Home / CD Review: Lydia Kavina – Music from the Ether: Original Works for Theremin

CD Review: Lydia Kavina – Music from the Ether: Original Works for Theremin

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Ah yes, the theremin… that weird sound in “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys… and much, much more: here we have a collection of “serious” compositions for this enigmatic electronic instrument dating from 1929-1996, performed by the (of course) mysteriously beautiful Lydia Kavina (described as “today’s leading thereminist”… though many would argue that Geoff Brady is equally deserving of that title and just as mysteriously beautiful.) These pieces are presented chronologically (with a huge gap between 1945 and 1989) and are all for theremin accompanied by other instruments (piano, string quartet & oboe, magnetic tape, or other theremins… no “solos” for some reason…)

The music is either pleasantly ethereal, engagingly eerie, maddeningly tedious, or just plain ridiculous (the more recent theremin + tape works often sound exactly like one of those “Halloween Sound Effects” albums.) Basically, the shorter the better is the general rule here… keep it under three minutes or you’re in trouble (this will help with radio play too…) The real appeal is hearing the pieces you never knew existed for this instrument by Martinu and especially Percy Grainger (is there another composer more underrated than Percy Grainger? You just gotta love Percy Grainger!) The bonus is a couple of nice enough (short) things from other obscure 1930s composers (Schillinger, Wilckens, & Achron — sounds like a law firm…) The problem is the recent material, which is all totally disposable and/or annoying as hell (but I guess it fills up the CD.)

Basically, while this disc is essential for theremin-o-philes (yes, they are everywhere) and interesting enough for the curious, at the end of the day you will have to admit that nothing here can ever measure up to the greatness of “Good Vibrations.”

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  • godoggo

    Have you heard the Clara Rockmore album?

  • no I haven’t… yet!

  • Good Vibrations did NOT use a theremin. This is a popular myth. Mark Brend’s new book, “Strange Sounds” has an excellent chapter on the Tannerin – the REAL instrument used in Good Vibrations.

  • I’ll be damned… well, it sure sounds like a theramin… terre… tanne… “let’s call the whole thing off…”

  • Etherdave

    This review should probably not be taken too seriously… in other words, we as thereminists should admit, with a laugh, that there are many many many people out there who still have no idea what the theremin is, what is its musical heritage, and how it has contributed to the development of modern music. We must resolve, as a group, to continue to promote the instrument, its music, and its practitioners, and we must do it cheerfully, with glad hearts and open minds.