We continue a series of interviews with the finalists of the international Theremin video contest THEREMIN STAR dedicated to the centenary of Theremin. Today we bring to your attention an interview with a theremin performer from Peru – Véronique Meguerditchian.
Veronik is the composer and the main theremin artist in Peru, she also gives lessons on the theremin, guitar, and vocals. Veronik started making music at the age of 11, while simultaneously starting to compose music to sing and take lessons in playing the flute, today Veronik plays the guitar, the traverse flute, the recorder, a few charango, and ukulele, but the main instruments for her are guitar, theremin, and her own voice.
Veronik started to learn how to play the theremin in 2008.
She developed some fingering techniques after being part of Theremin Academy in Chile three times: two with Carolina Eyck and once with Lydia Kavina. Her personal investigation with theremin now is to adapt vocal lines and techniques to the theremin playing, in an approach mostly based on popular music and songs.
Veronik has composed the first theremin album in Peru, a personal and psychedelic rock theremin journey album called “ANÓMALA” (2017).
Veronik, many congratulations on second place in the Theremin Star competition dedicated to the theremin centenary. We are very pleased to see you among the finalists in the competition. We believe that Theremin Star finalists are the most motivated and promising modern thereminists.
In fact, you needed for the first place only 50 votes more. I understand that you and the people who supported you were disappointed. Why was it important for you to win the Theremin Star competition?
Yes, indeed, it was such an intense final! I must say that these 20 days of competition were a 100% time journey, contacting people one by one, and always receiving full of support from everywhere, this was really amazing. But the difference in time zone was also a concern: when it was finally time to get some sleep in Peru, in Europe people were starting a new day and reaching some new votes! I guess it’s part of the rules in an international voting thing like this.
When I first read from Theremin Star, I thought it was a really nice initiative from Theremin Today it would be good to be part of, but I was pretty surprised when my video of myself working on Mexican classic bolero “Sabor an mí” was selected.
I found that this contest could be a great reason to show some modern possibilities of melodic theremin playing, so, a few months later, I recorded a video performing a cover of Depeche Mode’s song “Walking in my shoes”, that also was selected for Theremin Star. By these days, I began to interact a little bit more with the international theremin community.
I guess the best part was to see my work getting featured among many accomplished thereminists, some of which I admire and follow since I began to play this instrument in 2008: Lydia Kavina, Carolina Eyck, Pamelia Stickney. It was also a very exciting journey for me and people who voted for me because I could experience strong support by people in general and especially in Peru, where I am known as the main theremin artist. It’s also great for me to show my playing to people from different countries who are fully interested in this instrument.
Do you think that theremin competition like Theremin Star is needed or it is only distracting?
I don’t know if the competition is ever needed, but I think it helps in some way to get the work of modern performers known worldwide between the theremin community and public. I am sure that many people know about me and my work as a theremin player since my participation in Theremin Star. Also, people in Peru take me a little more seriously after being featured in an international competition, especially having the prestige of being organized by the family of inventor Leon Theremin himself.
Recently, one of my favorite theremin composers, Andrew Popoff, in his regular radio program talked about Peruvian national musical culture. In particular, I was impressed by the fact that at some point the government had supported traditional Peruvian folk music as a national and public treasure. And also, the story of the song “El condor pasa” can not leave indifferent, it traveled from Peru to Paris and at last, the song appeared in the USA in the repertoire of Simon & Garfunkel. Russian thereminist Konstantin Kovalsky was inspired by the Peruvian singer Yma Sumac and recorded on the theremin “Anthem to the Sun”. It seems to me that Konstantin Kovalsky felt the kinship between the Theremin range and the voice of Ima. At the same time, all these passages and the success of Yma in the Soviet Union became a definite challenge for him. And he realized this project together with ensemble of electric musical instruments by the direction of V.Mescherin.
Do you plan to integrate the sound of theremin into the national music of Peru? Do you think that it is important?
I didn’t know about Kovalsky and Yma Súmac! I’d really love to hear his investigation adapting her vocal work to the theremin!!
Well, I personally always preferred to compose my own music, but last year, in order to grow technically with my instrument, I decided to perform some classic and well-known pieces on the theremin, in particular pop-rock songs, which is what excites me the most. I already have thought about playing a personal theremin version of El cóndor pasa, which is a melody that would sound very nice on it, but I still haven’t found the time to start this project. I hope to do it this year. I guess that the sound of the theremin could fit in many kinds of music, and I would dare to say that it can be a very versatile instrument if you know how to make it talk and express emotions.
I found in your previous interview with Theremin Today that you consider the theremin to be the universal and organic instrument. And I agree with you. Since from my point of view theremin is really a kind of universe, an instrument that combines the voices of all the melodic musical instruments of the earth and the sounds of the earth and space. Well, in general, I am very interested in whether you think the sound of Theremin is something new and unusual, perhaps progressive, or is it an archaic sound from the time of the creation of the earth on which all earthly sounds were subsequently strung?
I rather incline for that second option! From my personal approach and experience, it’s definitely an organic instrument that can connect so tightly between nature and the universe. Before I started to play music, I spent much time as a drawer, and it’s not a coincidence that I matched immediately with the theremin. For me, to play the theremin is just like drawing notes on the air to create a melody, with all this subtlety and organic imperfection that gives the unique beauty of things played by a human being. I mean, just like it happens when drawing, it’s an organic way to reproduce reality, whether you are dealing with lines or sound. Very often, when playing, I feel like connecting with nature, plants, emotions and time.
How does your audience feel about the theremin, what do they feel? Does your audience consider that theremin is something organic or something cosmic and a little alien or that theremin is something eccentric and far-fetched? Do you consider it necessary to fight with some clichés about theremin or do you think that the popularization of the theremin is quite enough for each person to form his own opinion on the theremin?
Part of my audience knows me long before I started to play the theremin, so they expect me to play some of my songs! At the same time, as I’ve been growing up as a thereminist, I found that people at first always tend to consider my instrument as weird, but when playing some melodic pieces or versions of famous pop or rock songs, the image they get changes radically. I personally try to do some music where I can show that this instrument can be taken seriously as a violin or a human voice. I don’t like to show this instrument as an oddity good to make some crazy noises and sound effects, because I already did it when I was starting, and people asked me to do that kind of things, both because of that cliché and ignorance about the instrument possibilities, and also because of my lack of technique when doing my first theremin collaborations. It helped me to practice and get some life experiences though. But nowadays, when I play my theremin, I really feel the same way as when I sing a song.
I would also say that my personal investigation with the theremin is to apply things coming from vocal technique to this instrument.
Are you the only theremin teacher in Peru? What part of the audience is more interested in theremin – musicians, people who are interested in science, physics, esoterics, space? Do you have your personal concept in your theremin seminars?
Yes, I can say that I am actually the only theremin teacher in Peru.
Since I started teaching, I have had a huge number of people asking me to teach them how to play the instrument, and I always tried to figure out the best way to show them what I have learned till this moment, depending on each profile and interests.
Student profiles are very heterogeneous! that goes from that curious that saw you playing in a show and wants to know how that stuff works and if it’s really very hard to master, to professional and accomplished conservatory musicians that want to discover a new instrument just the same way they would approach any other.
There are also many artists, like actors, dancers, circus performers, or esoteric people too! There are even people who practice yoga or work with meditation. I also met a lot of electronic musicians that think that a theremin would be a great machine to add to their current setup, and finally, I’ve also had enthusiasts that believe that it’s a good way to start making music randomly (which certainly is quite far from reality!).
If you ask me, I love this variety of people that theremin attracts, but I really am convinced that it exists a very special profile full of abstract and specific conditions you must have to become a good theremin player.
I love to teach, and yes, I have my own concept when explaining the theremin psychology to people. As a singer, I prefer to motivate people by taking an example on the voice, which is perhaps the only other musical instrument that you play without touching something, or at least without having any visual reference to adjust the pitch.
I like to feed the motivation, and constantly use abstract images in order to imagine all the concepts that can help to master some important tricks to play music by moving.
Do you think that it is correct to compare theremin and synthesizer? Do you feel the fundamental difference between theremin and synthesizer?
It is a very interesting question that you are asking me. I always felt attracted to all kinds of musical instruments. To tell you a little about myself, I started to make music by singing and learning to play the flute, then I started to rock and roll writing songs with my electric guitar, then I managed to learn more and more about music and I always thought that I would need to be more “mature” musically in order to finally understand the synthesizer and feel allowed to use it in some way. And magically, since I play the theremin, people naturally associate me with the world of electronic music, although my musical experience moves fundamentally between classical education and rock.
So, it is a great discovery for me to enter the synthesizer world as a kind of special guest and get treated with respect just for being a theremin player!
To answer your question, the main difference I find between theremin and synthesizers is that synths are meant to create timbres, to build up new sounds from the very start, either getting brand new noisy, melodic or percussive sounds, or rather others that stay close to those already existing in nature.
The theremin isn’t meant for that at all: it’s meant to play melodies and it’s technically easier for a cello player to understand how it works than for someone who’s a crack sequencing beats or doing synthesis!
All the rest comes after that. That is a big difference. In the theremin, you are part of the instrument, your body and your mind are playing when creating a sound, and it’s the movement and control that matters, not the creation of a special timbre starting from zero. That’s why I like to treat it as an instrument, not as a machine.
What do you think about the role of Clara Rockmore in theremin history? Clara did not manage to affect the history of the theremin, in my opinion, in the sense that she could not remove by her talent and unsurpassed skill the cosmic theme, rock experiments, scary sounds, etc. from the American history of the theremin. What do you think about this?
First of all, I don’t think that Clara had any responsibility for removing those clichés by her only talent. It wasn’t her job to put down or avoid the existence of bad theremin players! I guess that those noisy- sci-fi- horror FX clichés came first of all from the fact that mastering the theremin is indeed very hard! And it is not for anybody! Theremin technical aspects allow to get some crazy noises that anybody can produce and feel excited with for about 5 good minutes, and that’s why so many people feel like playing when moving randomly arms or objects through space, but the most probable thing is that this kind of people wouldn’t either be able to sit down and learn step by step how to play the violin or a guitar properly because it takes time of practice and hard work and also accepting that it isn’t that easy and that requires some effort.
I don’t know if this is only part of the American theremin history, but it’s a fact that many people love to do some bizarre stuff rather than starting to play a musical instrument. People love to think that theremin is first of all this weird and scary sound that anyone associates with sci-fi and horror films.
This cliché is so well installed that it’s almost a semiotic thing: you get a theremin-like sound if the situation on the screen turns bizarre, strange, scary or fantastic. This was also the first idea that I got time before seeing somebody playing theremin for real. And this first time was with Clara Rockmore!
It was definitely Clara’s playing what made me understand it all and say: I need this in my life now!! One week later, I knew almost everything I could find about the instrument and was about ordering my first Moog Etherwave to start learning how to play it. I guess it’s all about to hear the correct music and see the correct performers. Then it’s up to each musician to have and feed that love and motivation for the theremin, just in the same way that it can happen when choosing to learn to play the piano or the violin.
The path is much easier or at least funnier when you are motivated and in love with your instrument.
Veronik, you are inspired by some thereminists (Kavina Lydia and Carolina Eyck) who are performing not in the tradition of Clara Rockmore and Lev Theremin, but rather in the sound tradition of American mass culture. As an alternative, there is a new generation of thereminists, performers of a new format who are really trying to continue Clara’s performing tradition and feel inspired by it, so now, in any case, we feel that this is an attempt at historical progress as you understand I’m talking about thereminists Gregoire Blanc and Thorwald Jorgensen
What do you think about this situation? Is the gap between the different approaches to the instrument will increase with each passing year, and is it an indicator of the theremin development?
I don’t think that it’s obligatory to be in the Clara Rockmore tradition or technique to be a good theremin player! We are talking about an instrument that
is barely 100 years old! That’s very young if you compare it to the guitar, the piano, violin or the voice, which have had centuries to develop techniques, repertoire and give birth to gifted instrumentalists!
So, I guess thereminists have the responsibility to perform and improve existing skills and also to create some new techniques in order to make the instrument more versatile and relevant in music in general. Each artist is a whole universe, so it’s each one’s personal investigation that will lead the theremin to new places, and finally putting it far away from that bizarre sci-fi sounds generator cliché, that’s sadly so distant to its impressive capacity to express emotions.
Thorwald was one of the first professional thereminists I’ve had the opportunity to meet, and he was also the first person to introduce me to the air fingering technique. I remember he taught me the different fingering positions in a bus while traveling back from Valparaiso to Santiago, in Chile. We met because we both played in the second edition of the international theremin festival Electromagnética, in Santiago. It was the first time for me to meet other theremin players. I always remember that and I am also so particularly grateful to him. He helped me trust in myself and still go on with the theremin.
Personally, I get inspired by many artists, I didn’t mention it before, but I also really love Pamelia’s Stickney work, who I also had the chance to meet a couple of years ago. Her style is very personal and different from any other! I feel mostly identified by her work because I feel it as very personal, funny and creative. She comes from a jazz culture and she’s very ludic with her playing approach.
I come from rock culture, so my theremin approach is pretty different than classic performers. That’s probably the reason I don’t like to play sit and prefer to perform standing.
My personal research with the theremin gets inspired by performers like Jimi Hendrix or rock singers, so I try to find the abilities I admire in those artists in my own approach with the theremin.
Of course, I listen and study-specific stuff from the classic and academic repertoire, but as a performer and artist I’d want to develop and show my own personal voice
Probably, and I find this perfect, imagine if it was the only way to play the violin or how to sing!
As a composer and also a guitar player, I find it very interesting to make people know the more about the theremin as a real instrument, and not as a mere sound effect generator.
I also find it pretty exciting the perspective to put the theremin to a level comparable to the electric guitar! You know, there is an infinity of skilled guitar players, among a whole infinity of musical genres and personal styles that express very different things!
Do you think that theremin will exist in 100 years or in 100 years will everyone forget about its existence?
I am rather optimistic: I am convinced that theremin is about to live a kind of revival or new rise. I guess that modern performer can show its incredible versatility, and maybe we will appreciate it in the next years to come with new music, new performers, new ways of mastering it, and also new instruments that must be designed in the future. I guess we are living a good moment to improve the theremin technically and artistically.
I am very grateful to Veronik for the interview, I really like that Veronik does not apply to artists who believe that they should not say anything because people themselves will hear everything in their music, but the truth is that people often do not hear, for various reasons, regardless of whether it concerns a specific thereminist or theremin in general, therefore it seems to be important when the thereminist is ready to reflect and analyze. I can not agree with Veronik in some points, but I really like that her own voice serves as an indicator of the correctness of her way in the theremin, for me, this means that Veronik will not get lost in the intricacies of the world of the theremin. I would very much like Veronik to create her own theremin festival in Peru since in the case of the theremin the personality of organizer it is very important if the organizer of such events does not have an in-depth understanding of actual and current problems of the theremin, then even the most wonderful guests will not save the situation.
Let us all wish Veronik success in her creative work, pedagogical work, and her future projects! Veronik is a very purposeful and balanced thereminist, she is not a sprinter, she is a stayer, she has many more successes and victories ahead.
P.S. It’s obvious to me that Clara Rockmore is not only the only unrivaled virtuoso, a musician with great talent and the highest performing school (even one percent of modern theremin artists cannot boast such a background) but for me, Clara is also a thereminist with the charisma of a real rocker, it’s a revelation came to me after listening to an excerpt from a new disc, which I highly recommend ordering to all theremin fans.
We are all accustomed to Clara’s classic balanced and finely thought-out recordings that were made already at an advanced age, in the new album we are offered interviews and earlier recordings that allow us to evaluate Clara Rockmore’s artistic temperament
Clara Rockmore:Music and Memories (2020) –http://www.romeorecords.com/home.htm