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Swimming in the Air
 
 

"Swimming in the Air. Lydia Kavina's fundamentals of theremin technique" is the title of an article written by Olivia Mattis that appeared on the July 1999 issue of the Electronic Musician magazine. Unfortunately the back issue is no longer available from the publisher and the electronic version was taken offline some time ago. Thanks to Gino Robair, associate editor of Electronic Musician magazine, the article is again available online. You can read it here.

The theremin is currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity. However, it is one of the most difficult instruments to play, let alone master. To play it well requires dedication, practice, and patience.

Besides being one of the first electronic musical instruments invented, the theremin was the first instrument in the world that could be played without being touched. Russian inventor Leon (or Lev) Theremin created his namesake instrument in 1919, at the age of 23. By 1928, the inventor had relocated to the United States, where he continued improving the theremin, developed new instruments, and trained a generation of thereminists until his forced return to the Soviet Union in 1937.

Lydia Kavina was Theremin's last protégé and is now the world's leading theremin virtuoso. Kavina began studying the theremin at the tender age of nine, after Theremin recognized her remarkable musical ability.

Born in 1967, she began performing publicly at age 14. She studied composition at the Tchaikovsky State Conservatory in Moscow, where she finished her postgraduate degree in 1997. She has been on the lecture staff of the Glinka Museum and is now affiliated with the Theremin Center, both located in Moscow. Recently, she was the featured soloist on Howard Shore's soundtracks for Ed Wood and eXistenZ, and has performed in productions of Alice (Hamburg) and Black Rider (Cologne), directed by Robert Wilson with music by Tom Waits. Kavina herself has composed over a dozen pieces for the theremin with ensembles, orchestras, and electronics, and continues to concertize internationally.

I conducted this conversation with Kavina by e-mail over a period of several weeks. A few of the questions were contributed by members of Levnet, an online group of theremin enthusiasts. The topics and techniques Kavina discusses will give beginning theremin players the tools they need to confidently step up to the antenna.

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