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The Theremin Journey of Eric Ross

Eric Ross in Berlin Germany performing Music from the Future CD Tyava Music ER 107. Photo by Mary Ross. 2010
Eric Ross in Berlin Germany performing Music from the Future CD Tyava Music ER 107. (Photo by Mary Ross, 2010)

Saggini: Listening to the recordings of your live performances, one gets the impression that there is a strictly defined musical texture on which the musicians can freely “embroider” according to the moment’s inspiration. Can you tell us about this?

Ross: I have Guidelines and scores for the artists.

Guidelines for Performance
Watch the conductor at all times for cues.
Create a unified total sonic blend.
Pay careful attention to expression, balance and dynamics.
Listen carefully and react to the other musicians. Duplicate their sounds and gestures on your own instruments as they listen and respond to you.
Make full use of your instrument’s range, color and timbre.
Use in general an emancipated chromaticism. Be in the moment.
Use unusual playing techniques, such as overblowing, muting , harmonics, multiphonics, taps, etc. Use wide and unusual leaps, such as major sevenths, minor ninths, high to low, low to high, mid to high, low, etc.                                                                                                                                                                                   
Energy, energy and more energy.
The single most important element in a performance is intensity in all the elements of music, expression, speed, dynamics, etc.
Play something you’ve never heard before. Let your own creativity through.
Eric Ross - Personal Solo Guidelines:
1. The single most important element in a performance is intensity, in expression, speed, dynamics, and phrasing.
2. Energy, energy, always more energy.
3. Play something you’ve never heard before.
4. Display and extend all your playing techniques, use all your colors, timbres, and effects. Use the principles of unity and variety.
5. Play with fire, speed and accuracy. Jump in the stream of sixteenth notes, faster overall thought, quickness, deftness, grace, and expression.
6. There is no substitute for certainty. Be precise.
7. Careful use of resolution notes.
8. Think of “The Disappeared,” and be more expressive. Play with conviction, as if it’s the last time you’ll ever play.
9. Hit the central note in the mix to energize the blend. Hit notes “out of the blue,” “self-destruct,” type notes to stun the audience and myself. Create spontaneous composition, organization, arrangement, editing and performance. What you play at any moment is a measure of yourself as an artist.
10. Maintain a sense of the elements of drama in performance, attitude, and feeling, total concentration/relaxation from the first note to the last.
11. Get to the next level of transcendence. Notes form the capacity to please or delight. Healing powers, the concept of “Swara” meaning self-illuminating or self-shining.
12. Generate light beyond heat. 

Score examples:

In Passage for Theremin (Op.53), – Music for Theremin CD (Tyava Music.ER-106), pitch is notated but not duration.


7 Eric Ross Score Example A
Score Example A.

In the example above, some twelve-tone rows, including melodic material, are indicated. Players are instructed to use the row of Example A in its various forms and transpositions as thematic ideas in moments of improvisation to favor unity and variety.

In Example B, the duration is indicated while pitch areas are generally notated as low, mid, or high.


8 Score Example B
Score Example B.

Later, there are also instructions to imitate sounds like a motorboat, lawnmower, a Geiger counter, a crying baby, a dramatic opera singer with her jealous lover, etc.


9 Score Example C
Score Example C

I include instructions and directions for preferred electronic effects settings. For example, [A5] from Ex. C is an effects pedal patch. But these may be optional since every player will have different gear.

In the opening measures of Prefactory Act (Op.54) recorded on my Boulevard D’Reconstructie CD (ER-107), live at Montreux Jazz Festival, the theremin duplicates the keyboard but with portamento between notes.


11 Score Example D
Score Example D

Saggini: You also taught the theremin. Can you tell us about your experience in this regard?

Ross: I composed Overture for 14 Theremins (Op.47) (Tyava Music ER-106) when I was Master Teacher at the First International Theremin Festival in Portland, Maine in 1997. I had a dozen Students from beginning to intermediate levels, we rehearsed during the week at workshops and private lessons. I have some difficult parts for myself and easier parts for the students. In performance, it involved spreading 14 players around a theater and balcony separating instruments and maintaining acoustic and visual sight lines. Each of the students also had their own 4-8 bar solo with the guidelines to play “on cue, something you’ve never heard before.”

Eric Ross with Steven Ross at the 1st Interantional Theremin Festival Portland ME. 1997. Photo by Mary Ross
Eric Ross with Steven Ross at the 1st Interantional Theremin Festival Portland ME. (Photo by Mary Ross, 1997)

The music is quiet and restrained until near the end, there’s a big crescendo, that fades into quiet bird sounds produced by all the theremins in the extreme upper register for the last notes. Some played high twitters, some created mysterious calls, while others produced chirping noises. The result was surprising and effective. My son, Steven, 9, added soprano recorder quietly in the altissima range.

Overture for 14 Theremins (Op.47) uses traditional type notation.


14 Score Example E
Score Example E

Overture for 14 Theremins (Op.47) also uses non-traditional type notation.


15 Score Example F
Score Example F

Since Bob Moog was present, he helped keep the theremins in good harmony. For the concert, we spread the players across the stage, auditorium and balcony with about six feet between each one for good separation and sonic definition. At that time, It was the most theremins performing together since Professor Theremin’s “Monster Concerts” in the 1930s.

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