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Pamelia Kurstin interview

Jul 15, 2005 - by clouvel
Pamelia Kurstin is one of the best Theremin player in the world.
    Paul : Pamelia you're 28 and you've been practising the Theremin for only 8 years. You've played the piano, the bass, the cello. How did you come to enjoy music, was it with your parents ? And how did you discover the thermein, this unusual instrument? Well, can you tell us about your childhood, your musical influences, and in particular your first theremin years and your first impressions about this instrument ?

    Pamelia : I think while my mom was pregnant with me, i heard LOTs of Bach. i heard her make mistakes, correct them, play things over and over again... and when i was growing up until about 9 years, she played every day, every evening... and i enjoyed listening to her and my father too. he always improvised and played by ear....the theremin, i saw that documentary by steven martin and was immediately interested in trying one... ended up buying one from moog back when the company was called 'big briar'... and since then, been hooked on the theremin! The first days, weeks, months of playing theremin was all about thinking of an idea, and trying to make it happen without sounding like a dying cat. clara rockmore was my first impression of an amazing and musical thermenist... my impression of the theremin was like a voice and string instrument with a larger range.

    Paul : The Thermenin is a sort of fantasy for many electronic instrument fanatics. The theremin looks "easy" to practise in the first weeks, and a lot of them give up. According to you why so many of them give up ? Is the instrument really difficult after some level ? Which pieces of advice could you give to a beginner and in particular which basic advice do you give to your pupils in New York ?

    Pamelia : The theremin is a pain in the ass!!!! You can't just immediately play a melody on it and nobody can really show you how to do it, and when you have good ears, as many musicians do, it is frustrating to have to find a different way of coordination with your body just to accomplish a scale. Also, it takes learning and understanding how sensitive the field is around the instrument. Breathing can make the pitch change drastically. If people walk into the field while you are playing, the notes get sharp.... it's important to know the best calibration for your body (tuning the instrument to your body and the surroundings).... every time you move the instrument, turn the thing on, or move your feet just a few inches or centimeters, you are changing the calibration of the instrument... and it's difficult to develop any sense of muscle memory when you are beginning if every time you play it, the space between your notes are changing.

    Paul : You're "THE" Thermein star and your "young, fun and cute" image gives a - probably false - impression easiness. What does the Theremin represent in your life, do you have to spend a lot of time and work for it? Are you a work addict ?

    Pamelia : I'm not really a work addict. i'm really lazy.... but by being lazy, it's a good way to learn that economy of movement in finding your pitches is important, so there is less room for error. The theremin is not all i do in life... i like to drink, dance, listen to animals and play with them, get away from any instrument and be a simple human in the forest, going swimming... if i have an idea to try, i try it out... like using different pedal set ups... or making string arrangements... i just play it when i feel inspired to.... and like anything else i do...i don't like to do something half-assed unless i am really really lazy and am obligated to do something, like when someone says, come to my party and the day it happens, i want to stay home but i go anyways and am not in my best mood. that's not nice!!!!!!!! so i guess it's good to not practice if you don't feel like it because nothing will come out of it and if you record what you do, listen back... it will sound like you're not having a great time.

    Paul : Which type of Theremin do you use (Big Briar, Moog,...)? have you got several ones ? Your preferences, their qualities ? their defects? How can this instrument evolve, and does it need that ? What do you think of MIDI Theremin ?

    Pamelia : Always any thermein Moog makes. MIDI i haven't used yet but when i some day have money and a computer, i will check it out for triggering visuals or something... i dunno... defects? if there is any defects, it has to do with me or my limitations, not the instrument. it's the most honest instrument you can step up to. evolution... i can't wait to hear what ideas people come up with for playing it! It's not even a hundred years old... i'm sure it has lots of evolution to go through!

    Paul : You seem close to Bob Moog and some manufacturers. Do you feel interested in the history of electronic instruments, and do these manufacturers ask you for some advice, and improvement ?

    Pamelia : I really can't think of what to improve with the theremin right now... there are control voltage outs for both circuits (on the Etherwave pro model as well as the Ethervox)... that already gives you a new can of worms! The only improvments would be if like, you know how a Minimoog has three oscillators that you can tune? Imagine if on a Theremin itself you had all those knobs... but that's why there is the control voltage installed so your theremin doesn't get to fat to carry aruond.... you can take it to a studio with analog synths and have a blast! all i wanted was for my ethervox to be easier to travel with, since it is so big and heavy... so now there is the pro model, and my biggest problem is solved... because i can take a bus without needing one of santa's elves to help me carry my stuff to the airport... santa's elves are very expensive to have to tip all the time!

    Paul : The Theremin is an instrument that people think strange or "interesting" and some people use it more and more often. Don't you think that many people only use it in electronic music because it's "funny" or anecdotal? What's the Thermein's situation today? And do you have examples of artists whose musical use of the Thermein looks particularly interesting to you ?

    Pamelia : It can sound funny or scary or beautiful... maybe that's what people find interesting about it... you never know what to expect and it becomes more about the person playing it, what is possible that can come out of it.... just like vocalists... no two people will sound alike or interpret something the same way. i don't think i could pinpoint theremin artists... i don't care what instrument a person is playing with... if the music is interesting, that's all that matters! intersting musicians... shit.. so many of them... i don't know where to begin... there was this person i recently saw perform in boston, named SKIP... who did this solo performance that was SO cool... moving... last night i saw a performance with cantors that gave me chills... sometimes a dj can spin some records that remind me of fun times at a roller rink... some musicians are so heartbreakingly beautiful sounding i get so inspired to try something new....

    Paul : Many professional musicians on MacMusic would like to know how a musician can on the Theremin today. What are your daily musical activities, what do you think of the musical life in New-York, your city, today?

    Pamelia : There is a lot happenning there... making a living with it can be hard though... so as a new york musician, i do what a lot os others do... come to europe where the audience actually listens and appreciates it!!!! i play with barbez... a group i joined in new york almost three years ago... fun band with diverse personalities in it... i try to focus on not doing too many projects... barbez... my solo shows... and little one offs here and there with musicians i meet along the way... the rest of the time i like to spend with my boyfriend, or going to the library checking out books... having cooking disasters in the kitchen...

    Paul : What are your lastest works, your concerts, your projects at the moment ?

    Pamelia : i will soon finish my first solo album for the tzadik label.... playing some shows here in vienna this month... playing with barbez touring our latest album this fall in the states and europe in the early winter... and spending time with dalit warshaw, very inspiring person-musician-composer who i will perform with at the metropolitan museum in february... some rachmaninov and messiaen... cello (theremin) and piano...

    Paul : What is your wildest, craziest musical or artistic project, of which you daren't speak to anyone, but that you'll tell Macmusic, under torture?

    Pamelia : I used to make some really nasty prank things with a friend a long time ago, strange products for masturbation with packaging that looks like it belongs in the supermarket... and we would leave these in people's mailboxes and watch them open the things.

    Paul : Do you use computer tools, sequencers or other softwares ? If so which ones and what are your aims ? If not, why not ? Do these tools have an influence on your way of working? If so, which influence?

    Pamelia : No computer yet.. but one day i hope to have protools and logic... a friend of mine is going to coach me on it... if i had a Mac, i would already be using all sorts of stuff!!!! otherwise, if i have a project that brings enough money, i hire one of many broke and wonderful music engineer friends to help me record. i like having a friend in the studio with me so that when i don#t feel like working, we have a drink or walk outside.. and then when it's time to record.. we're ready... it's more fun than being alone recording and over recording too many ideas. and losing perspective.

    Paul : You have given yourself the nickname of "The Rollerskating Thereminist". Among our members we have some musicians, quite famous ones, who have a passion for roller. Will you tell me there's a link between roller and creativity ? One last thing : what is the haircut story about, during your lessons,is it compulsory? What about the guinea pigs? Where does it come from? Is it a calling ?

    Pamelia : I love giving haircuts SO much! i usually do it for a six pack of beer.... animals...i just love animals, and i love to eat them too! (not guinea pigs)... rollerskting is fun! the old rollerskates are much cooler than rollerblades.

    Pamelia Kurstin web site
    Moog Music
About the author: clouvel
Electroacoustic music composer @ sound designer
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