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Friends of the Theremin

The Japanese “Friends of Theremin” association is probably the biggest theremin club of the world. This interview with a representative of the association give us an insight of the Japanese theremin scene.

“Friends of the Theremin” logo
“Friends of the Theremin” logo.

Sato: How many theremins have been sold in Japan?

FOT: It’s difficult to say, but I can say that almost every member of “Friends of the Theremin” owns a theremin and this means that more than 300 theremins have been sold.

Sato: What models?

FOT: Etherwave, tVox tour, Theremax and even a lot of Ishibashi. There are also independent manufacturers that sell their products on the Internet. To promote Steven Martin’s movie DVD they sold it along with a toy theremin.

Sato: What is the history of “Friends of the Theremin”?

FOT: Between 1997 and 1998 Masami Takeuchi gave theremin lessons to friends and acquaintances. Then, little by little, the association was created. It was founded on August 28 1998, the birthday of Leon Theremin. In 2000, the same day, it was formally presented.

Sato: What are the requirements for membership?

FOT: Everybody can join the association.

Sato: What teaching method is used at FOT?

FOT: There is no official method, but since it all began with Masami Takeuchi, the method is similar to that of Lydia Kavina. We have an entry class for beginners that basically teaches how the theremin works: how it is tuned, etc.

Currently we have 200 members from all over Japan. The annual fee is about $20.

As stated by the name, “Friends of the Theremin” activities are not only educational, as the association is intended as a meeting point for theremin enthusiasts.

Sato: How many professional thereminists are there in FOT?

FOT: Every member declares his level when he joins, but no one classifies himself a “thereminist”. It is difficult to say how many of them are professionals.

Sato: What’s the average age of members?

FOT: 30, more ore less, equally distributed among males and females. But we have also elementary school age children and people in their sixties.

Sato: How many professional thereminists are there in Japan?

FOT: Masami Takeuchi and Yuki Yano are true professionals. But there are others. For example, Cornelius (he’s some kind of rock musician and has done remixes for big names like Sting); Hiroshi Takano, a pop-rock singer who was one of the first to use the theremin (a Big Briar Series 91) in the early 1990s. And many others.

Sato: How many theremin records have been published in Japan?

FOT: Let me mention those of Masami Takeuchi and Yuki Yano. They have also collaborated on recordings by other artists… it could be an endless list.

Then there is Gontiti, an acoustic guitar duo. One of the two, Titi Matsumura, is a theremin enthusiast, and in 1997 started a band called the Portaments, a trio that includes a theremin played by Masami Takeuchi, a steel guitar played by Matsumura and musical saw.

Finally, ROM-Chiaki appears in a pair of compilations.

Sato: What are the future projects of FOT?

FOT: Concerts, lectures, courses for beginners, meetings for advanced thereminists so they can play together and exchange ideas. The goal is to spread acquaintance with the theremin and to make people understand that the theremin is a real musical instrument. In the future we want it to become as common as any other instrument.

In Japan there are always courses (not necessarily arranged by FOT) in different parts of the country, and there is the theremin method written by Takeuchi. The most important courses are the ones taught by Takeuchi and by Yuki Yano in various places. I can say that Japan is the country with the greatest number of thereminists in the world. There was a boom when Steve Martin’s movie was released as a DVD in 2001. Now that boom is over but the theremin is not passé, it is part of Japanese musical history. The only problem is that there’s little choice in terms of theremin models, lots of gadgets but too few real instruments.

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