. A slow and pretty track. I’m a sucker for this kind of song.

Pacific Coast Highway – The Beach Boys

I’m so glad they’re back! After a long spell of the mediocre, they return with solid songwriting. This song takes me back to my years in the Bay Area, driving down the Pacific Coast out on Highway 1. The setting sun. Deserted beaches. Lush forests. Rocky crags. The endless ocean. Solitude.

Myth – Beach House

More pretty, lush crooning! This band shows up on my list every year, mostly due to her unique and emotive voice that calls to me. They narrowly beat out many other bands from this expanding genre: Goldfrapp, Boy Friend, LadyHawke, etc.

Folk Hero Schtick – Yeasayer

They almost made it on the list last year, and this year they inched up to the top due to the badass beat that busts in after the first minute. I’m digging the 80s influences that some electro-pop bands are drawing from, and again they do it tastefully.

Born in Winter – Gojira

 There’s this whole thing that I just discovered early last year, where Black Metal is passing through a magic portal and coming out as some kind of brooding, grooving, beautiful emo post-rock. I don’t know what it’s called, but there are some great bands in this genre that I’ve come across lately, like Les Discrets, and Nachtmysium. It’s great when metal bands become more musical.

Check out all of my Spotify favorites from 2012:  2012: Great Music

Locally from the Northwest: My favorite releases last year were from local bands like Sandrider and Asva.

Here’s the list from 2011:  2011: Top 10

So… what did I miss?

Great Moments in Live Music from 2012

I was lamenting to Jake Weller the other day that I was jealous of people who can make Best Shows of the Year lists, but then he retorted that it was because I was playing shows and not going to shows. We-he-he-helllll, good point there Jake, and so it was that he solved a conundrum. So here’s a list of shows that held some level of personal awesomeness for me. Maybe this will mean something to you, too.

10. Primus

Ha ha, this is kind of a joke… but only kinda. I actually opened for Primus! Kinda. So the story is that I was in a band, Smidgen, back in the early 90s. We played in Southern Oregon, where we were going to high school and college. Well, fast forward 20 years, long after we had split up and gone our separate ways, and the Britt Festival in Jacksonville, OR, is looking for bands for their new second stage… and they actually contact us! To play with Primus! So we reform to play for that one show. It was awesome. A bunch of our friends showed up, and we all totally dorked out all night. Really fun and, of course, Primus put on a great show as always. Random note: they played an obscure King Crimson song during sound check. Later, I read that Les Claypool recorded some music with Adrian Belew, so there you go. Smidgen was (or I should say IS) huge fans of Primus and King Crimson, so this was one of those great alignment-of-the-stars sort of thing.

9. Metameric

These guys are just super cool and nice people. Shiplosion first played with them last year at the Blue Moon, and they were totally okay with us throwing a massively chaotic balloon party. The staff was Not Happy about the massive mess, constant popping of balloons, and all that, so we really really had to clean everything up spotlessly to make sure we’d be invited back. I think the staff was okay with us after we left the place cleaner than when we arrived. But hey, it’s the Blue Moon. No one goes there because it’s clean. I digress. The point is that Metameric is really thoughtful about their music. They’re a good balance between proggy elements, and just good overall solid metal songwriting. So it’s great that they were good sports about a dorky balloon party going on around them. A lot of metal bands are just too self-concious about that kind of thing, but not Metameric.

8. Nu Klezmer Army

Dude, the night that we played with them at the Conor Byrne, these guys were on another plane. Some of the most soulful klezmer I have ever heard. Bucharest Drinking Team had been playing a few solid days of Folk Life Festival, and then we went up to Ballard for this afterparty. I was exhausted, and I was setting up my drums on the side of the stage in a completely packed room–when the Nu Klezmer Army went on stage. I literally stopped and just stood there transfixed, while they proceeded to tear out my heart with their soulful klezmer crooning. I looked around frantically to see if anyone was getting this. They were. The room was completely in their clutches. I had to force myself to choke back tears and continue to set up my drums. Five days later, their bass player, Joe, was killed by a gunman with untreated mental illness. We will never be the same. Later, some of the most beautiful and heartbreaking music I’ve ever heard was to be heard in the intersection outside the front door of Cafe Racer, and then later at the memorial. It’s a shame that it’s in times of mourning that there is some of the most amazing music–but it’s probably of great importance to those who need comforting.

7. Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band

The night after the Cafe Racer shootings, Bucharest Drinking Team played a fundraiser for Honk Fest West. It wasn’t until much later that night, when ENSMB hit the stage (I’m reasonably sure it was them) and proceeded to play some kind of insane New Orleans funeral dirge, that I finally broke down in sobs.

6. Colin Ernst

At the memorial that I mentioned earlier, he sang a new song entitled Assholes and Fuckheads. I’m trying to get someone to record it so that this masterpiece can be shared with the world, so that the world can be a better place. Any time that life screws with you, you will sing this song and feel better.

5. Bucharest Drinking Team

It’s selfish to mention my own band, but grieving can be very selfish and that’s perfectly fine. We were playing a fundraiser for the family and friends of the victims, and we got permission to sing some Circus Contraption lyrics that Drew would sing, and I look out into the audience at the Tractor and people are arm in arm, swaying back and forth, and kicking their feet a little, and I can’t say how relieving it was in that moment to see all the camaraderie and love in this strange and quirky and excellent community we have, and I knew at that moment that we’re okay. It’s moments like this that are why I play music.

4. Fabulous Downey Brothers

Frenetic. Blue. Dorky. Numerous. Hilarious. Captivating. Fun. Electronic. Very, very blue.

3. Carnotaurus

Before the last song of the night, at the 2 Bit Saloon, the singer remarked, “This song is about a man being crushed inside some giant gears!” That was totally metal.

2. The Funhouse

This is not a band. This was a lifestyle, that is now part of the never to be forgotten past. It was a club that was shut down to make room for condos. I am all for city density, but I am more for community. Condos aren’t community. In October, 2012, I reached some sort of codependent peak where I played at the Funouse 4 times in the same month with many of my dearest friends. Then, on Halloween, it shut down forever. That night was a crazy party, where we proceeded to drink all of the remaining booze in the house and party until close. At the end, some new reincarnation of Titanium Sporkestra marched in with their all brass and percussion band and proceeded to show how heavy brass bands can get. I started throwing money at them. I couldn’t help it. Good thing I only had singles in my wallet, because it was quickly empty. Then they marched out onto the street, as everyone said their last parting farewell to an era.

1. Operadesiac

They host a monthly variety show at Cafe Racer now. I’ve seen almost-nudity, Microsoft Word art, people in chicken suits, a binder full of women, an accordion, a turkey baster being played as an instrument, elf performance art, puppet shows, accoustic guitar rock, shredded ballots, peep sculpture, and much more. It’s a great time. You should check it out at least once.

0. Secrets

I have to hold some moments just for myself as a secret. Sometimes music is not about community, but a much deeper, more personal moment–never to be shared.

Thanks for reading. I left a lot out. But this is what came to mind at the moment. Here’s to a year full of success and more excellent live music to feed the soul! And maybe a little less tragedy, this time around, please??

The Melvins: A Novel

Because my close and dearest friends hate me so much, no one told me about the Melvins tour diary until yesterday. While I think of the best way to exact my revenge, I will be reading each and every one of their posts.

A few observations within the first few minutes of random skimming:

1. I’m pretty sure I stood in the same spot as the Hawaii photos, just days ago. I felt the same way they clearly look: hot, sweaty, and misdressed. Right, misdressed.

2. I immediately skipped to Trevor Dunn’s last post, and was not surprised to find a passage as devinely written such as this:

She yells again, “Is that a vaaaaan or a buuuuus??” I continue to gape in her general direction completely confused by this question until it finally dawns on me to respond. “It’s a vaaaaaan,” I holler. She cups her hands around her mouth and shouts in a barely discernible drawl, “We were all of us inside tryin’ to figure out wut it wuuuuuuz.” My expressionless face betrays the mild disbelief behind my eyes. A million images flash after a pale gaze. What was that discourse inside the Waffle House? Why is this an issue? Who cares? What is the meaning of life? Why are some people lucky when others are born into endless despair? Would I rather freeze to death or die in a fire?

I need to read everything Trevor Dunn has ever written.

The week after Bumbershoot

Okay, now that you are completely burned out on music from Bumbershoot, here’s what I highly recommend this week. There’s a lot going on!


Too much to choose from!

Cafe Racer – 2 Hour Variety Hour

After the recent events, the community at Cafe Racer is one of the closest and the most welcoming in Seattle–and possibly some of the most diverse. Then imagine the freaks of the freaks putting on a show that’s like flipping channels during Saturday morning cartoons. Last time I went, there was automated poetry, opera, Journey, puppets, and karaoke.

[Facebook Event]


Key of Solomon and Metameric at the Comet

This is going to be a kick-ass metal show. It’s the kind of night where it’s such a perfect line-up that you arrive early and stay the entire time. Metameric is high energy metal, with the perfect balance of technical prowess. Key of Solomon is more on the rocking side, and you don’t have to decide whether or not you like the vocalist.

[Facebook Event]


Diminished Men at the Comet

This is some crazy psych-surf rock. It’s like a scene out of Twin Peaks. I always expect to see a small dude dancing backwards. I love these guys. Also: this seems to be booked at the same time in the same venue as the event above? How is that possible? I have no idea. That’s why you should go.

[Facebook Event]


And then lastly,

Melvins at the Showbox

You know what this is. I won’t bother giving you a link. If you know what it is, you probably have tickets. But if that’s not enough for you, then let me just say that Trevor Dunn is playing with them and that should be enough.



Again: Too Much!

Les Pamplemousses at the Pink Door

Imagine an evening somewhere in France during the early 20th century. You’re there, and you know all the songs and know all the lyrics. How is this possible? Go and find out.

[Facebook Event]


 The Swans at Neumos

They influenced so many bands, I’ve lost count. We’re lucky that bands like this are still touring. I wish I had known about them a long time ago, and so do you.



Bucharest Drinking Team at Tilth Harvest Fair

Stuff is going on all day, but my band will be performing at 2pm sharp. Parking is tough, so arrive early.

[Facebook Event]