Posted by: jgurner | April 19, 2010

The Valley: The Final Frontier

Little did I know though most of the day Friday that that night would end up being interesting and a whole lot of fun.

For those who may not know, or believe it, The Valley actually has an art gallery. It’s called Bozart Gallery and is located on Main Street next to Turnage’s Drug Store, which is the best place on Earth to get a milk shake. But that’s a different story.

Anyway, I found out about mid Friday that Bozarts was having an opening for a new space-themed art exhibit. I probably would have known sooner if a) I actually paid attention to what I read in the paper each week or b) I actually paid attention to my mail. But, since I don’t do either of those things, I was unaware this was going on until my mom mentioned that she would like to go (read: I want you to take me.)

I’ve been to a number of events at the gallery and they are always fun. And I’m always surprised and impressed by the works put on display by local artists. For a town like The Valley, it’s very impressive. Plus, the work they bring in from area artists. We’re very fortunate to have something like this here.

Naturally, though, a space-themed exhibit was right up my alley, so, we loaded up and headed down to see what the evening would bring.

As we were walking into the gallery, I saw a sign that caught my eye on the door to the building. There was going to be a Theremin workshop at the gallery the very next day. I couldn’t believe it. There was no way I was going to pass this up. I really began to get excited. On top of that, it turned out that the guy doing the workshop was going to do a recital at the gallery that evening.

That was just too much.

So, we spent some time wandering about, chatting with friends and looking over the work on exhibit, which was wonderful, by the way. Paintings, photorealistic collages, sculpture, all great. Art is something I enjoy, but only know enough about to be dangerous. So, I try to avoid any serious conversations about style, technique, medium, history, etc. by just staring blankly ahead an nodding at what ever anyone says. Meanwhile, I’m thinking either “Wow. I wish I could do that” or “Pfft! I could do that.”

After a while, I see the Theremin guy, who actually has a name Thomas Grillo, and a website, demonstrating his instrument to some people. So that was the end of my perusing the art. I decided to see if I could get a jump start on the next day’s workshop. As it turns out, Thomas was more than willing to give me a demonstration of the instrument, talk about how it works and let me get my hands on it, so to speak (since you don’t actually touch the instrument).

Now, for those who don’t know what a Theremin is, the best way to describe where most people will recognize it is it’s the instrument used in soundtracks for 50s sci-fi movies. But, beyond that it’s an electronic instrument that generates sound when radio waves emitted by the device are broken. It’s a very cool instrument that has slowly been moving beyond its original niche and, of course, sci-fi movie soundtracks.

Before the recital by Grillo there was to be more coolness. The professor who teaches space law at the Ole Miss law school, P.J. Blount, gave a brief talk about the subject. It was a quick, but interesting nutshell about what space law is, its origins and application. Maybe not as exciting as the Prime Directive or the Klingon judicial system, but interesting nonetheless.

Then, the recital started. Grillo did a number of classical pieces, accompanied by prerecorded piano. While there is written music for the Theremin, it turns out that many players simply play by ear, playing usually the vocal or lead violin parts. Mixed in with the classical pieces were more “etherial” or familiar sci-fi sounding pieces.

I’ve always been interested in the Theremin, mainly because of its use in classic sci-fi movie soundtrack, but I was impressed at just how versatile the instrument is. In the pieces Grillo played, it sounded natural, almost as if the music was meant to be played on the instrument.

The next day, Grillo gave the workshop which was a mixture of explanation and demonstration of the instrument and performance of some of the pieces he’d played the night before. At the end of the workshop, those of us who had attended, a much larger audience than I had expected, got to actually play the Theremins he had brought along and set up.

I pride myself on being able to play, to one degree or another, a lot of different instruments – the French horn, trumpet, baritone, piano, guitar, bass guitar, recorder, drums, accordion, plus a few others that escape me at this time or I’ve forgotten how to play. I’ve played some woodwind instruments as well, namely clarinet and saxophone, but never really got anywhere on them.  The only instrument I never had any success at all on that I’ve tried was the bagpipes. By the time I got the bag inflated, I was pretty much ready to pass out and never really got around to actually learning how to play.

When I got some time to really test out the Theremin Saturday, I realized that this was something entirely new. You play it with both hands, one controls the volume and one controls the pitch. You move the volume hand up and down and the pitch hand right to left. But the thing is, you don’t change from note to note, as we’re used to in a chromatic scale. there’s no delineating point between G to G Sharp to A. You “slide” up as you move you hand through the field. Thus, many Thereminists have created various finger movements in order to eliminate the “sliding” sound, or at least keep it to a minimum.

After about five minutes, I knew this would be a challenge and I began longing for a new toy.

We’ll see what happens there.

After tons of questions and another 20 minutes or so of discussion with Grillo about the Theremin, his set up, recording and computer music, it was time to go home.

The exhibit, the recital and the workshop all just blew me away. It was not only fun, but informative and exciting, especially as I think about the possibility of a Theremin “following me home” here soon.

In the infamous last words of James T. Kirk:

“It was fun…”

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