29.05.2019 | Words by: Angelina Nikolayeva
“Pulling music out of thin air” might sound rather metaphorical yet this is exactly what it looks like when you see someone swinging their hands behind a peculiar device with two antennas. There is no magic involved however; theremin reacts on alterations in the electromagnetic fields surrounding it. Invented in 1919 by Russian physicist Leon Theremin, it is one of the oldest electronic musical instruments out there. Though often associated with an eerie sound used for soundtracking ’40s and ’50s science fiction and horror films, the potential of this unusual instrument goes far beyond mere sound effects. Having become one of the main ambassadors for theremin, German-Sorbian virtuoso Carolina Eyck keeps exploring new realms of its sound. After her debut in the Berlin Philharmonie in 2002, she has collaborated with various musicians, conductors, ensembles and symphony orchestras around the globe including electronic music pioneers Tangerine Dream
and Jeff Mills
and singer Gotye to name a few.
The result of a more recent collaboration with Dutch electronic music producer Eversines has seen the light of the day a bit more than a month ago. To celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the instrument’s invention, the two musicians were invited to record an album for Pieter Jansen’s yeyeh imprint using only theremin and Carolina’s voice as sound sources. “Some tracks bear comparison to the cyclical melodic movements associated with the greats of American minimalism, while others recall the alien, otherworldly futurism of the Radiophonic Workshop, classic ambient music and the sun-bright bliss of early ‘90s IDM”, states the press-release of Waves.
Following two weeks of long studio sessions
by intensive rehearsals, Carolina and Remco (Eversines) prepared a live performance which they will present during De Happening in De School.For the 12th Radio yeyeh on Red Light Radio
, I had the opportunity to talk to Carolina about her unique instrument, self-control, and roving lifestyle while listening to the ethereal sounds of her voice and theremin in-between.Q: I’ve seen a video of 9-year old you on stage with your dad. How did you start to performing?
A: I started performing really early. As a child I always knew that no matter what I did people would see it as magic anyway: they don’t see me touching any buttons or strings. This gave me a lot of confidence on stage. Now when I listen back to the recordings, I hear that I sounded quite out of tune (laughing). Q: In your TEDx talk you’ve mentioned that theremin helped you to become free.
A: Of course, making sound just by moving your hands in the air is a freedom in a way – it’s as if you were “singing” with your hands. However, every little movement changes the pitch: even if I breath it influences it. So, playing theremin also requires a lot of self-control to be able to play certain notes while not getting out of tune.Q: Is there a specific position from which you start moving your hand?
A: Yes, I know exactly how my distances are in the air and I can tune theremin to my body and to the surrounding. In this room, you are sitting the way that you are not influencing my notes, but if you would walk around, we would be playing together. I have certain hand positions that correspond to certain notes and then I tune theremin to my hand. It has to be done individually: you can’t just tune the instrument for your student and give it back.Q: This makes it very personal.
A: Yes, it is very personal. Theremin even hears if you are nervous and makes it audible. I stopped drinking coffee 3 years ago because it senses even a little shaking and perceives it as a vibrato. Q: Why did you stop playing other instruments?
A: You can’t do everything in life (laughing). I had a classical education with piano and violin and then studied viola for 3 years but had to stop playing due to problems with my shoulder. This background gave me a good base for musical understanding as there isn’t really a way you can study theremin, especially back then. Now we organize Theremin Academies so people can take private lessons, but it’s not yet taught in most of the conservatories. Q: How did you get into scat singing?
A: I think the way voice develops is a very psychological thing and it’s not enough to just learn the technique; you have to set it free. I had many different teachers, yet the lessons that helped me to get where I am now were about feeling your body and the voice within you. I’m still not sure whether I can sing with lyrics; so far, I only write compositions in my own made-up language.Q: Does it have something to do with your more recent interest in jazz improvisation?
A: Improvising is essential for any musician. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to learn it during my classical music education. About only 7 years ago I started to play with jazz musicians and that’s when I learned to set myself free and improvise. If you are in the moment, you become a medium that transmits everything inside of you and the surrounding.Q: Your singing is based on pure improvisation. Was it something that came naturally? What inspired you along the way?
A: My biggest inspiration is probably Bobby McFerrin
. Years ago, when I wasn’t sure what to do, I watched his YouTube videos and was captivated by his presence on stage: this pure being in the moment and connecting with people. Q: Together with Eversines, you’ve recorded an album using only your voice and theremin as a source. How did this unusual collaboration come about?
A: Pieter tried to reach out to me a couple of times through emails and Facebook. I liked his persistence, so we set up a Skype meeting and talked about possible projects. I was considering making an album capturing different sounds of the theremin to celebrate the instrument’s 100-year anniversary. But instead of limiting myself to theremin we ended up with an idea of making an album where we would use my voice and theremin as the only sound sources and a sort of material for creating new compositions. We needed someone to do the technological part, so I had a Skype-meeting with Eversines and I immediately liked his music. Q: Did you work with Ableton before?
A: Not yet, but I’m getting into it. Electronic music isn’t new to me though. My dad played in a band called Servi and my mom would always do the lightning for their shows. I can still remember the smell of a wooden black-painted case and hearing those cool sounds when I was backstage as a baby. When I worked in the studio with Remco (Eversines) I sometimes unconsciously tried to imitate those sounds from my childhood.Q: Did you feel limited in terms of the sound sources you could use?
A: It’s good to limit yourself sometimes. It’s easy to lose focus when you have too many options. Due to the limitations we set, it always becomes clear what we want. Q: You have a very diverse portfolio when it comes to collaborating. What is so far the most challenging project you’ve participated in?
A: Playing a 34-minute long Theremin Concerto
by the Finnish composer Kalevi Aho with a chamber orchestra. It was challenging as when I played D4, a violin next to me would play D#4. I didn’t know that beforehand as I only practiced my own part. I felt like I was swimming in a lake and even started to lose my concentration, but I had to go on, nevertheless. This is the kind of challenge that helps you to grow.Q: What have you been up to lately except the rehearsals for your live set with Eversines?
A: Touring and writing my new method book on theremin. Another Theremin & Voice album is coming up soon as well. Q: It seems like you are always on the go and live out of your suitcase.
A: I am based in Leipzig, but I stay in a different place every week. It’s hard for me to get used to the contrast between touring and coming home, so I decided to stick to one mode and keep touring. As long as I’m surrounded by good energy and people, I can make myself at home wherever I am. Carolina Eyck performs live druing De Happening this Sunday. Tickets are still available here.