Randy George is one of a small handful of musicians in the world that can carry the title of theremin virtuoso. He has dedicated 10 years of his life as a musician developing mastery over the theremin, an instrument that is widely regarded as the most difficult instrument to play in the world. Randy holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of North Texas where he was previously a bassoonist and saxophonist.
Since 2010, Randy has performed solo in recital, and with chamber ensembles across the United States and Europe. He is best known for his contributions to the escalating world wide awareness of the theremin on the internet. His video creations featuring the theremin in a variety of musical contexts have garnered viewership exceeding 20 million people since 2006. Randy’s technical knowledge of theremin playing is augmented by his specialization in software development for interactive multimedia art. In 2012, he began work as an independent developer and his flagship software title is scheduled for release at the end of 2015.
The theremin is one of the world’s earliest electronic musical instruments. It is the only instrument that is played continuously, completely without physical contact. It was developed in the 1920’s by Russian scientist and inventor Lev Sergeyevich Termen as a direct product of his innovations in radio physics and his musical past as a concert cellist. The player of a theremin uses his arms and hands to displace the capacity of the space surrounding the instrument in order to continuously influence its pitch and loudness. The tone quality can vary depending on how its signal is processed and how it is played. It can sound similar to a human voice, a stringed instrument or even a wind instrument depending on variations in vibrato, portamento, and dynamics. Due to its unconventional interface and lack of spacial reference, the theremin is very difficult to master as a melodic instrument. As with any musical instrument it requires discipline and dedication over many years to gain any degree of proficiency.
The single most defining characteristic of a theremin is its dynamic responsiveness. Its sound is an instantaneous reflection of the player’s every move. The moment the sound begins, the player is intimately integrated with the instrument in a continuous feedback loop of sound and motion. This transfer of motion into sound is made possible by the capacity sensing and radio frequency oscillator circuitry employed by the instrument. To perform precise melodies on a theremin, a player must possess an acute awareness of its sustained pitch, continuously trim its position over time, and utilize aural and muscular memory of pitch spacings to accurately place each new note. Because the amplitude of the tone is also continuously controlled, a theremin player is responsible for crafting both the theremin’s sound and the silence in-between sounds.
Over the nearly century long history of the theremin, many people have associated the theremin with a particular eerie, otherworldly type of sound with a heavy degree of continuous portamento. This sound stereotype was created as a result of the instrument being played by a critical mass of players in a manner requiring very little musical discipline. The qualities of the tone are completely dependent on the theremin player’s movements and the signal processing employed with the amplification of the tone. The stereotype exists primarily because of how the theremin has been incorporated into mainstream entertainment during the early years of Hollywood cinema and popular rock music.
Over the past twenty years, there has been a surge in awareness of the theremin and it is currently undergoing a renaissance, especially within the context of modern composition and live performance. Although it still seems novel and obscure, there has never before been more people interested in the theremin, composing music for theremin, or playing the theremin than there are in the world today.