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Topic: OT - Theremin MIDI controller

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  1. #1

    OT - Theremin MIDI controller

    Hi,

    I recently found out that Moog Music is manufacturing a Theremin with MIDI capabilities. I immediately thought: Well, that would be an interesting controller for Giga. Anybody has played with one yet? Those puppies go for $3,500

    By the way, does anybody know of Theremin libraries for Giga? Pretty interesting instrument.
    I used to watch the original Outer Limits and wonder at the introduction music, baffled at the strange ethereal voice. Very interesting how it was invented too.

    Ruben

  2. #2

    Re: OT - Theremin MIDI controller

    as far as I know it would be near impossible to make a theremin for giga, \'cause it doesn\'t have glide/portamento...
    But you can make a nice theremin sound with any good analogue or VA synth...
    Take a sine plus saw, LP filter, LFO on pitch, lots of portamento glide, and asign volume on mod wheel..oh and if you have an extra lfo to spare set it realy realy slow and asign it to master pitch, but not too much, so that it\'s allways slightly out of tune...and you should get a fairly convincing sound.. [img]images/icons/smile.gif[/img]

    Alex

  3. #3
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
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    Re: OT - Theremin MIDI controller

    Originally posted by MrArkadine:
    Hi,

    I recently found out that Moog Music is manufacturing a Theremin with MIDI capabilities. I immediately thought: Well, that would be an interesting controller for Giga. Anybody has played with one yet? Those puppies go for $3,500

    By the way, does anybody know of Theremin libraries for Giga? Pretty interesting instrument.
    I used to watch the original Outer Limits and wonder at the introduction music, baffled at the strange ethereal voice. Very interesting how it was invented too.

    Ruben
    <font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\">Ah yes, the old MIDI theremin. Haven\'t tried one...we used to joke about them. The Buchla Lighning II is another controller which would be highly interesting for Giga in some settings. Not cheap, way cool. Don Buchla has been my hero since undergraduate composition classes on an old Buchla 200 that took up half the building.

    The best theremin emulations I have heard have been for Reaktor 3.0. There is one in the user library that is killer.

    Bruce

  4. #4

    Re: OT - Theremin MIDI controller

    I was one of the principal builders of the first 50 or so of Big Briar\'s (now Moog Music) Theremin instruments. The MIDI control (that they were discussing at the time I was there) involved triggering a single note with a corresponding pitch bend tracked to +/-3 octaves or so. This involved sending both LSB and MSB data - a 14 bit nibbelized data stream. I don\'t know if that was the resulting spec that they settled on, but it left many synthesizers out in the cold. If you\'re going to use \"native\" MIDI on a theremin, it would be wise to simply control the theremin on playback and leave it at that... [img]images/icons/wink.gif[/img] MIDI theremins had a panel switch to turn off the antenna circuitry during playback, so that grand gestures in the studio would not disturb the theremin as it was functioning as a sound module.

    I know that no one here wants to simply keep theremin\'ing with MIDI to itself, so I\'ll tell you up front that (again - at the time) the only machine to respond to LSB pitch bend was the Kurzweil K2XXX series. However, I\'m not sure if it could track to the extent that was spec\'d for the theremin (I think Hal Chamberlin told me that it was +/- 2 octaves, but I could be wrong). This would mean that you\'d need to drop off the theremin audio circuitry and simply use it as a MIDI controller, as the pitch between the two would not track in parallel (which also meant that the player had to adjust the \"feel\" to the new octave displacement). This is my nearly 10 year-old memory working, so I could be off on the details.

    Now, that being said - any of Bob\'s theremins have both trigger and CV outs as standard I/O, so the less problematic way to go would be to run the analog control to a CV-MIDI convertor and let it do the thinking for you. With that, a note and MSB-only pitch message would be generated every time there\'s a trigger. That would allow you to trigger the nearest \"root\" sample and then pitch bend as far as it could go. This would mean of course that your phrasing would need to be selected very carefully, as you would not be able to gliss more than say an octave (or whatever you set your range to) without hitting a pitch \"ceiling\". So, you\'d need to have good planning or great improvisational facility to recognize that range and re-trigger in a way that comes across as musically valid. Perhaps \"MIDI Theremin bowing\" has just been invented... Hmmm... where\'s my patent application documents when I need them?.. [img]images/icons/wink.gif[/img]

    Even so, the resolution of 127 steps is not too great for +/- 1 octave, and is often made more obvious by controllers that update pitch bend values too slowly (as with most synth controllers, and CV-MIDI convertors for that matter). So, you often get a steady diet of \"zipper noise\" in most of the broader sweeps that you try with a MIDI controller - especially one as cool as the theremin - it\'s just too much fun not to swong your arms from time to time...

    So, it\'s not as easy technically as you think - much like the fundamental task itself - that is - making music with a theremin to begin with...

    [img]images/icons/shocked.gif[/img]

    This is not to discourage anyone from trying a theremin. It is an incredibly rewarding instrument to play, and Bob\'s instruments are real musical works of art. Just understand that, like any other expressive instrument, it takes practice to master.

    Enjoy!

    P.S. If you really want to know how it\'s done, what the spec *actually* turned out to be, ask them. They\'re very friendly people... [img]images/icons/grin.gif[/img]

  5. #5

    Re: OT - Theremin MIDI controller

    Hello All,

    The theremin seems to me to be quite an expressive instrument. Much of my interest in it is a performance device. One of the hardest things to do, as we try to teach our computers to sing, is to capture the magic of a great performance. Sure, we\'ve come a long way in sound quality/size/variety of our ever increasingly expensive sample libraries. At best, we\'re just skilled button-pushers though we get lucky sometimes. SO I\'m intrigued by the possibility of the range of expression available with a theremin.

    There is a great biography of Leon Theremin, the inventor, and it is a wonderful story with Clara Rockmore performing. Lydia Kavina, the great grand-niece of Leon Theremin has an instructional video for theremin (got mine from Big Briar) produced by Bob Moog.

    Thanks to Houston for the insight into the MIDI bend range issues. This of course is a big concern of mine. I guess the only way I\'ll find out for sure is to actually get one and try it out.

    There is another builder of theremins who has a stand-alone CV-MIDI convertor:

    Wavefront Technologies

    Anyway, I think this stuff is really fascinating, especially for the possibility of rendering a really expressive performance. I think it\'s a step in the direction of playing like Hendrix did, using his guitar, his amps, and his \"place in space\" between them to create something pretty incredible.

    Besides, I\'m a terrible keyboard player.

    Kevin

  6. #6

    Re: OT - Theremin MIDI controller

    How cool is that! I\'d love to conduct GIGA with one free arm instead of pushing the MOD wheel.

    I wonder if the theremin-to-MIDI converter is capable of controlling any MIDI control parameter (not just note-on and portamento)?

    Also, would it be sensitive enough to follow a hand/arm gesture from pp to ppp and stable enough not to vibrato the volume?

    Although $3,500 is probably too much to spend on such a controller, I\'d be willing to spend that much on something like it that had some artificial intelligience built in and could follow/learn standard conducting gestures. There\'s a patent waiting to happen....Houston?

  7. #7

    Re: OT - Theremin MIDI controller

    Along these lines, there was an alternative MIDI controller that used low powered lasers for gestural control. I met a really nice guy named John Laraio at the Winter NAMM show back in January. He toured as the opening act for NSync. Dave Govett and I were invited over to his studio where he gave us a personal demonstration of his performance. It was quite impressive. I believe the technology has been licensed by Roland and it is used in the high-dollar drum controller they have. Pat Mastelotto of King Crimson uses one of those units and has noted the expressive benefits of having the gestural control. It would be nice to have just a control unit that output CV or MIDI to plug in to an existing system, huh?

    Kevin

  8. #8

    Re: OT - Theremin MIDI controller

    For some time I was usin Roland\'s D-Beam controler for controling dynamics/mod wheel with my hand...
    And it worked ok...there are couple of roland synths that have D-beam and can be found second hand for redicilous price..too bad the d-beam is the only good thing on them..heh.

    Alex

  9. #9
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
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    Re: OT - Theremin MIDI controller

    If you\'re looking for the ultimate \"air controller\" here\'s the real thing:

    Buchla Lightning

    Buchla\'s stuff is always first rate. Not cheap.

    You mallet-heads on the forum might want to also check out the Marimba Lumina. Outstanding mallet controller...actually tracks the mallets individually, so that one could be playing different mallets sending to different MIDI channels.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
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    Re: OT - Theremin MIDI controller

    Left one out...

    Also, if you\'re a true piano-playing type that hates external controllers altogether, Buchla has a controller called PIANO BAR that clamps onto the piano, shoots infrared beams at the keys, and produces latency-free MIDI output of what\'s being played (including pedals).

    Not cheap, again, but Don Buchla is really a first-rate designer of all things electronically musical. If you page back to the \"home\" page, then follow the history link, you\'ll see some of the instruments old farts like me played in college composition labs all over the world. Moog certainly had the name recognition with the early modular synths, but Buchla built by far the most memorable and most out-there designs.

    Man, I remember spending hours patching those things up and adjusting each pitch on the analog sequencers by strobotuner. In some ways, sheer pleasure. We take a lot for granted lately, but also we miss a lot.

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