Pop singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and romantic — Clara Venice wears her art on her sleeve. She is one of the only people in the world who plays the Theremin as a proper instrument, which adds an emotional and haunting diversity to her music. Her mesmerizing visual style – part Harujuku girl, part 21st century pop princess – draws listeners into her playful and melodic dream world.
After joining the Barenaked Ladies on their Cross-Canada tour in early 2014, Clara Venice was named Artist in Residency at the National Music Centre (Calgary) where she began recording her sophomore EP due for release in early 2015. Her debut EP Love Riddle was co-produced by Kevin Hearn (Barenaked Ladies, Lou Reed, Rheostatics) and mixed by Dave Ogilvie (Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy, Carly Rae Jepsen)
About Clara Rockmore –
Clara Rockmore is one of the great pioneers of electronic music, period. Every day she inspires me to be a better musician, and she is one of the reasons I stuck with the theremin through the difficult beginning stages of learning the instrument. People now constantly ask me whether I named myself after her, but in fact Clara is my given name which I feel honoured to share with such a magnificent figure. The purity of emotion that Clara Rockmore conveys through her theremin performances is unrivalled, and it’s entirely possible that the angels gave up their harps and began playing the theremin instead.
What prompted you to play theremin?
The first time I saw a theremin, it was love at first sight. Even though I didn’t know its name, I immediately knew that I had to find this incredible instrument that one plays without even touching it, conjuring music out of thin air. The very next day, I went to the Moog store in order to try the floor model Etherwave for myself – and to everyone’s amazement (including my own) I could play a scale! I carried the instrument off into the sunset, and I haven’t ever looked back.
What were your first feelings when you heard the sounds of theremin and where did it happen?
The first time I heard the theremin was at a concert in Toronto by a band called the Octopus Project from Austin. They used a theremin at one point in the concert, and I remember the moment so well. My first feeling was confusion as I could not decipher what was making that incredible sound. My confusion turned to pure excitement as my friend explained that the sound was coming from the thereminist’s gestures, even though she was not actually touching anything. From there, I felt an overwhelming connection to the instrument, the same way people explain love at first sight. I felt that we belonged together, and my intuition was right because the following day I got my first theremin and we have been together ever since.
What is your musical philosophy and what place it occupies a theremin?
One of the reasons the theremin plays such an important part in my music is because of how beautifully it meshes with my musical philosophy. First of all, it has always been important for me to create something new and different, which is frankly much easier to do when working with an instrument that most people have never heard outside of science fiction. Second, I believe in the importance of hard work and practice, and the theremin is such a challenging instrument that all the work you put into it offers tangible and great rewards. Finally, as a classically trained musician with a love of pop music, I have always wanted to make sophisticated music that is nevertheless accessible to all people of all ages, and I find that the theremin can elevate a simple melody to a more profound and emotive experience.
Prospects for theremin and its place in modern music space – how you see them? For what qualities you value this tool?
I believe that the theremin is about to have a resurgence. Given the predominance of YouTube and the number of theremins on the market today it is easier than ever for people to discover, purchase and learn this instrument than ever before. Given these resources, I look forward to more people actually using the theremin as a melodic, emotive instrument rather than merely as a sound effect – which of course is wonderful in certain moments, just not all the time!
Above all, I hope that the theremin moves more into the mainstream and that the theremin community continues to grow across all ages and countries. There are so many new sonic possibilities for us to explore by combining the theremin with new software and effects, and I am incredibly excited about what the future has in store for this wonderful instrument.
Which manufacturer of theremin do you prefer?
I just recently had the opportunity to perform on an original RCA theremin while I was Artist in Residence at Canada’s National Music Centre, and it was a thrilling experience for me. But my favourite theremins are made by Moog.
What you can recommend for beginners thereminists, or those who are just going to start their way of thereminist?
I recently got Moog’s newest theremin, called the Theremini – which I absolutely adore. I would wholeheartedly recommend this theremin for beginners as it has a built-in tuner which displays your pitch at all times, and if one were just starting out this would be incredibly useful and convenient. Besides the classic theremin sound, the theremini also has several effects built into it which I imagine would be very helpful for beginners who get frustrated and need to switch gears in order to keep them motivated and not give up during the early stages of learning the theremin which can be very discouraging.
But regardless of which theremin you have, I have only one recommendation: Practice. Luckily, you will likely find that each time you begin to play this magical instrument you will get lost in the pure joy of creating sounds from the ether, and time will fly by while you’re under its hypnotic spell.