– We try the theremin, that science fiction instrument
In the Grand Théâtre, the musician Bruno Brasil introduced the audience to one of the oldest machines in the electronic galaxy. We play it with our hands without touching anything.
Imagine the melancholic cry of a whale beneath the waves. Or the mysterious whistle of a flying saucer. The tones seem to float in the ether. They are reminiscent of the violin, the double bass, maybe even the human voice. That’s the whole theremin, that science fiction instrument.
On the fourth floor of the Grand Théâtre there is a bar with stars on the ceiling. Nothing to drink this Saturday. But hear everything. At the invitation of the Fête de la Musique, which the Electron Festival has delegated here, the audience comes, sits and listens. Standing in front of his instrument, Bruno Brasil begins a strange ballet. Upper body straight, hands move rhythmically back and forth, he doesn’t touch anything. However, a melody emerges.
The spy who loved music too much
The theremin looks like this. A solid base on which is attached a housing containing two oscillators, like a radio transmitter. A staff appears to the left of the crate, forming a loop, a sort of horizontal question mark. On the right a vertically placed bar. These are the instrument’s two antennae that the player accesses, the right side to direct the melody, the opposite side to control the volume.
So simple in appearance. In fact, much more difficult, as will be seen when the audience is asked to try it themselves. “Sounds magical? It’s purely scientific!”
The invention dates back to 1920. Already a century for one of the first, if not the first electronic instrument ever developed. The work of Leon Theremin, the Russian spy who loved music too much to fulfill his patriotic duties.
Sent to New York with his hilarious machine to praise the success of Communism, this physics enthusiast, also a cellist, will end up in the secret laboratories of the Gulags before being redeemed. Léon Theremin finally left this world in Moscow in 1993. The Russian engineer was 97 years old at the time. His invention never stops living in the expert hands of his followers, in Switzerland as in the rest of the world.
The German Carolina Eyck, the Australian Miles Brown, again the Lausanne Coralie Ehinger, alias Therminal C: Clara Rockmore, a pioneer among theremin users, is followed by the characters who regularly place the machine at the center of the creation again. An international community has established itself with its landmarks, its meetings in Colmar, Lippstadt, Oxford. The mind stays with the sharing of knowledge. And the knowledge, from playing technique to repair know-how, remains as valuable as the old models, whose prices are becoming exorbitant.
Advantage who knows a bit about electronics? Bruno Brasil warned us. “A fly flying by can disrupt everything.” The theremin is made in such a way that it looks as if it has a life of its own, the Valais musician confides. “In my premises in Martigny, for example, that never works. Is it an electronic problem? Strange as it may seem, the reason escapes us.
We have to pay attention to Bruno Brasil’s precise gestures. Finally appreciate his taste in music. After all, that is the purpose of the theremin. Play sounds you love.
In 1973, the Valais musician played “Un amico”, Ennio Morricone’s theme for the film “Revolver”. the smallest microtones. Bruno Brasil smiles. “This instrument is like cream.”